Friday, February 1, 2013

The Two-Body Problem.

On another thread, Anonymous asks:
When is it appropriate to ask a potential employer if accomodations can be made for a significant other?
And, if one's significant other has a campus visit in the vicinity of one's own campus visit, should both partners make this known during the in-person interview as a way of indicating their respective interest in the jobs?
To answer the first question, it's appropriate to ask when you get a job offer. Some schools, due to factors like location, might volunteer this information during a fly-out. Mine does. And they have a pretty good accommodation record, but it's important to know -- and this is probably especially true in the current economic and educational climate -- that a spousal accommodation can take many forms. It will not necessarily be another tenure-track job. I know of several couples who got SAs at my school -- for both male and female spouses, BTW (all with MAs or PhDs). Some of them are VAPs. Some are instructors. Some have jobs in admin, or elsewhere on campus.

Second question: I think it would probably be inadvisable to mention that at an interview. But others might have different opinions. What say you, smokers?

~zombie

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think that you should definitely not mention it at an interview or on a campus visit. They are not really allowed to ask, either.

But do mention after, and only after, you have a job offer. Then it is a negotiating situation -- you know they have already committed to wanting you.

Just some data: I didn't do well when I did mention my two-body problem at campus visits; did do well when I didn't.

Anonymous said...

And, if one's significant other has a campus visit in the vicinity of one's own campus visit, should both partners make this known during the in-person interview as a way of indicating their respective interest in the jobs?

In one respect, I can see how a committee might find this information appealing. But, then, what if the partner -- call him/her 'Candidate B'-- doesn't get the local job (--the committee member's thinking long-term). Does that mean that Candidate A is a flight risk, on account of potentially having a partner who's working elsewhere in the country?

This makes me think it's to no advantage to mention the partner until a job offer's been made.

Anonymous said...

It is never relevant to bring up yourself until they make an offer to you. And then you need to bring it up immediately, because getting accommodations can take search chairs, deans, and others a while to get through the bureaucracy. Bringing it up before then would be like asking your interviewers if they know of anyone with a house for rent when you move there - its just too early.

But you also need to have thought out for yourself how you will deal with questions about your significant other, which do often enough come up in casual conversation, especially on campus visits. When someone asks an apparently innocent questions ("So! You like doing activity X, which our city is known for; does your significant other, also?"), such that the honest and natural answer involves information that reveals your SO as a fellow academic, what will you say? Some people just lie; some people evade (which often looks like evasion); some people just answer honestly and take the possibility of it hurting one's chances at getting the offer. But you'll want to have sorted out for yourself what kind of general policy you want to have for that.

Anonymous said...

First question: After you have been offered the job.

Second question: Do not mention it until an offer has been made.

They hire you first. Then you negotiate.

Anonymous said...

Do NOT mention the two-body problem during an interview. During the interview phase, committees are looking for ways to eliminate candidates. Save that for later, after they've fallen in love with you and want you there.

Anonymous said...

I'm a married woman who did my PhD outside the USA. When I've had US job interviews, I've been fairly quick to mention personal details that suggest that I'm likely to take the job and stay. I'd mention that I'm actually a US citizen, grew up in the states, and have family here (I don't sound like that's true). I'd also mention how much my husband likes the states and how willing he was to move here (tenuously true). Search committees seemed to like this, since they weren't able to ask but didn't want to risk a temporary hire. If your spouse has job prospects in the area, and it's obvious that you're partnered and might have a two-body issue, then it seems worth alleviating their fears. But I wouldn't ask them to do anything to alleviate *your* fears until the job's in the bag!

Fritz Allhoff said...

Definitely do not mention it during interview! People might well punt on your whole candidacy to avoid the headache.

Anonymous said...

I took my wedding ring off before interviews. Hence, it is my view that you should not bring up the two body problem.

zombie said...

If you want the SC to know your citizenship, you can put it on your CV. I did that during my last year on the market, as I was applying from outside the US. The funny thing is that a lot of people in my dept still assume I'm from that other country.

Anonymous said...

As someone who's been on multiple hiring committees over the last few years: do not mention you have a two-body problem until after you get an offer.

If a candidate seems disinterested in the position, or unlikely to accept an offer, that can harm them in the final deliberations of the hiring process. Wait until after an offer is made before you inquire about accommodations. A two-body problem will scare off plenty of departments, fairly or not.

I think it's okay to mention you have a partner, but be oblique about it. Don't mention they are an academic, and if pressed on what they do I'd advise deflection, e.g., "Right now they support me getting a job! Once we've settled where we land they'll be able to find something easily. But I wanted to get back to that fascinating question you asked earlier about which introductory textbook I'd use ..."

Anonymous said...

Zombie -

Curious about the reasoning behind putting US citizenship on the CV; as I'm also a US citizen, but currently employed in and applying from Europe. Is the thought that (a) SCs will assume that people applying from abroad are from abroad; regardless of where they got their Ph.D. etc., and (b) that this assumption will be damaging if it goes uncorrected?

