There are a surprising number of printable U.S. maps on the internet. I know this because I needed one during the job search my then boyfriend, now husband, Eric, and I undertook in 2017. While I found plenty of maps, I discovered little, if any, advice for couples where both people have Ph.D.s and are seeking nonfaculty positions.
Resources are available for Ph.D. couples seeking dual faculty careers or for couples where one person is seeking a faculty position and the other is not. And this article has advice for how to support graduate students who have partners and families. Sure, some of the job search considerations for Ph.D. couples are the same for couples in any career path, but finding Ph.D.-level positions comes with distinct considerations that compound when two Ph.D.s are looking together. In this article, I will provide a few tips for dual Ph.D. job searches beyond the professoriate.
Eric and I met in Washington, D.C., when he was completing a postdoc and I was working for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Eric’s doctoral degree is in chemistry, while mine is in microbiology, although I now work in Ph.D. career development. By spring 2017, we saw a long-term future for our relationship, although we were not yet engaged, and we decided that neither of us wanted to make Washington home. Eric’s postdoc also was coming to a natural transition point, so it made sense to start looking for new positions.
Our job search presented several considerations that I know many other Ph.D.s face. First, we desired positions where our doctorates were valued, but we were not looking for faculty positions. Second, we were early in our careers, so it was unlikely that employers were going to make a position for the other person, especially given that we were not married. Third, we had several nonnegotiable priorities. While priorities vary by couple, we wanted to live in a place in the middle of the country that was as small as possible -- not a major city -- and we were not willing to live in separate locations for more than six months.
As you begin your job search, you can use dual-career search engines that allow you and your partner to locate positions both within academe and outside it, like the one that Inside Higher Ed offers. I also have three pieces of advice if you are in a similar position to Eric and me.
No. 1. Maintain open and honest communication with your significant other. You’ll need to make tradeoffs and compromises, so you both should be honest about your values, interests and opinions.
No. 2. Prepare for your job search together and start at least six months in advance of when you need positions. What is your timeline? What types of positions are you seeking? What job characteristics are most important to each of you (e.g. salary, benefits, location)? Are you going to prioritize one person’s job over the other? Find a way to delineate which factors are negotiable (and how much) between the two of you and which are not.
We found it helpful to identify the priorities for our job search separately and then discuss them together. That allowed us to be honest with ourselves before sharing our thoughts with one another. It’s also where the maps came in. Since we identified location as an important factor, we both filled out maps with the states where we were excited (green), willing (yellow) or not willing (red) to move. We decided beforehand that we would not search in any state that we both listed as yellow or that one of us marked red and would focus most of our attention on the double green states.
No. 3. Keep the future in mind when possible. If you anticipate major changes in the future -- a career change, having children -- take those factors into consideration. In the sciences, many Ph.D.s do a postdoctoral fellowship after graduate school. Discussing your anticipated career trajectories before deciding where to do your postdoc can be helpful. For example, two of my graduate school friends who were married narrowed their postdoc/job searches to Boston and San Francisco because they knew that job opportunities for science Ph.D.s in their chosen fields are plentiful in both places, making a future move less likely.
While preparing before your job search is key, a few questions commonly pop up for couples:
- What do you call your significant other in interviews and other job-related situations if you are not married? This depends on your comfort level and the stage of your relationship. Generally, “significant other” or “partner” implies more of a long-term commitment than “girlfriend” or “boyfriend.” While I decided to call Eric my “significant other,” this article lightly discusses different options.
- When should you mention your partner? In most cases, I advise not to mention them before the in-person interview. During the interview, if you are asked what factors will influence your job search -- a common question -- then it is appropriate to mention your significant other. You also can work them into a response about yourself or why you are looking for a new position. (e.g.: “My partner and I recently finished graduate school …”)
- Can you request assistance from your prospective employer for your partner? Again, this depends on your situation. In an ideal case, by the time an offer is made, the employer is aware of your partner and addresses them in their offer. If the employer is unaware, then discuss them after an offer is made. While employers do not owe you a solution, they usually want you to be successful and happy in your new role, so they may offer some sort of assistance. The type of help can vary from informal advice to introductions to local hiring managers to a job offer for your partner.
In Eric’s and my case, I received an interview first and was asked directly what my decision factors would be if I were offered the job. I knew the employer could not offer Eric a position, as the organization was biomedically focused. But when I mentioned Eric as a critical factor, the recruiter said that he often informally helped new hires’ significant others find employment. He reiterated this when he offered me the job. The job was a great fit for me in a desirable location where Eric had professional connections, so we decided together that I would accept, although Eric did not yet have a position. Between Eric’s persistence and network and my employer’s assistance, Eric was able to land a great position in industry about a month later.
For many couples, it may take longer than that to land two positions. Job searches can be difficult, and the uncertainty during this period for you as a couple may add an additional challenge. Use your support system. For Eric and me, that was our family, friends and Christian faith. Mentors, colleagues and professional mental health providers are wonderful resources, too. Finally, do not forget to maintain open and honest communication with your partner as you forge a new path together.