Wednesday, June 29, 2011

He's Not Here

In this month's Catalyst piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education, to appear next week(ish), I discuss dual-career couples. As I was working on this essay, I decided to make headings of particular topics, and then I decided at some point to alphabetize the headings. Then I realized that I had quite a few headings, nearly the entire alphabet. Well, it was a quick leap from there to deciding to do a complete A to Z of dual-career couple topics; a framework that alternately pleases and disturbs me.

Anyway, that's what I did, and, because a certain annoying type of minor incident happened to me two (2) times today, I include here the relevant entry for the letter O*:

Offices. There are many nice things about being in a dual-career couple that has successfully landed two jobs in the same place. There are also continuing challenges, and minor annoyances. An example of the latter is when colleagues or students are looking for my spouse but can’t find him, so they come to my office and ask me where he is. Thus far, I have confined my responses to polite answers (most typically: “I have no idea”), but a few times I have looked under my desk and in a drawer, then announced “Well, he doesn’t seem to be here.” I have been tempted to get a leash and hold it up when asked the “Where is your husband?” question and say “Oh no! He’s off the leash again!”, but have not yet done so.

* This is the original text. An editor had a go at the text and changed a few minor things. For example, when it appears in The C of HE next week, the last phrase will appear as "Somehow I have resisted the urge".

In today's two situations, I found myself saying "He's around", so at least the person asking knew that he was in town and, if they only looked harder and longer, they would surely find him. I don't usually want to be so helpful in these cases, but in this case I liked the two people who asked me.

I don't know how many readers find themselves in this situation, but if you do: Are you polite or not-so-polite? Are you helpful or not helpful? Perhaps it depends on the situation; e.g., Do you want to help the particular person who is interrupting your day to ask where your spouse is or would you prefer to be unhelpful?

There are probably non-spousal analogies of this situation, particularly for people who have conveniently located offices, so that people tend to stop by and ask about the current location of someone else in the building, saving themselves a trip upstairs (or wherever) but interrupting your work.

48 comments:

Steveo said...

Does your husband have similar experiences, where people will ask him if he knows where you are, when they can't find you? Because, unless there is an asymmetry there, I can't see how its any different than asking a grad student if they know where their absent office mate is, or asking your coworker in the lab where your supervisor is (both of which I have done, and had done to me, as a graduate student).

Female Science Professor said...

People do not stop by his office to ask him if I am around, probably in part because his office is not as centrally located as mine is. Also, he is a much scarier person than I am, and people might be reluctant to interrupt him with a question like that. It's hard to tell what the reason is, but I get asked where he is and he does not get asked where I am.

inBetween said...

I have the same situation with my husband. He's scary. I'm not. People ask me, don't ask him. I'm usually polite but pretty unhelpful, as I usually have no idea where he is if he isn't in his office. I will tell people he's out of town, if he's out of town.

The other day a student knocked on my door with some inquiry that made no sense at all. Turns out that she needed another female professor who's first name contains a letter that is the same as the first letter of my first name. So easy to confuse us... not. Gotta love it.

John V said...

I get asked to locate my wife more than she is asked about me, maybe because I promptly answer my cell phone and email. Often I call or email her to pass on urgent messages. This afternoon I did several times, for example.

As interruptions go, these requests are penny ante, and I don't recall ever saying less than I knew to discourage them. Why wouldn't I have the inside scoop on whether she can be found and where? In urgent cases, I can spot her to within a few meters by locating her iPhone or check her calendar.

A concern with such requests seems a bit oversensitive. Maybe some have a problem with keeping such a request from growing into a longer conversation, but that's not generally true in my case.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have offices in the same corridor and both get asked this question a lot. We haven't compiled statistics so I have no idea who gets asks more often, but it's pretty common for both of us. It has never occurred to me to be deliberately unhelpful. I know that when I myself am looking for someone I tend to ask whoever crosses my path that might have the slightest clue. And my husband and I sometimes do have an idea of each other's wherabouts - we may for example have chatted about the day over breakfast ("I have a horrible long meeting with X all morning..."), especially if it affects the drop off/pick up schedule of the kids.