Anonymous said...

You can also mention citizenship, and such facts as that you want to relocate permanently to the US/UK/wherever, in your cover letter.
I have a two body problem and have been advised by everyone I've asked not to mention this until a job offer has been made.

Anonymous said...

On citizenship/PhDs from overseas: in addition to mentioning citizenship and relocation, make two other things clear in letters:

1. Whether you are easily available for interview

2. That you know and understand how teaching and learning works in the US, tying this to specific examples from your education and career history to date

Anonymous said...

I have a suggestion for people who are trying to negotiate a job for a partner. Have in mind that if the university offers a job to a partner, and the partner accepts that job, she/he will very likely get stucked in it. So if a University offers a partner a Lecturship and a vague promise of a tenure track in the future, consider the tenure track promise an empty one. All she/he will get is the Lecturship. The best thing to do is negotiate the tenure track for the partner BEFORE accepting the offer for the couple. If the University is not willing to offer the partner a tenure track at that point, it will be very hard to obtain it as an inside Lecturer in the future.

Anonymous said...

8.59 is absolutely right. It's a very serious problem. You won't be able to negotiate as easily for a better partner situation once you accept the initial set-up. Department leadership changes.

Standard advice about hiding your partner status till you get the offer is flawed in one very important respect:

Let's say that the department really wants you and will bend over backwards to get you. It's important to recognize that the lectureship might be the only thing that the department can afford at the point when standard advice tells you to raise the partner accommodation issue. This is the case at even fancy flagships. State budget cycles mean that most places can't just create a tenure track job for the partner in late March or early April. They will certainly have more flexibility earlier in the process, meaning pre-February. It's worth introducing the partner consideration earlier if there's a good way for you to do it.

If you accept the offer and they give your partner a lectureship, you can easily get stuck in that arrangement. It sucks, but suffice to say, the standard advice on this topic has its drawbacks

Anonymous said...

If you must mention it, please do not ever refer to it as "the two body problem."

Anonymous said...

"...to get back to that fascinating question you asked earlier about which introductory textbook I'd use..."

lol. If SC's buy that line, I think I'm going to try to sell them this nice bridge I have next time I do a campus visit.

zombie said...

3:19: there are immigration issues for the employer when a non-citizen is hired. Possibly some schools would be deterred by this. I think it is safe to assume that at least some SCs will assume that someone applying from abroad is from abroad.

I suppose in my case, I put it on my CV out of an abundance of caution.

Femfilosofer said...

My partner is also in philosophy. When I was campus-interviewing for the job I currently have, I didn't bring it up, but it did come out naturally in conversation. The person I was talking to just happens to be in a double-academic partnership, too, but they are both tenured at the same institution.

When I accepted the job, I told the committee my partner would be looking for adjunct work. With their connections, he has been able to pull together adjunct teaching loads, some great, some bare, but we get by.

Asstro said...

The alternate advice here, and this is a factor over which those with a TBP will have no control, is that if you do NOT have a TBP, then by all means, mention so during interviews. Say, "Yeah, my husband is a librarian, so he's pretty flexible. In fact, we've been looking at opportunities in the area and there are many great places he could work."

Anonymous said...

A person could certainly try to insist on a tt-line for their partner at the initial negotiating stage, but it might be useful to think about what is going on behind the scenes.

1. Like any self-respecting department, the partner's would-be department does not want a hire forced down their throat. The department knows that the hire will count as an official tt-line, and that a future request for a hire will very likely be impacted (that is, turned down). So a department will almost always want to hire someone through a national search.

2. The down-the-road thing actually works well a good number of times. A partner maybe gets a full-paid lectureship and gets to know the partner department, and then the department becomes interested in the person, and the dean finds the money if (and only if) it is in the university's interest to have both people tenure-track. For example, the two people might be good enough to be at better places separately, but now they would be locked in pretty much for life. There is a long line of academic couples in this situation, and the new hire and their partner do not come first.

4. Still a partner can get screwed in many many ways. I don't want to suggest otherwise. I just want to suggest that things are rigged from a host of different angles.

Rosa said...

A related question: if one gets a job offer and is going to ask for some kind of partner accomodation, what kind should they ask for? Obviously another TT would be ideal, but might be unrealistic. But is this like any other bargaining? Do you want an extreme start in the hopes that the eventual compromise will be closer to what you're after? Or is a university more likely to turn an extreme request down flat? I'd love to hear from anyone know has knowledge of concrete examples - SC members, people who have made successful or unsuccessful requests, etc.

Anonymous said...

I say, you want to start "extreme" (though I wouldn't call asking for a tt job for your partner- assuming they have a PhD, etc. "extreme").

They might not offer a tt job - they might only offer adjunct work or whatever. But the possibility that your partner will get a tt job is surely greater if you ask for that from the start. The odds of getting a tt offer when you begin by asking for something less, are, I suspect, quite low. Unless your partner is already a real star in the field.

