Dual Careers

Job-hunting in academia is tough. Perhaps, job-hunting in general is tough.  When you have a partner and they need a job too, things get even more complicated.

Both myself and my partner graduated from university at the same time, in different fields. I had already secured employment in a rural area, so I packed up and moved.  My partner, still searching, followed after me.

As people in the community started welcoming me – inviting me to what felt like hundreds of potlucks and barbecues – I realized quite the pattern.  The community surrounding the university was filled with tag-along spouses.  What I noticed almost immediately was most tag-along spouses were husbands. Yes, there were definitely tag-along wives, but the majority of the couples I met were PhD women with a self-employed or telecommuting male partner. (Strangely, I did not meet many homosexual couples – or any polyamorous people – early on.)

The town seemed like a pocket of highly educated women, with their supportive families.

(Whether or not this was actually the case is the topic for another blog post.)

While I am glad my male, female, and non-binary colleagues have the opportunity for advancement and a fulfilling career, I wonder about those tag-along spouses.  I am grateful for my partner’s companionship while I’m pursuing my career – as I’m sure all my colleagues are.

But I cannot say that I would be happy if the circumstances were reversed: I want a job that I like, and I enjoy being at the library (it’s just so quick and convenient to pop over to another office and ask a question).  I wouldn’t know until I was in that situation – but I don’t know if I would want to telecommute, and self-employment is not the traditional track that librarians take.  So, I understand that relegating our partners to self-employment or telecommuting or being househusbands/housewives might not be ideal.

From reading Inside Higher Ed, I found that many women seem to think the same way.  Researchers Julie Kmec and Hong Zhang from Washington State University conducted a study which found that female academics sought job offers that offered opportunities for their spouses. Basically, female academics prefer job offers where their spouses are also offered employment by the university.  (Male academics seem to find dual employment less crucial.)

Considering dual careers looks like an opportunity for universities and colleges to attract talent – especially talented women.


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