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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

ABC's and PhD's: Academic partners
September 8, 2010 - 8:59am

Last week I read a publication newly released by the AAUP (American Association for University Professors) giving “Recommendations on partner accommodation and dual career appointments.

In reading it, I started thinking about some of the many dual-academic couples I know.

Two families immediately pop to mind, both a half generation older than I. The partners in each couple are now tenured and just moving into “empty nest” status. In both cases, the husband and wife were hired into their first assistant professorships together by an R1 institution (just to be clear, these couples are at different universities) where they have remained for their careers to date. In both cases, husband and wife are in closely allied fields, with professional lives crossing frequently – one of the pairs share lab space and graduate students, and both pairs carry out field work at the same place and the same time. Both have lovely families (they’ve provided us with great babysitters!), and all four researchers, as well as being successful academics in their own name, are devoted parents and have actively engaged their children in their academic work and travel. I’m a little surprised to know of two families with such similar hiring circumstances (and seemingly – you never really know – similar family lives) – maybe this dual hiring practice happens more than I think (or did at the time they were hired - late 1980’s).

Another situation worked out quite differently – this academic couple, after following each other to various institutions in positions such as post doc and visiting faculty, eventually were offered professorships together at the same institution (I don’t know for sure, but probably partly because of his academic success; he was many years older). But only a short time after starting their positions, they split up, dividing up their similar research interests partly by moving to new faculty positions about as far away as they could from one another – one on the West coast, one on the East. They are both well-regarded researchers. They also have children who did well and went on to college.

In each of these cases, (although I’m not sure of the exact negotiations that went on), these faculty were hired as dual-career appointments. But most of my friends have had experiences more like this couple I know. This couple had the stressful circumstance of one partner getting a position, the other following and teaching as an adjunct (this was the wife, who was several years behind the husband in her career). In this case, it worked out, both now have tenure-track positions at the same institution, as a job came up a couple years later for which she was able to apply. They now have a young family they grew very soon after this.

It’s interesting that the AAUP published these guidelines and that there is thought being put into the dual body problem. In their recommendations the AAUP cites research supporting that dual academic career aspiring couples are on the rise. I know (we all do) a lot of academics with academic partners – many in the same field – with a wide diversity of stories. It’s clear that the AAUP realizes that the dual career issue is difficult for this very reason: because there is such a huge diversity of situations and opportunities and policies out there, and often these are not static. But I’ll be glad to see this discussed more; it is a critical and common facet in the balance of academic careers and family, and how institutions deal with it may also affect retention of women in higher faculty ranks. Because as well as these more successful stories, we all know a lot of “dual bodies” who ended up with one partner leaving academia (and many, if not most cases I know of, this was the woman).


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