Monday, February 26, 2007

Avoiding the Two-Body Problem

The two-body problem, finding two academic jobs in the same city, is becoming an epidemic in American universities. Some administrators have estimated nearly half of all new junior hires have some sort of two-body problems that needs to be solved. Many academic couples settle for jobs at places not as strong as either could have found independently.

Why have we seen an increase in the two-body problem? There is less of a gender imbalance in Ph.D. students, particularly in the sciences, than in the past. Most Ph.D.'s spend nearly all of their working and social lives with their fellow students and romantic entanglements naturally develop.

How do you avoid the two-body problem? Find yourself a non-academic partner. You may spend the rest of your working life spending time with academics, do you really want to spend your non-working life with them as well? You have to work to find a non-academic partner. Join some clubs, preferably outside the university, that match your interests. You'll meet people who share at least one interest with you. Use the on-line dating sites, let friends set you up. It will take some work to find a partner but maybe you'll fall in love with some nice MBA. That's what happened to me.

Of course you may just end up in an academic couple. After all, you just can't stop true love.


  1. Thanks, Lance. What would we do without your sage advice! :)

  2. Any advice on the three-body problem ?

  3. Of course, marrying a non-academic does not (in general) solve the two-body problem if your spouse works in an occupation that is not extremely portable...or even if your spouse just doesn't want to leave a big city/the West coast/the country/parents/a current job/etc.

  4. ...and let's not forget that if you end up as a postdoc, your spouse will probably earn a lot more money than you and be the one bringing in any benefits such as health insurance. So convincing your spouse to bounce around as you do postdocs will be a rather tricky argument indeed.

  5. Speaking of post-doc (and sabbatical), the two-body problem actually becomes worse for non-academic spouses if this has to be out of the home country (which can happen if e.g. the home country is not the US). In this case the spouse may have his/her line of work interrupted for those 1-2 years.

  6. Or find a job first and then find a partner.

    It's easier to find a partner than a job.

  7. Are you seriously suggesting that our choice of mate should be influenced by the likelihood of later landing a job? If you really want to focus on research, better not to get married at all. And forget about kids... For that matter, why have any outside interests that are not compatible with maximizing your productivity and/or your employability?!

  8. Some Random thoughts on this

    1) Why so many anonymous comments?
    People are not saying things so
    controversial as to need anonymity.

    2) I got married four hours after
    I got Tenure.

    3) If by `2-body problem' you mean
    that both want ACADEMIC jobs then
    this is more of a problem now than
    in the past because more women
    are in academia.

    4) If by `2-body problem' you mean
    that the spouse of the academic
    needs a job that depends on geography,
    then its more of a problem now since
    far far more women are in the workplace
    now than 50 years ago when they were
    mothers and housewives
    (an important and hard job in itself,
    but not one that depends on WHERE
    you are.)

    5) Why this is more of a problem than
    20 years ago I don't know.

    bill g.

  9. A better alternative may be to get to work earlier and find that partner while you are still an undergrad, when the size of the pool of potential partners is much larger than it likely ever will be again and the odds of that partner also requiring a position with a limited geographic range is much smaller.

  10. To GASARCH: Why do I see an implicit assumption in your post that the academic is a male? The problem is worse for female academics, you know.

    You might have done better to post this one anonymously.

  11. I like how Lance can so matter-of-factly suggest how to choose a mate based on logical concerns devoid of emotion, but cannot stop from eating pork fat topped with melted cheese, butter, and eggs to avoid heart disease (possibly for the sake of his rationally appointed wife).

  12. Oh yes! What a PROBLEM! Such a PROBLEM that more women are in the workplace and, GOD forbid, in ACADEMIA. Oh woe is you, the male academic.

  13. Sorry, have to post this anonymously to preserve the identity of my source...

    I heard somebody once turned down an offer from Cornell, citing a one-body problem -- he was single, unattached, and felt that he couldn't find interesting people to meet in the sleepy little village of Ithaca, NY.

  14. Why are people beating up on Bill? He said, "spouse of the academic", clearly being neutral on the gender of the referent. In the other two places where he refers to more women being in academia or the workplace in general nowadays, he is stating a historical fact and I don't see any implication that he regards the change as a negative thing.

    I don't know Bill personally or professionally, so I have no idea how he would score on a feminism scale, but I see nothing in his comment that would indicate anything one way or the other.

    Are people a little sensitive about this topic?

  15. Well, the problem is certainly worse for male academics now, but is it worse for female academics? In the sense that many would-be female academics would be barred from entering the field altogether 50 years ago, maybe, but I can't imagine that it was any easier back then for a female academic to get her husband to move all over the country for her job. I think that's what Anonymous 10 might be getting at.