James Annan said...

We get this occasionally, I can't say I find it annoying or unreasonable. It's not a significant source of interruptions and ISTM that the questioner is probably acting quite rationally.

What we also get, that I don't like so much, is when people try to use one of us to pass on a request or message to the other. Especially when it's a message that for some reason the sender doesn't want to give face to face.

Anonymous said...

My office is conveniently located right next door to my advisor's office so people frequently ask me if I've seen him that day. This I don't mind, as the proximity makes it probable that I would have the inside scoop.

Sometimes my partner's coworkers will call or text me to ask where he is. We work in different fields and in different buildings, so this is harder to justify and does annoy me a little. But I try to be helpful for reasons that John V eloquently stated.

Science Professor Mum said...

I don't have a spousal version of this but I have plenty of non-spousal examples since my office is located between those of two extremely eminent but largely absent male professors. I am frequently mistaken for their PA. Other "youngish" female colleagues with offices near senior male staff also report the same thing happening to them on a regular basis, but I have no reports of it occuring with junior male staff.

Now I am a professor myself, I am considering asking for a door plate in super-large font just to make it clear what my role is....

Anonymous said...

Ugh. When my partner and I worked together, I got this a lot, and he never did. I always said, "The best way to find out where he is is to contact him directly. Let me give you his email address." Most people got the picture after we had had this conversation a couple of times, and both my response and the email address never changed. Then I moved to a different state and thought this would stop - but some of my former labmates still email me if he ignores their emails. (My response is *still* the same.)

In grad school, some of my friends' husbands would ask me where their wives were, which drove me crazy. I would give them their wives' cell phone numbers.

MamaRox said...

This happens to me all the time.

People also try to pass messages through my husband to me and vice versa.

Every August we remind our colleagues and the staff to treat us as individuals as much as possible. And in return, we try to act as individuals as much as possible. At home we are partners, but at work we try to keep our interactions professional.

Although we have been together and in this dept for nearly a decade, we find this reminder helpful (and, of course, there are sometimes new people to inform). We also make similar announcements to our students.

Every now and then we must discuss who's leaving for work early to go get our child. And every now and then, we get an invitation to a party addressed to both of us. Those things aren't a big deal.

However, I do find that, although our offices are only 5 doors apart, students and other non-faculty people who know we are married regularly stop in and ask me where he is. I usually just glance at my couch and say, "nope, not here" and smile politely. If I know he's not around (because he's off-campus), I'll say so, but otherwise I don't want to engage anyone in a discussion of where-might-my-husband-be now.

When my colleagues ask, I try to be more helpful, because I know they try very hard not to ask. Is that too much of a double standard?

nicoleandmaggie said...

Mine is in a different building in a different part of campus. BUT, my office is in the middle of a long hall right next to the block of admin. and admin assistant offices... so I think folks confuse me for their receptionist. (Side benefit: eavesdropping on the Chair.) I'm constantly getting asked where Professor X or Y is, or conference room Z or how do I deliver these pizzas to a department on a completely different floor.

I generally point them to an admin assistant.

The 30-something gentleman on the other side of me does not ever get asked these things, although I do occasionally get asked where he is. (How should I know?) The male adjuncts (one older, one younger) sharing the office across the hall are also never bothered.

I swear it does say "Assistant Professor" on my nameplate. Maybe they just see the word "assistant."

Anonymous said...

I get asked where my advisor is, particularly by one professor. Um, I don't know, she doesn't send me her schedule...and by that I mean I don't always know what country she is in!

zed said...

This happens to me, and he gets the questions too. He's not scary at all. I'm polite, but brief. I have the impression he elaborates more on my probable location and expected return time

Ann said...

i have an office near the elevator, and if my door is open people ask me lots of things like 'where is professor X's office" and "how do i get to the library". Other people sometimes ask me the whereabouts of my husband, who is a professor in the same building. "Is D in town today?" It hasn't occurred to me that this is because i am female, or that I should be offended by this, although sometimes i close my door to avoid the irritation.

