Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Response to an important question for women in science

At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have something to ask the feminists.

What do they think about those female PIs that are married to bigshot PIs ? I have seen many, many times where a professor was signed up be faculty only on the condition that his wife is given a professorship as well. I have also seen politics at Harvard, where a big shot professor, upon learning that his wife would not get tenure, threatened to move to another university. Then the wifey got tenure, and he stayed.

Is that merit? I have seen this happen 10+ times already.

Dear Anonymous,

This is a very timely question. There are two sides to the answer.

A Side: We need women role models, and we just want them to get a foot in the door. Then these women can make the most of the opportunity to move up and help bring other women through the pipeline.

There are three important aspects to this first interpretation.

Assumption 1: Women are just as smart and hard-working as men, but we unfairly face a lot of prejudice, both overt and covert, that ultimately adds up to our looking worse on paper than we really are.

True! It has been well documented in many biological, physical and mathematical systems that even minor discrepancies will add up to huge differences over time, especially where there are positive feedback loops. In this case, even slight and unconscious bias against women adds up to huge advantages for men in terms of publishing and ultimately interviews and job offers.

Assumption 2: So really, women deserve more credit than we get, and it's perfectly okay for women to take advantage of whatever chances we might have - whether it is leveraging our husband's support of our careers, or affirmative action, how is that any different from membership in the Old Boys' Club? Anything that gets us ahead should be fair game. Because after all, men will step on anyone to get where they're going, why shouldn't we take whatever we can get?

Questionable! Is this ever okay for anyone? Should we do what the bad guys have done, even if we don't respect it? Where does anyone get off complaining about hiring spouses while continuing with practices that are totally unethical, reward back-room deals and discourage integrity?

Assumption 3: Having women as role models will, by the mere fact of their success, help remove prejudice. Once these women get a foot in the door, they will excel in their new positions, proving to the doubters that women are just as smart and hard-working as men. This will help reduce prejudice over time.

Questionable! In some sense, just working around women and learning that we're not all idiots can be educational. I have witnessed this myself.

I have also seen women succeed, and seeing that has helped me see it as possible for me. So in that sense, yes, I believe it helps to have role models.

This can help reduce prejudice, but no, it's not enough. The Superwoman Exception phenomenon can be misleading in this regard. Essentially it supports continuing sexist stereotypes by implying that only a handful of women could ever be good enough.

B Side: Women who are hired as spouses may not deserve it. Even if they did, they will face even more prejudice than women who are hired on their own merits. They lack the understanding of how to get hired, so they are unable and often unwilling to effectively mentor younger women who are trying to follow along in the tenure-track. Ultimately, hiring women as spouses actually undermines women's efforts at being seen as equally qualified and does nothing to further the cause of women in science.

Assumption 1: Women who are hired as spouses never could have gotten a job on their own merits.

True and false. Sometimes in dual-career couples, each partner has an offer in one place but not in the another. I don't know if anyone has done a statistical analysis of how often women follow their spouse vs. the other way around. Anecdotally, I know of several examples where the husband turned down an offer at a place that deemed his wife under-qualified, and went somewhere that seemed to value her abilities as much as his own.

Depending on your point of view, you could say that

a) The place that only wanted the husband had "higher standards"


b) The place that offered both partners positions was more open to the possibility that I mentioned above, that women are often much more accomplished and talented than we look on paper. They may have even been grateful to have found such a wonderful candidate, whom they might have otherwise overlooked without even offering her an interview.


c) The place that offered both partners positions just really wanted the husband and figured it was no big deal to hire the wife and let her sink or swim either way if that's what the husband demanded, because he was a big shot and he was worth it.

Now personally, among these I find option (c) to be the least plausible, at least in the current economic climate. But that's not to say it hasn't ever happened. I'm sure it probably has. But how recently? I can't answer that.

Assumption 2: Women who get hired as the "trailing spouse" will be treated badly and regret it, so they might as well not take the job.

Who knows? I think being a trailing spouse probably exacerbates the common phenomenon among junior faculty known as Impostor Syndrome. Are trailing spouses really treated worse than other junior women faculty? I don't know that anyone has statistics on this, either. Do many trailing spouses still manage to succeed in their own right? Hell yes.

Assumption 3: Women who are hired as the "trailing spouse" don't know how to mentor women who are trying to get hired on our own merits.

Probably true?. Based on my own, again, anecdotal investigations, I'd say yes. Having said that, though, I'd argue that MOST PIs don't know how to mentor women who are trying to get hired on our own merits.

What works for men does not always work for women, and often backfires on us. We have to be assertive while being careful to be nice and not come across as too aggressive. We have to be enthusiastic without coming across as lacking sufficient independence. We have to be independent without coming across as too ambitious. While many of these pitfalls also apply to men, I would argue that for women the margins are even more narrow. We have to walk a very fine line of fulfilling cultural gender expectations as well as conforming to academic and discipline-specific expectations, which is even more difficult if your research is, god forbid, interdisciplinary or very novel.

