Early-Career Psychology

It’s hard enough to find one good academic job. Now imagine you have to find two at the same time. That’s the predicament psychologists Brian A. Nosek, PhD, and Bethany A. Teachman, PhD, found themselves in when they began their first job search as a couple in the fall of 2000.

Nosek was a year ahead of Teachman in grad school at Yale, so he began his job search first. He applied to four universities, got an offer and accepted it contingent upon the university’s finding a position for Teachman. When the school decided not to hire her, he sat out a year, then went back on the market the following year. That time, Teachman got seven interviews and five offers. Nosek got nothing, not even an interview.

“In the first round, Bethany felt terrible that I got this great job offer and wondered if she had ruined my entire career by not getting a job at the same place,” says Nosek, adding that his accepting the position would have meant his wife’s sacrificing her career goals since there were no other options in the region. “In the second go-round, it was very challenging to think, ‘Now I’m the one who’s the problem.’”

Fortunately, the University of Virginia was able to accommodate Nosek as well as Teachman, and today both are associate professors of psychology there.

As Nosek points out, the fact that so many couples pair off in grad school means that the challenges of dual-career job searches are very common. A study by Stanford University’s Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research (see “Further reading” at the bottom of this page) found that 36 percent of the more than 9,000 full-time faculty members surveyed at 13 leading research universities in the United States were part of a dualcareer academic couple. And although the proportion of academic couples has stayed relatively constant over the past four decades, the Stanford study found, couple hiring has jumped from 3 percent of all faculty hires in the 1970s to 13 percent in the 2000s.

Job hunting as an academic couple can cause problems both professionally and personally. But fortunately, universities are increasingly realizing that hiring couples can be an effective recruitment and retention tool and are creating policies to make that happen. And resources like the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC), an organization that now partners with APA, are helping them do so.

Job-hunt challenges

The economic crisis has made dual-career hiring more of a challenge than before, says Lisa E. Wolf-Wendel, PhD, coauthor of “The Two-Body Problem: Dual-Career-Couple Hiring Practices in Higher Education” (2003) and a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Kansas.

“Institutions have had hiring freezes and aren’t hiring anyone, let alone a second person,” she says, adding that some institutions have put dual-career hiring policies on hiatus as they ride out the lean years. “Or they’ve diverted tenure-track lines into instructor or lecturer positions, so even the first hire isn’t necessarily a tenure-track person.”

Those trends make the perennial question of when to disclose that you’re part of a dual-career couple to would-be employers even trickier, says Wolf-Wendel.

“Even if the institution has a dual-career hiring policy, if you’re a junior person looking for a job, the general rule of thumb is not to burden the search committee until they offer you a job,” she says, explaining that this isn’t as much of a worry for more senior, well-known academics. “If they can choose from 300 people and know you have a special need and maybe won’t come if they make you an offer, maybe they won’t bother.”

Of course, institutions want to know as soon as possible whether they need to accommodate a second person. “If you wait until you have an offer to let them know, they have to scramble,” says Wolf-Wendel.

If the partner is in a different field, for example, the department will have to persuade another department to make a hire or find some other solution. With enough advance warning, Wolf-Wendel says, a department might be able to come up with some kind of creative funding model. A psychology department or college of arts and sciences could come up with a third of the money, for example, with the provost’s office and another department splitting the remainder of the costs.

When Nosek and Teachman were job-hunting, they decided to disclose the other person’s existence before the end of an interview, with the idea that an interested institution would start working on a solution right away. But Nosek advises his students to make the decision on a case-by-case basis and draw on inside knowledge — what he calls “the gossip network” — to figure out which departments may be amenable to dual-career hires.

Resources that can help

Of course, there are more formal resources that can help, too. A school’s dual-career office, if available, may be able to provide assistance even before you have an offer. While staff there may not go all out for a spouse or partner before an offer is made, they may at least be able to give you some idea of options. The Higher Education Dual Career Network maintains a list of schools that offer dual-career services. “We’re not a placement office and don’t guarantee placement,” says Joan M. Murrin, director of the University of Iowa’s Dual Career Network. “We’re a resource.”

Murrin’s office will interview spouses or partners to learn about their job needs, flexibility, long-term plans and “their Plan B, C and sometimes even Plan D in this horrible economic environment.” The office’s two-person staff will help job-seekers explore options within the university and without, post candidates’ biosketches on its website for area employers to peruse, review CVs and even videotape mock interviews.

The office can help spouses and partners even if both aren’t academics. In fact, says Murrin, it’s easier to find a job for a non-academic spouse because there are more options. And, she adds, the office doesn’t just work with married couples; unmarried partners and same-sex couples are welcome to use the service. She has also helped place siblings and even an adult child with disabilities.

Murrin also keeps an eye out for the emotional issues that can derail dual-career relationships, such as living apart, professional jealousy, depression over job prospects or the stigma of being what was once called the “trailing spouse.” If she sees troublesome behaviors, she refers people to counselors.

Institutions are also joining together to solve the dualcareer problem. Five colleges in the Amherst, Mass., area, for example, have come together as the Academic Career Network. The network helps those schools and others accommodate dual-career couples by listing New England-area job postings and running a listserv on which deans and human resources directors can share CVs.

Another resource for universities and couples is HERC, which includes 557 schools in 22 states and the District of Columbia, organized into a national office and a dozen regional groups. HERC’s website offers job listings for dual-career couples seeking faculty, staff and executive career opportunities. HERC also has a CV and resume database that institutions can search for possible candidates. Couples can link their profiles to receive job alerts matching both individuals’ criteria.

HERC’s region-specific focus is a big plus, says Nancy Aebersold, executive director of National HERC. “Often, spouses and partners are searching from afar,” she says. “Through HERC, which is the only website of its kind in higher ed that really engages all of the campuses in a single region and encourages them to post all their open positions, they find out about opportunities they wouldn’t know about otherwise.” A ZIP code search function allows users to hunt for jobs within 50 miles of their partner’s job.

Another advantage is that HERC allows its member institutions to post all open positions. “On other sites, they might only be able to afford to post one or two positions,” says Aebersold. “As a HERC member, institutions are able to post all of their open positions.” Last year, APA became a National HERC partner, which gives HERC members discounts on advertising job openings in APA’s publications, website and the APA Annual Convention.

Addressing the needs of dual-career couples in academia is critically important for colleges and universities that want to recruit and retain the most talented and diverse faculty and administrators, says Aebersold.

“HERC is the only organization that is engaging colleges and universities on a nationwide scale in collaborating on assisting dual-career couples,” she says. “Collectively, we have identified several successful methods — our jobs websites, our collegial network and our sharing of best practices — that are helping faculty and their partners achieve a satisfying balance between work and family life.”


Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.

Further reading

Want to know more about dual careers?

Go to “Beyond the Trailing Spouse: The Future of Dual-Career Support in the Academy,” June 4 and 5 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. The conference is geared toward academic administrators (deans, provosts), dual-career consultants, faculty recruitment professionals and higher education HR professionals. It will include a mix of interactive sessions, scholarly presentations and collegial best-practice sharing on the dualcareer topic.

The event is co-sponsored by the New England HERC, National HERC, Higher Education Dual Career Network and College of Holy Cross. More information is available online.