Unsolicited Advice: Geography, Spouses and the Job Search.(updated)

Abel pharmboy has a very nice post up today about the application process- and casting a wide net as part of the discussion started by Physioprof and hijacked by me…. which you can all go over there and read.  Dr. Free-Ride has a comment on that post-… which I will quote here… because I’ve got to say a thing or two about it…

From experience, geography is a constraint if one has a partner whose career is not fully portable, and especially if you both have kids whose care you want to be a part of.

I get this, I do. I am part of a two academic career partnership and we have two kids. And we were married, and we had at least one child at the various times both of us were going through the job search process.

But here’s the thing- while this will play into whether or not at the end of the process you will move to particular location- this shouldn’t play into whether or not you APPLY to a particular place at the beginning of the process. Applying does not mean that you are going, it doesn’t even mean that you should consider the above point at all. What applying does mean is that you: A. that you hike your chances of getting multiple interviews, offers and ultimately ending up somewhere where both you and spouse (or partner) are together, employed and can raise your kids together , and B. you may find something unexpected.

All double career couples, kids or no, have to make decisions about how their partnership is run… is living together something that is a priority in that partnership. This is a personal decision- and for myself I don’t choose to have a job in another city and live away from my spouse and children. But this has no bearing on whether or not I would apply for a particular job- or what the opportunities might be for my spouse in a particular location that I have never (and he has never) visited…

And just one more thing- Dr. Brazen Hussy– this is in response to your most recent post detailing the reasons why you are selectively applying. This is the beauty of the thing- it is your life and you get to conduct it as you like.  But- I’m advising you as someone who has been down this path not once, but twice- as someone who had 10 interviews, and 5 offers.  Physioprof, Abel Pharmboy (and I hope I can speak for the two of them on this one), and myself- we have done this successfully and relatively recently ourselves, we have been around, we have been on search committees, we KNOW the system from the inside- this is not general advice from some guy on the corner who knows nothing about academia. We are trying to help you navigate the system successfully to get the outcome that you want.  And c’mon- changing your application cover letter to personalize it for each job is just not that difficult.


14 thoughts on “Unsolicited Advice: Geography, Spouses and the Job Search.(updated)

  1. I guess my own job search strategy (only applying to positions for which there was a non-zero chance that my partner could find a position in a commutable geographical radius) was based on a couple additional features of my situation when I was on the market:

    1. The hiring process in philosophy (the academic field in which I’m now situated) is very labor intensive on the searching department’s end. It includes conference interviews as well as campus interviews and all manner of other crap on either side and between. Given that we already knew that some areas of the country would not work for my partner professionally, I was not prepared to jerk around a bunch of people in my field with the work necessary to consider me as an applicant if they were in a “won’t work” region. Souring those professional relations could do me damage in the long run.

    2. My sense is that pieces of your job search arsenal like cover letters might be more important in philosophy than in the sciences (although this really varies school to school, department to department, search committee member to search committee member). If you’re trying to tailor each cover letter to the position, throwing extras in there requires extra time and effort. Spending this extra time and effort applying for a job you know you won’t take because of some non-negotiable factor is going to cut into the time and effort you can spend on your applications to actually possible positions, or into your sleep. I need my sleep.

    3. Extraneous campus interviews can make it hard to fulfill your obligations to the position you have while you’re searching for the new position. While I was on the market I was teaching a full load and doing all the daycare pick ups and drop offs (day care being proximate to my position, not my partner’s 60 miles away). I got a lot of fly-backs, and negotiating those logistics was harder than some experiments I’ve done. Adding more (for positions not actually on the table for us) would have required more time, effort, stress, calling in of favors, etc. The marginal returns, for us, would not have been worth it.

    But, as you point out, everyone has to work out their own strategies and ordering of priorities on the job market. I do think, though, that it’s worth taking into account the real costs of more applications rather than taking as given that more is always better.

