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Dual-Career Couples: Feature Index

For college and university administrations, the two-body situation is merely an abstraction, at worst an annoying administrative issue. But for members of two-career couples, the issue is far from abstract.

For me, personally, it hasn't been too bad. My wife and I have the great privilege of living in the same state--the same house, even--where we share our lives with our 5-year-old son. Good work, a home, a happy family ... I can't complain.

Things have turned out far better for us than for some other people I know: Offhand, I can think of two divorced scientist-couples with whom I'm personally acquainted, as well as two separated couples. The failure of relationships never, I think, has a single, simple cause, but in all those cases the relationship was damaged by stress arising from the two-body situation. And all of those couples are--or were--affiliated with a single small college. Extrapolate that to the rest of the world, and it becomes clear that this is a pretty significant issue.

Let's face it: These issues are difficult. So although in this feature we provide some stories and some possible approaches to solutions, we don't have all the answers. Your own approach will, very likely, be unique. You might get lucky and find a perfect solution, but chances are the solution you end up with will be less than perfect. One thing is clear: If you're part of a two-career couple, and serious about remaining a couple, you've got some hard choices to make and, quite possibly, more than a little anguish ahead of you. At least one member of most dual-career couples will have to make some sacrifices.

If you're willing to think long and hard about what you really value and if at least one of you is willing to be flexible, you'll probably do just fine. Most of our essayists are at least hanging in there, and some of us have done far better.

My way of dealing with the dual-career situation was to take one for the team. I quit science altogether and followed my spouse to her new job. For us things have turned out just fine, at least for now.

Our other U.S. essayist this week, whom we've taken to calling Trey-Ling Spouse, is still fighting her way through, although she is still hopeful that in the end they'll both end up with satisfying careers.

Up in Canada, Anurag Agrawal and Jennifer Thaler seem to have found a perfect solution: two tenure-track jobs, both in the botany department at the University of Toronto.

Across the pond, Next Wave's German editor, Eick von Ruschkowski, recently attended the first conference in Germany that focused explicitly on the dual-career couple issue. He tells us what people there were saying.

Over the course of a lifetime, these few years apart will seem like nothing. That's the story that Mary Achuperil and her spouse tell each other, and it works for now.

For dual-career couples with children at home, the key to survival is flexibility and a dose of good luck, says Jeanette Hofman, a contributor from the Netherlands.

Having a partner who is your closest colleague can be extremely rewarding, both professionally and personally, say Sarah Otto and Michael Whitlock.

The issue of dual-career couples can make life complicated for employers as well as employees. It makes sense to remember this as you seek jobs for the two of you, says Dave Jensen in a Tooling Up article from Next Wave's archive.

Presenting papers at conferences is crucial for parent-scientists trying to integrate themselves into the community of scientists, but the lack of childcare at conferences can make it difficult.

Dominique Lattard and Volker Schenk, both professors of geology, have had a rewarding relationship for almost 20 years now, despite a 700-kilometre commute.

Patrick Dufner and Marta Szadkowski, on the other hand, chose to stay together. They're having a great time living abroad, doing good work, and learning about cricket, pickles, pub-crawling, and cheddar cheese.

For physicists who have fallen for each other's charms, solving physics problems is nothing compared to the challenge of finding two permanent physics jobs in the same place.

Despite the physicist's fondness for the phrase, the "two-body problem" is really pretty simple, in physics and in life. It's only when you add a third body--the hiring institution--that things get really difficult, say the authors of a forthcoming book.

Institutions are working on a solution, and in the U.S. they're making progress. But the fundamental problem remains: science jobs come in ones and twos.

In Germany, institutional progress has been slower. For German institutions, as for today's young scientists, the next few years are likely to see a lot of change.

Finally, as always, we have a list of Resources for dual-career couples--and those interested in accommodating their needs.

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