Dual-Career Academic Couples

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Dual-Career Academic Couples: What you need to know

In the US, over a third of academics are also married to an academic; the numbers are up sharply in Canada, the UK and Europe as well. Over 90 percent of these work in the same institution—often, in the same department. In the US and Canada, many universities know the score, and work hard to recruit these “double acts.”

In the UK and Europe, not so much. But universities would be wise to consider what their competitors abroad have already learned: high-powered academic couples will be loyal to the employer who offers them both good career prospects and support. Employers that do not run a high risk of losing valued lecturers.

Common steps to attract dual-career couples include:

  • Spousal hire and dual-career programmes, set up as part of university relocation packages
  • Dual-career Web portals that actively encourage applications
  • Allowing couples to job-share tenure-track positions 

When couples job-share, it is not uncommon for their shared or split post to eventually be transformed into two full-time posts.

When to tell HR

Experienced academic career advisors suggest that for early-career applicants, the right time to ask about your spouse’s career possibilities is after you have accepted an offer.

However, for those at the level of Reader or Professor, and those in particularly specialised areas such as medicine and the sciences, it can be worth discussing it with Human Resources right from the start. This is doubly true if you are interested in the option of sharing or splitting a single post.

Why it matters

Research about career decisions by academics has found that at major research institutions, the availability of partner employment was one of the two top reasons for making choices. It impacts not only on career trajectories, but on income, housing, child care and many other key factors in decision-making.

Academic life also has a particular pattern of work, following the student year and the grant cycle. It’s hard to fit in a family life when the other partner is working a traditional 9-5 job. It’s even harder when maintaining two people in academic posts requires one or both to travel cross-country, or even maintain two residences. That flies in the face of promoting the kind of work-life balance that employees increasingly prioritise.

In addition, research into gender equality in the academic workplace reveals that lack of mobility is one of the issues that has stopped many female academics’ careers. At the top level, there are additional implications: one of the most important findings in a recent study for Stanford University was that senior female academics cited lack of career prospects for their partner as their main reason for refusing a post.

What Administrators should know

Paying attention to the needs of dual-career couples is good sense when you want to attract and retain great hires. However, it should be done openly, not on an ad hoc basis or in secret, to avoid causing issues with other applicants.

FE and HE institutions should have policies in place, and consider ways in which partner hiring can be done successfully.


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