Last week: locating and arranging postdoc positions together

Whether or not a long-distance relationship is a part of a scientific couple's experience, most couples eventually seek permanent positions at the same institutions or in the same geographic regions. These types of job searches require that personal, professional, and financial compromises be made. "Before even entering the job market," says Susan Henry, dean of the Mellon College of Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, "a couple has to sit down and assess the career goals of each individual." She feels couples can benefit from adopting realistic strategies when determining the fates of their careers. "Usually at the junior faculty level," she says, "the couple themselves have decided that one of them is going to look for the best job they can, and the other is going to be willing to take a research faculty position or a lectureship."

Laurie McNeil, a professor of physics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and her husband, Patrick Wallace, a research scientist at Raychem Corp., decided early on that he would follow her wherever she went. She wanted an academic position, and he was happy to work in industry. In fact, Wallace began his job search only after McNeil had secured an academic position. Like Henry, McNeil advises couples to set guidelines for themselves before the job search. "Don't try to work out what's important while you're in the process of looking for a job," she says. Making a priori decisions about what is or is not acceptable lessens the stress of making necessary compromises.

Once the hiring courtship of cover letters and interviews is under way, other complications enter the picture. Individuals must mention relevant employment needs of their spouses. However, they must not do it too soon lest they discourage search committees from even considering them. Neither should they wait too long and risk making the hiring institution feel forced into supporting a second position.

Unless there is good reason to think that a second position is available, Henry advises not mentioning the needs of the spouse until after the first interview. If asked about family restrictions, she suggests you tell committees, "I am primarily interested in getting the best scientific position I can." On the other hand, Jerome Cohen, dean of the McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science at Northwestern University, says "you might even want to mention it before the interview, so that we can arrange for the spouse to interview in other departments." And George Roderick, a professor of entomology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, who has negotiated dual positions at Hawaii, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says he has always sent joint cover letters with his wife: "It wastes everybody's time if the two positions are not going to be available."

The compromises of negotiating dual science careers, of course, can carry tremendous disappointment. Boston University physicist Kate Scholberg recently turned down an offer for an enticing teaching position at the University of British Columbia because it was not clear that her boyfriend could also secure a position there. Likewise, Ed Caliguri, a research associate at Tufts Medical School, gave up a tenure-track position at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut when his wife, a physician, was offered a position in Boston. "There was no way I was ever going to match her earning potential," says Caliguri, "so we left Hartford and came to Boston."

When institutions are willing to facilitate two positions, several arrangements can be made. Carole Christ, vice chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, says, "The university will sometimes allow departments to 'mortgage' a position for a spouse. If we know that so-and-so is going to retire soon, we'll hire someone to fill that slot, even before it becomes available." Or, if one candidate is particularly appealing, says Lawrence Gilbert, associate provost of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, "the provost's office might support a second position for the spouse. The departments are up to it," he adds. "They're getting a free position!"

Despite the examples mentioned here, establishing two tenure-track positions within the same institution is rare. Couples are more likely to be offered one tenure-track position in combination with a research position supported by soft money or a non-tenure-track teaching position. Alternatively, institutions such as the University of Maryland and the University of Michigan will sometimes network on behalf of the spouse of a potential recruit at other universities or industrial research labs in the same geographic location.

Even when two tenure-track positions are offered, universities can pull what Kimberly Gray refers to as the "trailing spouse bit." When her husband took the assistant professor slot that was ceded to him after she threatened to leave the University of Notre Dame, she says, "they gave him almost no start-up money and asked him, 'Why would you want to take a position here?' " Indeed, one member of the couple can be made to feel like a tagalong, less-than-competent scientist if a hiring institution offers them a position simply to attract their spouse. Paradoxically, nearly all hiring institutions stress the fact that they will not offer or create jobs for candidates that are not optimally qualified.

Rather than "subject one [member of the couple] to a second-class status," Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, who is married to a physicist, suggests that couples consider taking a split position. Split positions consist of both members of a couple taking one tenure-track position and splitting the salary, teaching, and committee responsibilities. Split positions can eventually lead to two independent tenured positions, but are condemned by many scientists as exploitative because it rarely results in two actual 'half-time' positions. Instead, each member of the couple typically ends up working the equivalent of a full- or near full-time position for half the pay. To that criticism, Colwell responds, "a full-time assistant professorship on a tenure track is more than [a full-time job]; it's usually 80 hours a week in the lab developing a course, writing grant proposals, writing papers."

Jane Lubchenco, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University in Corvallis and former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, agrees that a split position does not result in a 20-hour workweek. However, her experience has shown that it does lessen the workload and facilitate the child-rearing process. Before accepting a split position, Lubchenco and her husband, Bruce Menge, came to "bottom line" decisions about their careers. They wanted to have equivalent positions so that they would be on the same professional footing, they wanted to be together, and they wanted to have sufficient time to spend with their children. Based on these criteria, Lubchenco gave up a full-time tenure track position at Harvard University to take a split position at Oregon State with her husband. "People told me I was absolutely insane to throw all this stuff away," Lubchenco remembers. Since then, Lubchenco says, those same people, professors and deans at Harvard, "have said to me 'Boy, you made the right choice. ... You were very courageous, good for you.' "

But although split positions make it easier for dual-career scientists to manage to keep a family together, they aren't the only way to survive. Colwell and her husband have two daughters and "were a two-career family back before it became either fashionable or common." In any family, having children, Colwell says, "is about teamwork." So although scientists' own time clocks are often more demanding than any time clock they might punch elsewhere, their historically flexible schedules can help make raising children possible.