  2. Dr. Free-Ride-
    These are are all excellent points, and as you say- every person, every family has to do what is right for them.

    ‘I was not prepared to jerk around a bunch of people in my field with the work necessary to consider me as an applicant if they were in a “won’t work” region’

    You make a very important point here. I am not saying that I like the system the way it is- that applying somewhere where you at the outset, without visiting, think that there is a relatively low chance you might go…. and having the sense that you are jerking a department around. In fact, I HATE it that the system is this way.

    Just like I hate the fact that in order to get a raise or promotion in academia many times you have to go back out on the job market AGAIN, even though you have pretty much no intention of leaving your department.

    But- this is the way the system works. Its crappy- I’m the first to say that, but it is what it is.

  3. I don’t know exactly what field you are in, but I get the sense that it is very different from mine. Every single person I have spoken to in my field advises the exact opposite of what you are suggesting. The year
    I applied to so many jobs, I was told that I was making a big mistake. I was told that I looked desperate and not like a serious candidate. And it’s a small field, and people talk. Everyone I know in my field who has been successful on the job market only applied to 3-5 jobs at a time.

    I appreciate that you are trying to be helpful. But the advice you are giving is absolutely counter to every other single piece of advice I have ever received. And as I’ve already pointed out, that strategy has already failed me once. And we all know what the definition of insanity is.

  4. Dr. Brazen Hussy-

    There may be field specific differences, for sure. However, I notice by looking at your post (where you summarize the stats from your previous search) that you applied for positions that were all over the map – of the 41 positions- only 29 were tenure track (or something like that)… and the rest were in several diverse categories.

    I want to be clear that this kind of approach is NOT what I am advocating. First, I am suggesting that one should decide if one wants a tenure track job or not, is one suited to this job, is one qualified for this job. Once that decision is made, and this might require some soul searching and talking to people who can give you an honest evaluation of your skills- then pull out all the stops and hit the academic applications hard looking only for a tenure track position.

    I can see where we are misunderstanding each other from looking at your post- I’m not meaning for you to apply for ANY kind of position at any rank in any type of business that you might be remotely suited for. I’m advocating applying for as many academic tenure track junior faculty level positions as are applicable to you- even if the job description doesn’t fit you even 80% (trust me they hardly ever find someone who fits the job description that heavily), – If it is a tenure track academic position that you want. And do this generally without respect for geography or other factors which you can not prejudge in advance.

    Being all over the map in the types of positions you apply for may make it appear as though you lack focus and leave it unclear as to what you really are looking for. I can see how this would get around in a bad way- I fail to see how going full out at an academic position could be a bad thing though.

  5. I think that it’s easy enough to avoid ‘jerking around’ – and often (as has been noted elsewhere) the contacts made during interviews can be extremely beneficial.

    The point regarding the time investment to go to so many interviews, though, is very accurate: at a minimum of three days for each, it quickly adds up, especially when the various costs of impact at home and at existing job are tallied.

  6. “B. you may find something unexpected.”

    Indeed you may. I am 1/2 of a 2 academic career partnership as well, and we have 2 kids, 1 at time of huge dual job search. I applied everywhere (60 apps, 5 interviews, 3 offers). Dear Spouse applied everywhere (80 apps, 8 interviews, 4 offers). All apps were TT in our respective fields at research universities, institutes, or med schools. Where we ended up, get this, did not even have a department, much less an open position, in my field. It was a small but expanding department looking to fill 2-3 positions for thingyologists into which DS fit a perfect niche, but he and I saw it as a total practice opportunity for him (it was his first interview). Well they loved him so much they decided to interview me as well, despite the fact that most of them had never even met an otherstuffographer, much less thought of recruiting one. They were surprised to find good possibilities for interaction and started thinking about the value of getting input into their thingyology studies from a cross-disciplinary perspective. In the end we had 3 different pairs of TT offers at different institutions to choose from, but this opportunity was the best. End of anecdote.

