Wednesday, July 10, 2013

2 Careers, 2 Kids, 1 Marriage: part 1

My wife, Ellen, and I are both scientists, married in graduate school, got jobs in the same city, had two kids and survived to tell about it.  Here is the story of our schooling and jobs.   Next time, I'll write about childrearing.

We were both graduate students at Caltech, living in the grad student dorm.  There were 3 women and 60 men who wanted to live in the dorm, so the solution in those days was to simply put the 3 women in the men's dorm.  More than a little social pressure on the women, but the men tried to be considerate.  We had to be discreet when dating to avoid ribbing and soon moved out to our own place.  Marriage in Dabney Gardens with research groups and dorm friends in attendance.

The next hurdle was to graduate at the same time and find jobs.  Ellen's group typically graduated in 5 years and mine in 7.  No big deal.  A casual meeting between my wife and my advisor settled the deal with me allowed to graduate in 5 years.   I never found out what was said!  It was a huge pile of work to get the research done in time, but I got out in 5 years, still a record.

We explored a large number of opportunities for post-doc positions, and finally settled on U. Maryland and Goddard, fortunately each was a top choice for each of us.  It was not easy to find two physics positions near each other, but we were lucky to have both institutions work together from the start to make it happen.  With a house half-way in-between, we were both within biking distance of work.  Those post-docs turned into permanent jobs, so we fortunately did not need to repeat the two-job trick.

Being now on the hiring side of the equation, I see how difficult it is to arrange dual jobs.  These days, the dominant reason for a hiring action to fall through is not finding a suitable position for the spouse.  There is no easy solution, but the most successful institutions ask the spouse question right up front and immediately start looking for a joint solution.

Next time … how we managed to raise kids during the intensive early years of two careers.

Labels:  family, two-body problem


Vicky Kalogera said...

Neil, I fall in the "2 Carrers at any given time, 2 marriages, 4 kids (2 step-kids)" and I consider myself super lucky to not have to deal with a long-distance marriage/family situation ever - I would not call it smooth, but it ended up working out. The more years go by and I see what people face, the more amazingly lucky I feel.

One question: when you say "ask the spouse question upfront", do you mean at the interview level of a candidate or right after the candidate has been selected for an offer?


Gwen Barnes said...

I'm pretty sure it's illegal to ask about marital status at the interview level. Best to ask after the candidate has been given an offer, to know what will need to be negotiated to make it work.