Is there something wrong with assuming that a spouse will know if a spouse is in town or out of town, and if in town, but not in the building, whether he or she has left to run an errand or pick up the kids? I had assumed this was normal. I dont keep track of where he has gone for lunch, and people dont expect me to know unreasonably detailed information about his whereabouts.

Anne said...

My office was in a suite of offices with other biology or chemistry professors. I would often get asked where a particular professor was. I would point out where their office was - or direct them to said Prof's lab. Or to where the study session was taking place (since I would over hear conversations about this by other students). These questions do get tiresome - especially at the start of the semester or during advising times - and then I'll direct the students to the Chem secretary on the 4th floor. If the inquiries get to be too much I just close my door. Now, the request by a student who I didn't know to use my phone was too much. I told him no.

However - for a student or colleague to ask you the location of your husband is ridiculous. You each have your own jobs and even though you are married you shouldn't be expected to know his whereabouts. I would just direct the student to his office or to the department secretary.

Anonymous said...

In general (because I don't look professorial.. more like a student or when I'm dressed up a little, an administrative assistant), I get people all the time stopping and asking where people are.

Obviously, I'm here to help because I'm support staff (as opposed to that senior prof down the hall)!

Actually, the one of the custodial staff asked why I was lucky enough to get an office (she thought I was a student).

-Female junior engineering prof

Anonymous said...

Happens to me too and my husband is scary too. Our offices are only a few doors apart. I try to be polite but firm that I don't know unless it is someone who really needs him (and I will then pass along a message if possible, like when he is traveling). Part of the issue is that I read email/respond regularly while he reads it once a day.

John V said...

I did mind having an office by the front door for a decade, and directing passers-by around campus, declining requests for change for the bus, and occasionally counseling clueless job-seekers.

I project my behavior on others - when needing something, I ask whoever is looking back at me as I prowl the hallways. Maybe these "scary" people look don't look up in a sentient manner.

Female Genetics Professor said...

My spouse has been at a different institution - a few miles up the road - for the past several years. We are occasionally asked by collaborators to take things (strains, reagents, papers) home to pass along to the other. This is not usually a problem, as long as there is nothing toxic involved. One colleague will sometimes ask me in passing to tell him something. Under those circumstances, I usually have no way to make a note to myself, so I don't promise anything.

Anonymous said...

Is this really that annoying? I am a female Associate Prof, and my office is next to a male junior colleague who does quite a bit of industry consulting. I get asked where he is all the time by industrial visitors, and I just politely say that I don't know. For some reason, I also often get asked where the other female professor in our department is, although my office is not close to hers.

I find these to be small interruptions but not hugely annoying. If I am doing something and I don't wish to be interrupted, I just close my door.

My husband used to be a lecturer at my institution, and now he has a tenure-track job three hours away. I am raising my two young kids essentially by myself during the week. I sometimes wistfully think of "annoying" things like this that used to happen when he was at my institution.

I love your blog, FSP, and I am looking forward to seeing this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed. But I hope some of the other entries shed light on issues faced by dual career couples who have not yet solved their two-body problem. It is a really painful experience for some of us. I get lots of useful advice from my colleagues with stay-at-home wives on this topic, including "If you are both really good, you will eventually get jobs together" to "It is really better for both of you to be at the best institutions you can be at, rather than one of you compromising your career so that you can be at the same place." I hope that someone more eloquent than me (like you!) can help these folks see things from a different perspective.

mjphd said...

We're in different departments (and different buildings) and I still get this. I get phone calls asking if he's on campus. Probably because he rarely answers his phone, but still. Send him an e-mail. Haven't you noticed he always answers those?

Anonymous said...

