Saturday, September 27, 2008

To admit or ignore: the conundrum of an academic couple on the market

For those of you following my little blog, you know that General Disarray and I have been contemplating hitting the market this fall. We're pretty picky about where we would go (afterall, no point jumping to an equivalent or worse situation) and finally a couple of jobs have opened up which have caught our attention. Two of these are of the generic "looking for anyone in the fields of ecology and evolution" type. So we're both applying for some of the same jobs. (Having served on two search committees of the 'someone who works on pink spotted (but not red spotted) people-eaters who only eat tall people (but not short people) coming out of Wendy's on Sundays' searches, I cannot imagine how one evaluates that many job packets from so many sub-disciplines. General Disarray and I have joked that they must just weigh each CV for their first cut through the applicant pool...but of course nowadays it's all electronic so maybe it's a byte count...anyway I seriously digress).

So, we dutifully emailed our letter writers, pinky swearing them to secrecy (seems funny to swear them to secrecy and then blog about it, but I guess that's why I'm (hopefully) anonymous). More than one of my letter writers asked if it was okay to mention General Disarray in their letter. I have to admit I was more than a little bafoozled by the question. The argument coming from my letter writers was that they thought it would not hurt, but would help our applications and since we would not leave our current university without jobs for both of us, there was no reason not to be upfront about this. I had to admit that the logic seemed reasonable. Afterall, no point wasting everybody's time and effort if there is no way a department can come up with a second job, right? And, letting them know at the outset would give them maximum time to secure a second job if they wanted, right? Except....have you all seen the Incredibles? There's a scene where Mr Incredible wants a cape for his new superhero suit and Edna (the eccentric superhero fashion designer) says "No cape!" and begins listing all the superheros done in by their cape.


Figure 1. Mr Incredible, Edna, and the 'Hobo Suit'

Well, like Edna, I can list very good academic couples that appeared to suffer on the job market from honesty. Some of these people were frankly superstars, who if on the market independently would have secured interviews at a majority of schools, yet surprisingly received 1 or no interview requests when the fact that they would need a job for their spouse was either in their cover letter or in their letters of recommendation. I suspect that when deciding who to interview, there is overt or subconscious bias against people who have admitted openly they need a second job for their spouse. To really test this, General Disarray and I would randomly choose half of our applications to be sent with cover letters admitting we were an academic couple and half where we did not and see if there was a statistical difference in interview rates....but I strongly suspect that we will not have a large enough sample size to make it meaningful.

On the flip side, I also suspect that General Disarray and I may be outted anyway since we will be opposite gendered people applying from the same university. Furthermore, we know people at these universities, and we know that they know about us. I have no clue how a committee would respond if they knew we were married but we hadn't brought it up. Would the search committee wonder if we thought they were stupid or assume we were getting a divorce?

Anyway, I am opening this question to you, dear readers. I'm working on my job packet this week, so there's plenty of time to incorporate your suggestions! Do we admit up front in our job applications that we're looking for two positions or deal with it if we manage to get an interview/offer?


PhysioProf said...

General Disarray and I have joked that they must just weigh each CV for their first cut through the applicant pool.

It's not a joke; it's what every search committee does. First thing you do is exclude applicants who have simply not been sufficiently productive, without wasting time looking at any of the rest of the application.

Do we admit up front in our job applications that we're looking for two positions or deal with it if we manage to get an interview/offer?

I strenuously urge the latter approach. First you make them want you, badly. Then you tell them what they need to do to get you.

This will clarify their minds in terms of doing what it takes to get you. By making the two-body problem clear up front, you create an obstacle that at that point they may have little incentive to overcome.

bikemonkey said...

WIN for working in one of the greatest moments in cinema! NO CAPES!

EcoGeoFemme said...

I have no advice, but I'm really interested to hear how this plays out. Please keep us posted.

River Tam said...

BikeMonkey-- Totally agree, one of my favorite movie moments! Unfortunately, my personality doesn't fit or I would have chosen Edna for my nom-de-blog!

Ecogeofemme- One of the reasons I decided to blog my job adventures is to provide my perspective to young ecologists on what the job market is like. Since I'm an asst prof, my experience and perspective may be a little different from post-doc experiences, which I thought might be interesting for some.

PP - All my instincts and knowledge agree with you on not bringing up spousal issues until a later phase. Out of curiosity, does your advice change if yu have information that the department may actually want to hire a couple for a plethora of reasons (way to quickly build a small program, help offset expensive housing issues, etc)?

drdrA said...

As someone who has been through the painful PAINFUL two academic career couple placement- DO NOT MENTION YOUR SPOUSE IN YOUR APPLICATION.

Make the hiring department love you, and invite you to interview, and decide they can't live without you FIRST. If they love you and can't live without you- then they will do what it takes to get your spouse hired to. They are not allowed to ask you in an interview about your family situation (spouse, children, plans for children), unless you bring it up first.

The appropriate time to mention your spouse is during the interview- BUT you have to have a feeling that the interview is going very well, and then it is probably best to mention this only to the chairperson in a private setting- and not all over the department.

I have posted about this- in my academic job search posts- I'll have to dig up the right ones for you but this is essentially the advice I gave in those posts.

River Tam said...

DrDrA - Thanks for the advice!! I'll crawl your site tonight and check out your posts on the topic.

I am interested in your advice about mentioning it at the interview phase. I've heard such conflicting advice on this. I asked a dept head that question once (note: I was not on an interview) and he said he absolutely didn't want to know until he made the offer. His argument was that it should not weigh in at any stage of the process and the best way for that to happen was to not mention it. But other people have said it makes them mad to have it sprung on them after they make the offer.

Also, I know they're not supposed to ask about your family on the interview, in my experience 9 times out of 10 they do anyway. Any advice on how to handle the subtle and not so subtle questions?

Anonymous said...

My personal experience is 7 of 8 times I was asked about family. I do not wear jewelry at all on interviews.... it saves me hassle at the airport too! My feeling each time was the person asking was fishing. It wasn't about being helpful or polite in asking about my family. at all. So, my response has been "thank you for asking, but I'll talk to human resources when I meet them about personal issues" and if they press (4 did), I told them that they wouldn't want to jeopardize their search by asking personal questions - that if I have concerns, I will speak up. Sometimes I felt like I had a sign on my head that said "the minute you hire me, I will take 4 semesters off having kids and you will all have to teach my classes."

I agree with others that you should apply with no mention of hubby. But I've also seen it go both ways (angry search later... dismissive search up front). Knock their socks off with your application (make it fat).

good luck

Candid Engineer said...

I really can't see any benefit in mentioning it while applying. I agree entirely with the others- you have to make them want you if you expect them to go out of their way to find two offers instead of one. Don't want to put the cart before the horse. :)