  16. Anon 11: your post was the first thing to make me laugh out loud today. =)

  17. Gasarch here again.
    Only stating what I believed to be
    historical facts. Sorry if caused
    offense. Thanks to Kurt for accurately
    defending me.
    bill G.

  18. The MBA partner doesn't neccessarily solve the problem. I caught a cute Whartonian, yet we are confronted with two-body issues.

  19. It wouldn't matter if bill posted anonymously. The short lines would give him away in a second :)

  20. Things for female academics are not too clear-cut.

    Certainly, women now have the freedom to pursue academic careers far beyond what they could decades ago. And recently, thanks to Larry Summers, other academics are more likely to make an effort to eliminate their unconscious biases. (These biases, unfortunately, do exist. But it is amazing what a difference talking about them makes.)

    However, I think men are still better off. For (straight) men in academia, it is still not too challenging to find a partner who would, on the one hand, be an intellectual equal, and, on the other hand, would be willing to put her own career on hold so as to create a good home for her husband and free him from all home chores during the stressful pre-tenure years. Such a husband comes home after a day at work, and can rest, forget all his troubles and enjoy his life. Society as a whole is very supportive of such a family; indeed, why not?

    An academic woman, on the other hand, cannot easily find a man who would be an intellectual equal but also willing to sacrifice his own career. Of course, there are exceptions, but as a rule, it does not happen. And society, as a whole, frowns on families where the wife is the one with a career and the husband is a home-maker. So, as a rule, a pre-tenure woman works her *** off at work, and then comes home to dirty laundry and whatnot. And then, when she is up for tenure, who is she compared to? That's right, her happy male colleague.

    Of course, lots of men reject the stereotypical gender roles, and kudos to them! But, from what I can see, they are still a minority.

    So equality is not just equal opportunity. It is so much more.

  21. I'm glad someone mentioned the one-body problem! I'll save my take on it since it's definitely an issue that deserves an entire post on its own.

    On the issue of anonymity, I certainly understand where it's coming from (I for one am posting anonymously), although I'm definitely in favor of "limited anonymity". A little demographic information, while preserving privacy at most levels, provides extremely helpful context in understanding comments. So before you click on that "Publish Your Comment" button, take a moment to share something about yourself .. are you a grad student frequenting lance's blog for that sage advice about grad school? or a faculty member who's seen it all and glad to disseminate the wisdom on the rest of us? or perhaps, a non-academic, gloating over how self-absorbed and ignorant those within the ivory tower of schooling and academia could be.

  22. I wonder what the spouses of MIT and Harvard's presidents(who are women) do!

    That too is a 2 body problem!

  23. ...Such a husband comes home after a day at work, and can rest, forget all his troubles and enjoy his life.

    You obviously don't have kids, or own a home. For that matter, who says laundry can't be done (by the husband) after work?!

  24. The real issue is kids (not laundry). A single tenure-track professor makes enough money to easily pay a maid to do laundry and cleaning. A family with two tenure-track professors, even with children, makes enough money to pay for a maid as well.

    A standard starting 9-month salary in CS is $80K+. That's easily $200K/year with some summer support. That puts you in the top 3% in the US in terms of household income. Yeah, life is so hard...

  25. The previous comment would be so much more insightful if we knew whether it came from a grad student (aspiring to reach 200K life-style), a faculty member (reminding fellow academics that they should be grateful for what they make) or a non-academic (angry that academics don't pause to appreciate their wealth). I hate to say this, but without the context, it's almost like random rambling.

    Incidentally, I am single, tall, dark and handsome. I'm also smart and have an impeccable sense of humor.

  26. If that's the case, theory grad student, you should leave your email. ;)

  27. The most shocking comment here is #6. Do we truly believe that meeting our soulmate is easier than finding a job in our field?

    Maybe it's time for a sanity check! Or changing fields....

  28. The previous comment would be so much more insightful if we knew whether it came from a grad student...


    The content of the comment is asserted fact; it may be true or false, but why does its value or truth depend on who makes it?

  29. The truth of the comment does not depend on who said, but its reliability might. (How many people get two months of summer salary every summer? I've got no idea, and I don't know whether the commenter does either.)

    How interesting a comment is may also depend on the commenter, although that's less of an issue for this comment.

  30. I would say the average theorist in academia gets 1 month of summer salary, and even that may be a high estimate. Even the "top" theorists at the "top" institutions have trouble getting 2 months of summer, though many of them might be able to. Below the top, it is extremely hard for theorists to be funded.

    -- Theorist at a top 25 school.