In fact, I would wager that most PIs who aren't trailing spouses don't know how they got their jobs. If they are really being honest with themselves and with you, they will say it was luck, and politics.

Assumption 4: Women hired as "trailing spouses" really don't help the cause of trying to get women hired as equals on our own merits.

Maybe so! But does that mean it should stop? I don't know if I can answer that. I've been advocating for a long time that science hiring needs to be made centralized and should be done by something more like the medical residency match system. Current academic hiring is way too haphazard, and, well, for lack of a better way of saying it, it's just really unscientific.

The way it is now, decisions can be made behind closed doors and based on rapidly changing variables that no one can predict ahead of time, and no one has to explain or defend afterwards. It's completely subject to all kinds of personal biases and politics. For a really vivid view of what that means, watch these videos.


At 4:59 PM, Blogger Stephan said...

I'm not sure who was hired first, but my research adviser (female) appears to be far more accomplished and successful than her husband, also a professor in the same department.

At 5:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the Old Boys Club thrives on back-door deals and the buddy system and nepotism, somehow I don't think this turning of a blind eye would extend to women - after all that's why it's the old BOYS club, not the old boys 'n' girls club. Again, what works for the men will probably backfire on women. Why create even more problems for ourselves??

Also since I personally am disgusted by these back-door deals benefiting the Old Boys Club, so in the same way I can't with a clear conscience endorse the same being done for women. That would be hypocritical.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Kea said...

I would not expect a trailing spouse to turn down a job offer ... but I think this business is highly unethical, and it is very common in my field. I shuddered one morning last year when a young German woman, holding a baby in her arms, turned to me and said that German universities were considering expanding their 'couple hiring' practices. THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO GET THE BEST PERSON FOR THE JOB. Why should the best women miss out on a job, just because they're not married? And the best women really, really deserve the job ... although Anon probably cannot grasp this.

In my field, where this is very common amongst the extremely few women, such women are usually either (i) actually talented, and therefore disliked for what they've done, or (ii) not so talented, and therefore liked as a person but not as a colleague. Either way, it stinks.

At 10:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the set of your options (a), (b), or (c), you seem to make the implicit assumption that a candidate is hired based on their merit. Having been on the other side of the table, let me assure you that this is a very wrong assumption.

In many many cases, we have not hired very qualified candidates because of the sub-area they are in; most departments except for the biggest ones are typically strong in certain subareas and weak in others. So even if the search is advertized as a general search, such departments will not hire a candidate in an area they are strong in, regardless of how good the candidate is. This process is also often highly charged politically -- for example, you may have someone in the department who dislikes a certain subarea, and voices his or her opinion very strongly. Well, if you are a candidate in this area, good luck getting hired in that department!

In fact, for the two-body problems among faculty hiring I have seen so far (not many, but quite a few), the main bottleneck has not been the quality of one of the spouses, but the area. We have had multiple cases where one spouse was in subarea A, another in subarea B, and even though we could hire in A, we would never be allowed a slot in B (faculty outside areas A and B would resist it!); a case where both were in the same subarea A, but we were not allowed two slots in A. The fact that a department hires a trailing spouse even if it doesn't like him or her is actually much rarer than you would think; our department for example, would never consider that.

At 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't buy into the "we need more women so any way they can get there - even if it's a dishonest way - is a step forward." People will know that the trailing spouse only got hired because her husband demanded it. This is NOT merit. Even though so much of academia is not based on merit anyway - e.g. how likely is it that the big shot husband PI achieved his status entirely due to HIS own merit rather than through his connections??? But still, having husband get a job for you is just a little bit TOO obviously non-meritorious because it is too blatant and not even attempting to hide the nepotism. This will probably have negative consequences for the wife if she gets and takes the job.

I also don't like how it would reinforce to the greater community that women really aren't able to make it on their own and that the way to get ahead is to sleep with someone powerful.

At 8:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a much shorter answer to the infuriating question. By demanding a job for a spouse, couples are just doing what they have to do to stay in the same town together. It has nothing to do with one spouse not being able to get a job based on their own merits, and everything to do with the fact that two positions that match each person's research area are almost never available at the same time. A department would never be able to or be willing to open a TT line for someone who isn't qualified or for someone whose research strength is of absolutely no interest to them. The departments and dual career couples are doing what they have to to make things work.

The trailing spouse is not "taking advantage" of their husband's hire, they are simply just trying to get the job they are qualified for without having to live in separate states. The alternative is that they get a job that is unrelated to all of their training.

At 10:29 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Stephan - I've seen plenty of examples of this, too. In the long run, we could argue that it doesn't matter how people get hired, so long as they end up doing a good job.

