Thursday, February 15, 2007

Nirvana for Academic Couples

According to a gender-in-science expert at Stanford, Londa Schiebinger, who is quoted in a Nature feature:

..nirvana for married scientists in academia is two faculty (tenured or tenure-track) positions at the same institution or in the same area.

My husband and I are very aware that we are lucky -- we were hired as professors at the same university, each with a tenure-track position (now tenured), at the same time. We had a bi-coastal commuter marriage for years and we managed, but being together in one house and both having the careers we want is truly a great thing. However, I did not know that we had reached nirvana itself.

I hope I don't sound ungrateful for having my own tenured position and being able to live in the same house as my husband, but I think it would be nice if nirvana were a lot more nirvana-esque.

If the 2-body problem in academia is ever solved in a major, national/international way, will this simultaneously solve the respect problem many of us face on a day-to-day basis because it will increase the number of women science professors? Or does the respect problem need to be solved first, thereby paving the way for the rest?


Bill Tozier said...

I've often wondered if the biggest block to career (and personal) success in academia is the cultural norm of autonomy and self-direction. From honor codes that prohibit "cheating" and collaboration on work, to graduate programs that demand self-discovery of both interests and skills with only scant input from peers or advisors, to the culture in many tenure review boards that demands single-author big-impact papers from researchers.

How much better would it all be, if being a student or professor were a collaborative effort between two or more people? If each professorial job were filled with two people? More?

Never heard a professor fail to complain that they (a) didn't like all their job's duties equally, and (b) had too many demands on their time and attention for one person to manage alone.

Whence the two-body problem, then?

JaneB said...

As a single woman in my late thirties I have very ambiguous feelings about the 'two body problem' and the impression that often one of the pair is hired because of their spouse rather than because they were the absolute best candidate - or that a job was created for them meaning a job is not available later to be filled by open competition. Of course the 'second body' may be wonderful, but they may also be getting an advantage just by being married to Dr wonderful, and especially in a tight market that seems unjust. To bill tozier - there would ahve to be some very careful matching up done, in my experience almost all professors dislike the SAME parts of their jobs!

Ms.PhD said...

Re: do we fix the respect problem first, or the other one.... I'd prefer to see the respect problem fixed immediately. In theory I think it could be. The systematic problem requires that everyone stop right where they are and not continue until everything shifts, which will undoubtedly make most people unhappy for a while. Which is probably why we keep putting off doing the major overhaul that needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

In my department (Physics & Astronomy, UPenn), we have managed to have at least 3 husband-wife Professor duos, with both having independent, interesting, well-funded research going on. The department benefited from having both partners as professors in at least 2 of the cases (the third was before my time).