In the Universities I've been familiar with, the only cases where one later got a tt job for the partner was when the original person got a tt job offer elsewhere (went back on the job market) - then you have bargaining power again. But its a big pain (and difficult, needless to say) to go looking for jobs once you've got one just to get your partner a job.

The time when you likely have the most bargaining power is when you've just been offered a job. Take advantage of it. They're not going to rescind the offer to you just because you've asked (politely of course) for a tt job for your partner.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, newbie question: I assumed "the two body-problem" referred to any married/partnered/committed-type situation, in which the job candidate's taking up a position was more or less dependent on the other body finding work in the area. But Asstro's post makes me think a TBP only refers to two academics both trying to get academic jobs...what is the general understanding of the term?

There are other possible combinations too, so I guess another way of asking the question is: lots of people are in two-body situations, but under what conditions does it become a two-body PROBLEM (in the minds of SCs, or whoever)?

Anonymous said...

I think this has as much to do with the school as anything. If I were interviewing at a major research institution - the kind of program that could more easily absorb another hire (TT, full-time lecturer, etc.) - I'd mention it early on. If the partner is a strong candidate in his/her own right, the program could argue for an "opportunity hire." I've seen it happen where hiring a couple has been used to bolster an already existing AOS or help develop a new one. Such hires are easier to sell if the program can explain how this would demonstrably improve the program.

On the other hand, if you are interviewing at a small school, one with a very small department that may not have the resources to hire adjuncts regularly - let alone create a line out of thin air - I'd wait until the offer. Mentioning it earlier than that may sink your application, as the department may nto want to risk losing you for fear they can't give your partner work. (And it may not be for lack of interest. At some small schools, there is no funding for contingent labor because there aren't enough sections. We don't have any adjuncts at my school because we don't have the courses to justify hiring them.)

As with most decisions about the market, there is no one answer. It's all dependent on the situation.

Anonymous said...

"(though I wouldn't call asking for a tt job for your partner- assuming they have a PhD, etc. "extreme")"

Seriously? You think TT jobs can just be created out of nothing?

zombie said...

8:19: You raise an important point. Any time a couple must relocate, the trailing partner has an employment problem (unless they work from home). The two-body problem typically means a two academic problem, but it is not always the case that the trailing partner is an academic, or is an academic in the same discipline. Schools located in areas where it is harder to get a decent job (rural or remote) must, out of necessity, try harder to accommodate any trailing partner, which might mean finding admin work on campus, or teaching. I know of several such arrangements at my University. In fact, virtually every couple I know here received some kind of spousal accommodation.

Asstro said...

My understanding is that the TBP is limited to academia and its offshoots. Almost all jobs that require relocation involve the uprooting a partner, and those don't generally pose the TBP in quite the same way. Two quick examples:

We made a senior hire recently and this hire's partner posed a TBP, though she was an academic/curator in a different discipline. We managed to find her a position that was to her satisfaction, but it certainly wasn't easy. It took a lot of negotiating and a fair bit of extra resources from the department. Of course, this sort of thing ought to be expected with senior hires, but still, it posed a problem that it wouldn't have posed had it been the case that the hire's partner were not an academic.

Second example: a close friend was offered a quite nice senior position at a reputable department. This would've been a horizontal move for this friend, though the pay was about $20,000 above her current salary. Because her husband is not an academic, and because he was constrained in a way that made relocation difficult, she turned down the offer and the department could do little to accommodate. In this case, the TBP would really have been a blessing in disguise, as it likely would've meant that the hiring department might search around to accommodate her partner. Fortunately her home department matched with a retention offer and she is now happily stuck under three feet of snow with her family.

Anonymous said...

You should only ever mention that you will be looking for accommodations/a job for your partner before you are offered a job *if* you are willing to have this impact the decision about whether to offer *you* a job in the first place.
Especially in a small department, or a place that may be worried about retention, it will be difficult for the department not to factor into their decision the fact that you will either need accommodations for your partner or will be back on the job market again soon.
Once you have an offer, what you should ask for depends a great deal on situation: how big the department is, what their funding situation is, whether you have more than one job offer, whether they have someone else in the department who does the same type of philosophy as your partner, whether your partner is a philosopher or another kind of academic.
I find the 'start extreme and see what you can bargain for' advice to be simplistic. If you want to treat your prospective hirer with respect and build a good relationship and good will, presumably you want to show some understanding of their situation and the kinds of constraints that they are working with too.

Anonymous said...

My University had a spousal accommodation policy some years ago, money actually set aside for such hires. The policy disappeared but sometimes they would work something out. Now, they do so only in very special cases. I'm guessing this May be a trend, since it's a money issue and there's a lot of that going around these days.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of money going around these days? Where?

Anonymous said...

OK, so bottom line - when should we raise the question?