I had two students in my lab who were dating (ultimately got married after grad school) and I had to resist the urge not to ask one about something I had been discussing with the other. Even now, since an email from one often includes info about the other, I probably talk about them to each other too often. But it's not because I like one better or because the other is too scary to approach. It just seems convenient to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have adjacent offices (doors 3 ft apart). If one of us is not answering the door and the other's door is open, it's logical that the student/faculty would lean over and ask if the available person knows where the unavailable person is. If we do know, we share. If we don't know, we share that, too, or we can refer them to the schedule that faculty are required to post on our doors.

I've never had anyone call asking for my husband's whereabouts.

Anonymous said...

"I get asked where my advisor is, particularly by one professor. Um, I don't know, she doesn't send me her schedule...and by that I mean I don't always know what country she is in!"

haha, me too! ALL the time!

PS. I agree with some that FSP seems slightly over-offended by this (and I don't usually think that about her) BUT the original post was also hilarious! well done.

Phillip Helbig said...

Let me be intentionally provocative here while expecting straight answers: What, substantially, is the difference between getting a job as a trailing spouse as part of a dual-career couple and getting a job because one grants sexual favours to the future employer? In both cases, the person gets the job due to a sexual relationship (with the leading spouse or with the future employer, as the case may be) and not due to qualifications (OK, some minimal qualifications might have to be met, but that applies to anyone with a chance of getting the job including, crucially, those with better qualifications) while it is actually a good thing that jobs should be given based on qualifications and ability and not on irrelevant stuff.

Yes, it can be difficult as a dual-career couple. Yes, the academic married to a millionaire (I know a few) have it much easier. Yes, some people have a non-academic spouse who can get a job easily anywhere. Other people, however, have a non-academic spouse who might not be able to work in another country, say, at least not in his profession, until after several years. Such people are worse off than dual-career couples, yet there is no magic buzzword which showers them with sympathy.

If any help for dual-career couples means that someone gets a job he otherwise would not have got, and thus someone better qualified didn't get the job, then it is wrong, no two ways about it.

Alex said...

A tangentially-related rant about people coming to ask questions:

I tend to work a lot of evenings. I also tend to work with my door open, and I tend to work from my office on days when I'm not teaching, rather than from home (unlike many colleagues, I simply cannot work from home). Consequently, although students are well aware that I'm a professor and not a secretary, they conclude that I am being paid to hold office hours for EVERY class taught in the department. I'll have students say "Oh, Dr. So-and-so isn't having office hours until later today, so I figured I'd just ask you." Or "This is a very simple question, so even though it's not your class..." If they came during my office hours I'd be a good sport, but they'll come at any time of the day. Some of them get amazingly resentful if I say that I'm busy. Or "I never bothered to make an appointment to see my advisor, and registration starts tomorrow, so I'm hoping that you could sign my advising form so I can register tomorrow." If it's a person whom I know to be making good academic progress, not a big deal, but it's always some idiot with a bunch of complicated issues involving prerequisites, transfer credit, unusual exceptions, etc.

It's hard being the only person on my hallway who keeps long hours with an open door. Unfortunately, I need the open door, because I have no window, and it feels boxed in without some opening to the outside world. When a window office became available, my chair held a drawing among those of us tied for seniority. I tried to suggest that the window office should go to whoever spends the most time in the office, but that proposal was rejected.

The worst, though, is the students who want to get registration help for a completely different department that is on a different floor. Because of the numbering system (ground floor is G rather than 1), and because a few professors from that department do indeed have offices on my hallway, students get confused which floor that department's office is on. For some reason, when there are multiple open doors on the hallway, including open doors on offices held by professors from that department, they pick mine to go to and say "I need help registering for Calculus."

Anonymous said...

My PhD supervisor and her husband are both in the same department. I would occasionally go ask him if she was planning to be in, but it never occurred to me to ask him where she was. None of my business. Same story if I was looking for someone else, and found one of their students around - I'd ask if the prof was around (i.e. is it worth coming back later?) but never where they were. Knowing that usually wasn't any help anyway - if someone isn't in their office, then I can't talk to them right now, can I?
When people asked me about my supervisor, I'd suggest they e-mail her and set a meeting time, not to get rid of them but because it really was the best way to find her.