  7. Ewan-

    I agree with you about the time commitment involved in interviewing- it takes a hideously large amount of time, effort, and preparation to go on these things. It surely was not easy to get this to work with an academic spouse and two children. At the end of that year I was sure I never wanted to see another airplane, rental car, or hotel room. This is a balancing act for every two career couple- whether the spouse has an academic position or some other position that requires them to concentrate on something in addition to raising kids.


    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I want to use this moment to point out that if a department loves you enough, and are relatively progressive, they will do what it takes to recruit you, and your spouse. Your story illustrates this very well!

  8. I am fresh from the job application zone, and I have a spouse who is also in science/academia. When I was applying for jobs there were 2 specific cities that I did not apply for positions for. These were places that I have been and despise (not small flyover cities, as lord knows I applied to many of those!). I was completely unwilling to live in either of these locations for solid reasons, therefore I didn’t bother applying.

    BUT, I did apply to a whole range of geographic locations…some of which would have presented my spouse with a tough job choice. But, we decided that we would check all such places out (or rather I Would on the interview) and if I got an offer from such a location, we would deal with it. For me, the ugly truth is that while I think I am pretty good, I don’t have enough glamour mag pubs to go wherever I wanted, so I had to apply to a bunch of places and see what fit best for them and me.

  9. I guess it is worth adding, that it was a successful job search, as I found a great position…and it without providing too many details, it worked out wonderfully for my spouse as well.

  10. This is the beauty of dialogue on the web. I am in a similar type field to Dr Brazen Hussy, so while I love reading the advice on various blogs (and have found alot of it EXTREMELY helpful), I always end up asking myself, how does this apply to me? does it apply in the country that I live (vastly different from America)or in other places that I might apply? How can I amend this advice to suit my situation and improve my chances of getting a job that I want?

    I think the field that I am in (ecology)does have different constraints and opportunities. But all this debate provides a great medium for useful reflection, and I have changed my mind about some aspects of the job search which I hope will help me score the job I want. Great discussion.

  11. One thing I left out of my previous comment, but is also relevant to this thread: if DS and I had applied only to institutions where there were advertised positions that fit our partner’s qualifications, instead of 3 dual TT offers we would have had 1. If we had limited our applications on the basis of not perfectly meeting every element of the job descriptions, preconceived ideas about the cultural milieau of the cities, the natural environment of the regions, the climate, the prestige of departments/institutions, the proximity to extended family… even just any *one* of these criteria… we would have had no dual TT offers whatsoever.

  12. anon-

    I am glad that readers of this blog find the posts and discussion useful. That’s what this is all for, and every reader will have to take into account the situation in their own field- by talking to trusted mentors who know the field, for sure. Thanks for contributing!!

    Crystaldoc- Excellent, excellent comment – that goes to the general point we are trying to make that it is not a good idea to limit yourself from the beginning of the search….

  13. I admit I am pasting my response over at DrugMonkey’s – I did not see this one earlier.

    Adding to say: I am female and make my poor non-academic husband follow me around so am certainly not one who makes huge sacrifices for location.


    I have a chronic illness and disability that makes it difficult to impossible for me to live in certain climates. I’m not being picky or romantic or sacrificing my career for XYZ. I’m fuckin disabled and believe me I did not “choose” this…

    5 applications, 4 interviews, dream job landed.

    Yes it was very stressful. If you’re doing the narrow application thing: CYA. Best thing to CYA is a kickass list of pubs. But invest as well in some postdoc funding of some sort in case it doesn’t work out.

    Meantime: for everone who told me this was impossible! (I guess this blog doesn’t allow links but here’s how I feel: http://torkunc.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/nanik.gif )

    RO1’s impossible to get? I don’t think so!! Bring it on.

    It’s a gamble I guess. I had no chooice but to play. I just want to put it out there however, sometimes you do get what you want!

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