Career Center

You and your spouse or partner have completed years of coursework, research, writing and teaching on the way toward your doctorates. Now comes the hard part: finding jobs or internships that will meet your career goals without wrecking your relationship.

The challenges facing dual-career couples, particularly those aiming for academic positions, are great. While belt-tightening at universities is making extra money for spousal appointments hard to find, dual careers have become both a personal goal and an economic necessity for many couples, particularly in high-cost regions such as New York, Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area.

But there is hope. With hard work, good luck, clear goals, patience and a willingness to compromise, success is possible, say psychologists who have made their own dual-career relationships work. And although the academic job market remains intensely competitive, institutions of higher education are increasingly recognizing that providing support for employees in dual-career relationships-who now comprise about 80 percent of the faculty at American universities-can help them meet their own recruitment goals.

Take the example of Margo Monteith, PhD, and Donald Lynam, PhD. Like many dual-career couples, the two spent several years apart before they found jobs in the same location. When Monteith graduated with a PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1991, several years before Lynam was scheduled to finish his PhD there, she took a job at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Until Lynam graduated, they spent time together only over weekends and during the summers. In 1994, Lynam found an internship in Louisville, Ky., while Monteith found an assistant professorship at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. An assistant professorship in clinical psychology opened up in Monteith's department the next year, for which Lynam successfully competed, and they were both granted tenure several years later.

"It's not easy for dual-career couples, and I think we were really, really fortunate in how it worked out," says Monteith. "For many

couples, they have to compromise, and we don't feel that we did."


The most common advice for dual-career couples is perhaps the least comforting for graduate students already anticipating a difficult job search. Work hard and build up your vita, experts say, so that you are as attractive as possible to potential employers.

"Both of you need to be competitive in the market," stresses Loreto R. Prieto, PhD, who met his wife, Karen R. Scheel, PhD, when both were studying for doctorates in counseling psychology at the University of Iowa. After several years of moving from job to job, often living and working in different states, Prieto and Scheel both found professorships at the University of Oklahoma and then at the University of Akron.

Flexibility is key. In the tight academic job market, it is rare for two appropriate positions to open up simultaneously at the same university. As Prieto points out, only a handful of faculty positions in counseling psychology are available each year across the United States. So if you are committed to an academic career, geographical mobility is a must.

"The more restrictions you put on your professional opportunities, whether that's an internship or whether you're looking for academic positions, the slimmer your chances get," says Scheel.

Staggering your careers by a year or two can also help. Jen Kogos Youngstrom, PhD, and Eric A. Youngstrom, PhD, met in college and attended graduate school at the University of Delaware together, even working in the same laboratory. But because Jen began graduate school a year earlier than Eric, they avoided competing for the same graduate positions, internships and postdocs. During Eric's last year at Delaware, Jen was able to find an internship within driving distance of the university; when he graduated and found an internship in Pittsburgh, she found a postdoc at the same institution.

The more different your interests and skills are, the easier the job search is likely to be. While Eric was committed to finding an academic position, for instance, Jen was interested in clinical research and training. Now he teaches in the psychology department at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, while she conducts research and directs the APA-accredited internship program at Applewood Centers, a large community mental health center for children and adolescents in Cleveland.

Even when both members of a couple desire an academic position, as in the case of Prieto and Scheel, diversity of interests and skills is important. Part of the reason Scheel and Prieto were able to find jobs in the same department is that Scheel studies suicide prevention in university counseling centers while Prieto focuses on clinical training and assessment. As the heads of their respective search committees pointed out to them, it was their independent professional qualifications, not the fact that they were married, that got them their jobs.

The fact that a job candidate has a partner who is also an academic makes little difference to hiring committees, agrees John Campbell, PhD, chair of the psychology department at the University of Minnesota. Campbell says nearly two-thirds of his department's recent hires have involved dual-career issues. Problems are more likely to arise when candidates wait until the last minute to tell the department that their partner needs a position.

"It's better to raise whatever spousal issues you wanted to raise right away," he says.


Even when the job search goes well, it can strain your relationship. Disagreements over when to have children, what region of the country to live in and how to balance work and play can spiral out of control unless you are careful, say dual-career couples.

For the Youngstroms, the ability to improvise has proven to be essential. They initially planned to have their first child when Jen reached age 30, but when the time came they decided to postpone their plans, and Jen began a new job. Two weeks later she discovered that she was pregnant after all. Fortunately her employer allowed her to take time off, while Eric's more flexible academic schedule allowed him to care for their child when necessary.

For couples who work in the same department or institution, the myths that faculty, staff and students sometimes harbor about dual-career couples can be another source of stress, say Prieto and Scheel. Some colleagues, for instance, will insist on treating a couple as a single-minded unit even when it comes to professional issues. Prieto and Scheel say they occasionally need to remind colleagues that they can and do disagree about professional issues, and that such disagreements need not be a source of discomfort for others.

The "trailing spouse" syndrome can be another source of relationship stress. If one partner experiences significantly less professional success than the other, especially if that partner has made significant sacrifices for the sake of the other's career, resentment can build. While there is no sure-fire solution to this problem-professional frustration is not unique to dual-career couples-experts say that establishing and communicating your priorities is key.

"Have a clear idea of what you want to do and try to make it work out rather than compromising prematurely," suggests Monteith.

Being in a dual-career situation also has its bright sides, couples say. You and your partner understand each others' challenges uniquely well, you are passionate about many of the same things, and you can help each other over the rough spots.


University administrators are increasingly aware of the so-called "two-body problem," the title of a recent book on dual-career couples in academia by University of Kansas education professors Lisa B. Wolf-Wendel, PhD, Susan Twombly, PhD, and Suzanne Rice, PhD. They have to be: According to "The Two-Body Problem" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), about 35 percent of male faculty and 40 percent of female faculty are paired with other faculty members, and similar percentages have spouses or partners in nonacademic professional careers.

Recognizing this fact, universities in several areas have joined forces to improve recruitment practices and to provide regional job listings for job-seekers. In 2000, 15 institutions of higher learning in the San Francisco Bay Area formed the Northern California Higher Education Recruitment Consortium, which has served as a model for similar consortia in southern California and New Jersey.

"Our members are very cognizant of dual-career issues," notes Nancy Aebersold, director of the consortium. One reason is that universities recognize the relationship between supporting dual-career couples and attracting a high-quality, diverse faculty. A task force at Harvard University recently recommended establishing such a consortium for the greater Boston area as a way of improving the status of women faculty.

"I think universities are getting more and more aware that [helping spouses find jobs] can actually be a recruiting tool," says Georgine Pion, PhD, a psychologist who studies career development and human resources policy. Pion holds a research associate professorship in the Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, where her husband, David Cordray, PhD, is a professor. Nonetheless, Pion warns, research positions such as hers, which depend largely on "soft money" from external grants, are particularly vulnerable to funding cuts.

Institutional support is also available for couples in clinical psychology who are seeking internships. Since 1999, the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) has offered couples the option of submitting their internship preferences in pairs. Last year, 10 couples were matched to internships in the same cities, while four were matched to internships within 100 miles of each other. Only two couples who submitted paired rankings were not successfully matched.

"It can be a tremendous benefit to applicants who wish to coordinate their matches," says Greg Keilin, PhD, APPIC Match coordinator.

Etienne S. Benson is a writer in Cambridge, Mass.

"The more restrictions you put on your professional opportunities, whether that’s an internship or whether you’re looking for academic positions, the slimmer your chances get."

Karen R. Scheel
University of Akron