KJHaxton said...

I plan to be scarier because I'm tired of it. I understand that on many occasions my partner is found in my office, but I'm not his secretary. On the other hand, sometimes it is something critical and I'm happy to help.
What really irritates me is when students email/contact me and ask me to ask my partner to reply to them. I am the one who most often checks email.

I suspect one of the things that's currently mildly charming and novel to us are the students attempts to merge our names - it doesn't work. In a couple of years when the 3rd or 4th cohort are trying to do it, it will be tiresome and irritating.

Barefoot Doctoral said...

I got asked if I knew where my advisor was all the time, but that was mostly because he was notoriously hard to get a hold of, and I was the most likely person in the department to reliably get a message to him. I think neither he nor I appreciated being in this role.

This is very different than being asked about a spouse. There _is_ a reason to expect that I will see my advisor or office mate in a professional setting soon, or know their whereabouts. There is no more reason to expect me to know the whereabout of my partner when he is doing whatever it is he does during the day than it is to expect me to know the whereabouts of the guy in the next office.

Having said that, I know several couples in 2-body problems (myself included) who share each other's offices when visiting. When the barrier between professional and personal are broken down by acts such as this, I think it is more okay if someone asks about location, or for a message to be passed on.

Anonymous said...

I get more questions about where my husband is than my husband does about me, though he is not scary. I also used to get lots of questions about the whereabouts of a faculty member whose office was next to mine and who often didn't come in to the dept.

I think that last point is the only time it ever is a big deal at all; for those of us who are usually "in" rather than working from home, it ends up meaning that we do a lot more of the "drop-in" work of answering random questions and responding to immediate issues than the other faculty members. I realize it's my choice, and it doesn't really bother me, but I know that in some humanities and arts depts, many faculty commute long distance and only come in when they are teaching, creating a burden on others.

Anonymous said...

As a young male academic, it is sometimes difficult to believe that my female colleagues hate me so much, when I honestly dont bear them any ill will. Everything seems to be about gender.

Anonymous said...

Grow up, Anonymous. Not everything is about gender, and certainly not everything is about you. Please point to the place in this post or these comments where hatred for men is expressed.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 12:49: Is it possible that some differences in men's and women's experiences in the scientific community might not be the result of any particular ill will? Is it possible that a woman who notices and calls attention to such differences in experience might not actually hate her male colleagues, but simply want to make them aware of her observations?

Anonymous said...

I had the opposite experience: my advisor's spouse often used to ask me where my advisor was. The year after I graduated I was employed mainly to keep track of my advisor (and do a little teaching) and sort out things in their absence.

Anonymous said...

Anon @2:47

Gladly. Just see NicoleandMaggie's comment. The man bashing herpes cant leave anything alone. It has to be about sexism. I can swear N&M think the sun shines a little extra severely on women during summer.

Anonymous said...

In theory, yes, in a professional setting, husband and wife are supposed to be no more aware of each other's whereabouts as they are of any other colleague.

In theory, Elizabeth II, Queen of England is a separate legal person from Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. If someone called the office of the Queen of Canada and asked for the schedule of the Queen of England, would you bang the phone?

Can we at least pretend we are all people here; instead of getting hung up over tiny breaches of "professional protocol"? Asking one spouse about the other is fairly rational.

Anonymous said...

"but I get asked where he is and he does not get asked where I am."

This happens to me all the time. People will even call me and ask me where my husband is -- or stop by and ask me to relay a message to him. The opposite never happens. I am nice because I don't have the guts to be mean (but it really annoys me).

Anonymous said...

And, with this post, FSP has finally jumped the shark.

Anonymous said...

For heaven's sake, people, can't we just complain about things that annoy us now and then?! All you folks telling me that I shouldn't be annoyed by *(*&^% are like people telling me I shouldn't like strawberry ice cream better than chocolate. A bit self-centered!

Female Science Professor said...

