Dual-Career Couples

By Ercolano, Vincent | ASEE Prism, April 1, 1997 | Go to article overview

Dual-Career Couples


Ercolano, Vincent, ASEE Prism


As their hunt for jobs got underway, engineering graduate students Shelli and Steve Starrett quickly realized that improvisation is not the sole province of jazz musicians and stand-up comedians. The couple were soon due to receive Ph.D.s from Iowa State University, she in electrical engineering and he in civil engineering, and both wanted faculty positions. Should they go for the best situation for themselves as a couple and find positions at the same university, even if that meant giving up "dream jobs" at separate institutions?

The Starretts decided that living together was their number-one priority, which probably necessitated them finding positions at the same university. But when finding one job at a school is hard enough, how would they find two? How early in the application process should they reveal their status as a "dual-career couple"? What if the interviewing schools, not wanting to get a package deal, decided they didn't want either of them?

Shelli and Steve are now happily situated in tenure-track positions at the same institution. But in retrospect, they wonder why the career-planning map for people like themselves had so many stretches marked "Terra Incognita."

Dual-career couples like the Starretts are becoming increasingly common in science and engineering education. A 1992 study in the Journal of College

Science Teaching found that 80 percent of married women scientists are married to other science professionals. In an article submitted to the Journal of Engineering Education, researchers Noel Schulz, Kirk Schulz, and Mariesa Crow write that despite the growing number of dual-career couples with Ph.D.s in engineering, "these couples are often hampered by uncertainty in how to go about searching for tenure-track positions with some probability of success."

Their concerns often include the following:

* When applying for faculty positions, at what point should couples tell their respective departments that they're a couple?

* What are some arguments for hiring dual-career couples? If only one partner is offered a tenure-track position, should the other partner accept a nontenure-track position at the same school?

Which schools are more receptive to hiring both members of a couple?

* Who within the university is most likely to be an "ally" to dual-career couples once the application process begins?

When is it not worthwhile for a couple to pursue two faculty appointments at the same school?

When applying for faculty positions, at what point should couples tell their respective departments that they are a couple?

In a survey of 18 dual-career couples in engineering education, Noel Schulz, Kirk Schulz, and Mariesa Crow found that approximately 50 percent at least "sometimes" informed schools that they were both searching for positions. However, the eventual success of their search aside, some of the survey couples who offered immediate disclosure say they wouldn't necessarily recommend that other couples follow suit.

Take, for example, Shelli and Steve Starrett, both assistant professors at Kansas State University (KSU). During their job search, "whenever we sent letters out, we'd let [schools] know about the other spouse," Shelli says. She and Steve did this even though their faculty advisors at Iowa State University, where they had received their doctorates, advised them to delay making that disclosure. In retrospect, Shelli says she's sure that full initial disclosure had "a negative influence" on their job search, but adds that she and Steve would not have felt comfortable with any other approach.

Noel Schulz, an assistant electrical engineering professor at Michigan Technological University (MTU), and her husband Kirk, an MTU assistant chemical engineering professor, are less ambivalent about immediate disclosure. Noel recalls that "we decided in our initial packet that we'd say we were a dual-career couple. But if we were to do it again, we wouldn't do it that way. …

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