My version of the two-body problem

Luckily for me, this problem isn’t quite a problem just yet. Since my significant other and I are still both working on our PhDs. Unfortunately, this is very much on the horizon, as the boyfriend will be graduating this summer. And so I have been reading lots of articles about how other professionals deal with these challenges. And its pretty scary.

Growing up I was always told that I could do whatever I wanted to do. While I wouldn’t characterize my parents as extremely pro-equality they were almost secret feminists. My parents were clear that I shouldn’t let any boys get in the way of my attempts at world domination. And I didn’t even think of letting those pesky boys get in my way! Sure I dated guys and talked about dreams and forevers, but I never really seriously considered compromising my goals. Until this guy. Who is really perfect for me in every way.

Now I feel like I’m sitting on a balance where I need to decide me or family. And I hate that feeling. Its not fair that I should feel like I have to choose between 1) Following my career and climbing the ladder or 2)Focusing on my [someday] family. Now before you tell me to man up, I realize lots of people successfully manage this challenge. But they are often overworked and under appreciated (in some aspect of life) and struggling hard. I don’t see many stories that talk about a manageable amount of work life balance. And that makes me feel like I need to choose, because I don’t want to kill myself in the pursuit of science.

And so here we sit, with the significant other about to graduate and myself trying to decide where I want to be. He is very firm in his career goals. He wants to get back into industry and climb the ladder. Chief Scientific Officer is his goal. Shall I follow along like the good housewife (which I may or may not enjoy), search for an alternate career that will allow mobility to follow his job, or fiercely focus on my career and make the two body problem my success?


12 thoughts on “My version of the two-body problem

  1. Difficult problem. You have my sympathies.

    Some institutions are wising up and trying to provide assistance in finding positions to partners of new faculty. But not all do.

    There was discussion about this at my university, which hosted an NSF ADVANCE program workshop about a year ago. You might scan this list of ADVANCE institutions to see if any are promising:


  2. My experience is restricted to State Universities. Academic search committees in public universities mostly operate under strict rules that dictate ignoring sex, race, marital status, spouses, and such. Even if the candidate mentions the two-body problem, the committees are supposed to ignore this information. As a result good candidates go through a very prolonged “dance” with the hiring institution, which is mostly ill prepared to deal with the problem or unable financially to deal with the problem. Until universities will change the rules and couples will be able to apply openly and honestly, I don’t see a good solution to the problem.
    You should, of course, count your blessing as a heterosexual couple. In Texas, we are forbidden to even consider a gay couple as a two-body problem.
    My only piece of advice is look in big cities. Many of them have enough employers to offer positions for two ambitious people. Don’t even try to find something in a college town.
    Also, don’t use the term “housewife.” Use the original “hausfrau.”


  3. Alie Astrocyte says:

    It’s great that you have found someone you care deeply about and want to make things work with, but the tone of your final paragraph is somewhat surprising. Is your partner unwilling to compromise in any way? His goals sound admirable, but the relationship takes two – it’s not your responsibility alone to make this work. If you truly believe you would be more fulfilled and happier by moving away from science and into something else to support your partner’s dreams, then go for it; but it isn’t fair to you or the relationship if you’re the only one making a sacrifice, and might end up breeding resentment in the long run. If he is committed to making things work with you, maybe he will consider delaying his ambitious plans so the two of you can job hunt together, or focus his search on places where you are more likely to find work in the long run (like big cities).


    • Thanks for your comment. You make excellent points and I wanted to give you a little more background. My last paragraph is a result of the boyfriend having more concrete goals that I do currently, ie I don’t know what I want to do after graduation (I know a few things I don’t want to do, but that isn’t enough). One of my goals with this blog is to explore the options available and think about them. Science or not is definitely part of it. The reality of the situation is that we are both committed to living near each other which means taking jobs we may or may not want at the time.


      • Alie Astrocyte says:

        Good! I’m glad it was a matter of my own misinterpretation. Compromise is huge and hard, but in my own experience, I’ve found that making compromises both ways has resulted in a happier, stronger relationship. Good luck to you and your significant other; I hope you’re able to find positions that fit you both well!


  4. NewPhD says:

    Don’t forget about smaller metros with a big science footprint (RTP in NC is the one I’m familiar with). And talk with your partner. I’m a husband who is seriously considering curtailing some of my scientific “dreams” to be a better husband and father. There was a really good post a few years back by a TT female scientist talking about how it’s nearly impossible for women in science to “have it all” as it’s advertised.

    Good luck to you in your decision making. It’s your life. Make the most of it.


  5. Thanks for this! I am planning on writing about this topic as well. Good to know there are others out there in the same boat! It will all work out in the end no matter what decision you make.


  6. I am currently in a long-distance marriage myself all I can say is communication is key. Communication between the two of you if you go long distance, and communication before hand to make sure that you two are on the same page. Its OK to struggle with this decision, and whatever you both choose is totally fine, you follow him, him follow you, some other option, the key is that you BOTH decide on it.

    For my husband and I right now we have decided on long distance till I finish school, since there is nothing here for him, and once I finish we will find jobs together (come hell or high water).

    I wish there was an easy answer, trust me. Best of luck to you both.


  7. Also don’t forget the role your partner’s future employers will have in supporting his, yours and your maybe offspring’s family life. If they shag him out while he’s climbing the ladder, that makes it almost pointless for him to be a father and you’ll resent him for it, and he’ll be stressed out and miserable. It’s possible to have sane hours, high standards and achieve what you want professionally, while being a good dad & partner – but it requires a workplace that shares those values, and a clear decision from your partner about how he wants to behave.


    • Michael says:

      To elaborate – for you to both be working and raising kids, you *both* have to choose your work carefully. Having a bit of help with the kids from family takes the pressure off, but lots of academics live a long way from their parents.


  8. Ewan says:

    I was in a very similar situation when we finished out PhDs: my wife had both clear direction and attractive job offers, I was heading for a postdoc but didn’t care that much where. So she picked a job and I figured I could get a postdoc at whatever the closest good university was; worked out just that way, and left neither of us with regrets. One anecdotal data point :).


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