Well, I guess not every reader knows this, but sometimes this blog focuses on the mundane aspects of academic life because that's just what I feel like talking about. Mundane does not necessarily equal boring! But it may.

I do wonder, though, whether some people's web browsers made the post appear to be in the outraged font when in fact I wrote it in the minor-annoyance-as-kernel-for-discussion font. Of course all my posts are actually about my hatred of men, although I do try to be somewhat subtle about it from time to time.

Anyway, I fear that those hoping my CHE piece will illuminate the issue of dual-career couples in some new way will be disappointed. I wrote it because I often get questions about the topic, no matter how much has been written about it already. I don't have any clever answers or advice. I just tried to summarize the key issues.

Bagelsan said...

I often get asked where various people in my lab are, but I consider it legit because my desk is nearest the entrance (and I'm usually pretty aware of my surroundings, unlike some other grad students!) And frequently it's a lab member or my PI, or someone from a nearby lab, so they can reasonably expect me to know and I can reasonably assume they've tried looking for the person already themselves.

But it would irritate the hell out of me if people started treating me like a spouse's secretary; sometimes it's obvious that they see you as a message machine rather than a human you can meaningfully interact with, or who might have things to do. A female scientist's time and brainpower should be just as respected as a man's!

Anonymous said...

My husband and I both get asked this about once a month (we just compared notes). What happens more frequently (and what we find infinitely more annoying) is that people ask us for "insider" information about the others department. We are in two separate engineering departments, so I will often be asked by my colleagues in dept. #1 if I've heard anything about how dept. #2 is coming along with their faculty search, grad student recruiting, search for new dept. head, developing a new budget, etc. This annoys me because it assumes my husband and I share confidential information with each other. I'm never quite sure how to handle it, because I don't want to be rude to my colleagues in dept. #1.

Principled Investigator said...

As a junior female professor located at the end of a very long hallway, and in front of a glass door locked to the outside, I get a lot of questions and a lot of knocks on the door. (Why is there a locked glass door? Fire code or somesuch.) A request to the powers that be to do something about the door was met with an 8.5" x 11" piece of paper being taped to the door. I don't want to be unhelpful--usually--but you know, I have a job to do. I wonder if I should have a placard with an Awesome Name. Or a beard. Or horns.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

As a scary old male professor with a white beard, near the end of corridor farthest from the entrance, I still get a lot of questions from students and visitors if I know where my colleagues are.

I attribute this to three factors:
1) I'm in my office a lot.
2) My colleagues aren't in theirs much (either out of town or in lab).
3) I teach a lot of the first-year grad classes, so the students recognize me.

nicoleandmaggie said...

ROFL!

You're just upset, Anonymous 05:37:00 PM because we know that you're terrible in bed. You can't help it with that tiny penis and all. HAHAHAAHA. See, stereotype threat works! Or in your case, it wasn't needed. *snicker*

Our men are quite wonderful in bed (and out of it too). ||:)

Cherish said...

My situation seems to be reversed. There aren't enough desks in the primary engineering office, so I ended up in a wonderfully quiet little corner with a window view upstairs from my colleagues. On occasion, some of them will ask me where my husband is, but it is far more frequent for them to ask him where I am. I'm guessing it's because they don't want to go upstairs and through a few security doors to see whether I'm at my desk. Apparently it has never occurred to most of them to email me and see if I am around.

Anonymous said...

"I had the opposite experience: my advisor's spouse often used to ask me where my advisor was. "

You could have some fun and make stuff up that will cause an argument for them at home, hehe...! (like "oh he's at the pub..." or worse...)

hey cell phones exist now, so there's really no reason to call your spouse at work and ask their coworkers where they are. you want to know where your spouse is, call them. if your spouse isn't answering, and it's not an emergency, then wait until they finally call you back or you get home!

Anonymous said...

My husband often goes to toilet leaving his office door open. People see an empty office and come to the next door to ask me where he is. I replied a couple of times " err...he might be in the toilet" but felt really wierd about answering this way. what else can I say?