Friday, July 31, 2009

The most significant philosophical problem of all: the two-body problem

In comments, anon 11:01 asks,
I'm wondering what people think about whether philosophy couples ought to go on the job market together. Does going separately compromise the chances of getting jobs in the same university or area? Or is this whole thing such a crapshoot anyway that it doesn't matter? Is there even received wisdom on this? I've heard very different advice given to people with the two body problem.
I have a little experience with this problem, but no concrete advice and no idea whether my strategy is a winning one in the long term. Mrs. Zero is an academic in another field--whose job market situation is even more horrible than mine--and she's managed to find adjunct-level work wherever we've had to live. As of right now, we're just hoping to keep it up. We'll cross the tenure track bridge when we come to it.

--Mr. Zero


Popkin said...

I'm in the same situation as Mr. Zero in that my spouse is an academic in another field. I'd certainly like to know if that's going to make it harder for the two of us to find jobs at the same institution. I take it that some philosophy departments will sometimes hire someone's philosopher spouse when necessary, but can arrangements ever be made with other departments in the university?

Anonymous said...

The way my partner and I handled the two-body problem is that I dropped out of our PhD program and went and got an MLIS instead. (Quitting wasn't just for career reasons -- I also lack killer instinct, etc., and had been completely demoralized by two awful years applying for jobs, and wanted out.) Now I am a public librarian in the city where he has a TT position, and I was always able to find jobs when he was VAPing in various places.

It was a happy ending, though not helpful for anyone who's not a dropout. :/

Anonymous said...

We solved our philosopher/political scientist two body problem by having him go to law school.

It's really an icky job market and the prospect of a spousal hire is less than attractive in many places.

Word on the street was that the only way it works out is in uber-undesireable locations and only then when they think that the way to keep a hot-shot is to give the spouse a tt job, because then both won't want to go on the market together.

Anonymous said...

All you need to do is both be truly top stars and then things will be set. Alternatively, you can be one quite good candidate and one off-the-chart star.

Make it with a Teacher said...

This is not really relevant advice for the person who asked (and those who currently face the two body problem), but it seems like excellent advice for singles in grad school: DON'T FALL FOR ANOTHER ACADEMIC (OR IF YOU DO, MAKE SURE THEY'RE A FUCKING SUPERSTAR)! Yes, it sometimes works out, but most often leads to heartbreak one way or another. I purposely quashed any nascent crushes I felt forming in grad school for just this reason (not like there were many: Philosophers; yeach!). Yes, I know....

Go for someone who has a job that can travel ANYWHERE - not just your New York, Chicago, Boston, LAs. Doctors are good. Or better yet (though not on the income side): TEACHERS - they have roughly the same breaks and are needed pretty much everywhere.

first year tt guy said...

I have two good sets of friends who are academic couples and the job market worked out for both of them. I'd definately advise both going on the job market (it doubles your chances of a school really wanting one of you enough to hire both of you). In one case they offered a TT job to one spouse and a 3 year contract to the other... In the other case, they offered the opportunity to 'share' a single TT position. I know neither of these situations is perfect, but the two couples in question seemed quite satisfied with the results.

GNZ said...

Two couples that spring to mind for me.
In one case one partner supports the others career which is good for him.

In the other case there is a sort of symbiosis going on where the two of them together are more than they could have each have been individually (BTW these two are stars).

I suspect it would be a little harder to get in, mostly but not only for logistical reasons, but a benefit when you are in.

Anonymous said...

My spouse and I both have TT jobs at the same institution, though in different departments. I don't think it matters much whether both are on the market at once, but I would advise that neither person deliberately wait. You have to go on the market when you, as individuals, are poised to do so. Otherwise, you reduce your market potential by unnecessary delay.

My best advice (apart from being a superstar) is that you not count on hitting the jackpot immediately, but assume you may get one TT slot and have to build from there, negotiating for the other. The negotiating gains traction both with your work itself and with your having to (gasp) go on the market again so as to secure interviews or offers (for one or both of you) that can be used to push the administration to get creative and make a line for the partner. From the institution's point of view, so long as they've only got one of you in a TT slot, you can likely equal that on the market by getting one offer elsewhere. Once you have such an offer in hand, you have a way to bargain plausibly. I.e., don't think you can only bargain in a one-job situation by getting a two-job situation. My spouse and I knew we could make a case once we could say, in effect, we can get the one-job situation elsewhere so what will you do to keep your bird in hand and add another?

Another thing to realize is that once you have a single job, you have a chance to earn the trust and good will of your colleagues who can then advocate for you. Moreover, many depts welcome a chance to add another member and retain someone already in place, so being there with one job, having a bargaining chip (in the form of offer(s)), can just allow the dept to work for you in a way it will already be inclined to do. In our case at least, the process never felt adversarial, and we felt our interests were shared by the depts involved.

My only cautionary note concerns adjuncting or other term-limited employment for the partner. One worry in these cases is that once you establish that you *will* accept such a situation, you risk sapping some of the interest others may have in bettering your situation to two TT's. What's worse, many universities still have a decided hierarchy such that once someone is an adjunct or non-TT member, it becomes hard to move to the higher caste. As painful as it is, you may want to beware accepting too readily a temporary circumstance for the non-TT partner if it seems that the promise of better isn't sincerely given. We've seen friends try to negotiate a partner out of adjuncting into TT work and, based on this admittedly limited experience, saw them have a much harder go of it. Indeed, in my case, my spouse and I rejected an offer of a non-TT position, thinking it would be the death knell for a TT job later. It was like playing chicken but at least in our case, the administration flinched first and it came out right.

I also second the point about geography. The more isolated or apparently undesirable the location, the more likely you'll get two jobs. Such places have much more serious retention issues and will consequently work harder to keep people by hiring spouses, especially where those spouses can't be expected to find another institution for employment across town.

Hope some of that helps. You have my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

I'm a department chair who has dealt with this from the other side, so to speak--the hiring side. My advice might differ from that of my peers, but I would suggest being fairly open about your situation from the start. This does not mean that you have to say "I would take your job only if you can arrange something for my partner" but that "I have an academic partner and we hope eventually to wind up living together." In some recent cases I knew about one potential hire's spouse all along, and did not know anything about another potential hire's partner until the offer had been made. Then I found myself scrambling to make contacts with my fellow chairs trying to set up some extra interviews, explore options, etc. This made it difficult for me especially since this person already had one other job offer and was on a tight deadline. I am happy to say that we did hire both people and their partners have found work that is of interest to them, if not tt positions. You might fear that to mention these sorts of needs might somehow hurt your chances of being hired, but I don't believe that's true. In most cases we do expect that people on the market probably have some sorts of personal-life concerns or needs and we are pleased if we can do things to help meet those needs.