Except for that whole diversity thing. Probably the husband was the "get" and the wife was trailing, statistically speaking.

Anon 5:07 - I think the problem is that now it's a self-fulfilling feedback loop. The women who are senior in many departments got their own jobs this way, so they not only don't see what's wrong with it, they prefer it. After all, it worked out fine for them!

Kea - In my field, I can't say that I've seen many recent examples where the wife is actually not talented. However, there are more nuances to this than I wrote about. For instance, in a few examples I know about, the trailing wife is several years junior to her husband, and he acts as her main mentor. Getting advice from her is like getting advice from him while playing a game of telephone. This continues throughout their careers, so long as they manage to stay married.

It's like hiring a Mr. Me and his Mrs. Minnie-Me. Do we really need more of them??

Anon 10:36 writes: In the set of your options (a), (b), or (c), you seem to make the implicit assumption that a candidate is hired based on their merit. Having been on the other side of the table, let me assure you that this is a very wrong assumption.

Great point. Thank you for emphasizing that I was writing from the mindset of how hiring should be, and not how it actually is.

Maybe that's because MOST faculty I've met still insist that hiring is done based on "merit". And this is the crux of the sexism argument: that women have inherently less merit.

But of course hiring is based more on likeability and, as you pointed out, politics of whatever sub-areas the department needs at the time (hence my suggestion for a match-based system... oh nevermind).

Anon 1:41,
See Anon's comment above yours. Even super big-shot guys can rarely succeed in commanding that their wives be hired.

Not even attempting to hide the nepotism? Are you listening to yourself?

Anon 8:30,

I didn't think it was infuriating.

Here's the flip side of the argument from a single person's point of view:

Why should couples get to take advantage of the fact that they're a couple? Why should that give them better hiring power, in the age of "oh but you have to demonstrate independence"??

Do couples do better science than other types of collaborators? Maybe this is debatable. But many couples are dual-career without working together. So I would argue no, not necessarily.

I'm sorry, but you can't take that variable out of the equation. NO MATTER WHAT, the trailing spouse IS taking advantage of the other's hire. That's the definition of "trailing". One person is being recruited; the other is being considered ONLY BECAUSE the first is being recruited.

I'm not saying this is necessarily bad for THEM. But I think it is a bad pattern for women in science in general, because it has become almost a default to the extreme that single women have reduced chances of being hired than single men do.

If we want things to change, we have to figure out how to get women hired in larger numbers as something OTHER than the trailing spouse.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Lou said...

I love this post. I agree totally with you. I am so bitter about this kind of situation, it really sucks. Especially when you are fighting it all alone (I mean it as in when your spouse/partner is not in the same field, as well as if you are single).

Another thing - in a situation when a husband demands a lectureship for a wife, it may be related to money as well. A lecturer obviously makes more money than a postdoc/scientific officer (i.e. postdoctoral position but permanent), in the long run. It's a ploy to get more money into their joint bank account.

Ugh, I hate the whole practice. If it wasn't in academia I probably wouldn't mind it, but the fact that it happens often in a supposedly meritocratic world makes it all the more disgusting.

(Yes, I am bitter and I have strong thoughts about this topic!!!)

At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By demanding a job for a spouse, couples are just doing what they have to do to stay in the same town together.

Regardless of the academic couple's personal reasons for demanding the trailing spouse be given a job too, it is still an unfair hiring practice because it shows favortism toward one person.

At 4:23 AM, Anonymous app said...

Maybe this is field dependent. In my corner of theoretical physics I don't know of any women who got their jobs because the uni wanted their husband. The very few women profs all seem to have gotten their jobs on merit, and are now among the leaders in the field.

In fact in the only case I know of it was the husband who was the beneficiary. I couldn't understand how this rather mediocre guy managed to get a job at one of the ivies. Then later I heard that his wife was a hot shot experimentalist who that uni was very keen to hire, and she made it a condition that they had to also hire her lame-ass husband :)

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Becca said...

Ms. PhD- I think your sexism is showing. I don't think it's true that statistically the female is the trailing spouse. Although I have observed that people ASSUME that, in cases where it is demonstrably not so if you know the details.

These are the examples I've *personally* seen firsthand:
Scenario A:
University wants very high powered person, non-academic. They could NOT recruit this person for the salary they are offering. However, an academic unit is also looking to hire, and if they find this nice spot for the spouse, they have a shot at Bigshot administrator. Did I mention this is with Mrs. (Dr.) Bigshot admin and Mr. (Dr.) scientist?

Scenario 2: two academics with closely related research interests but entirely separate funding and nearly entirely separate publishing histories. Male has more papers, female has better journals. The actual trailing spouse is impossible to tell from the record, but both are incredibly important to department and both make tenure handily. In one case, later on, the university lost them because the female was recruited as a kickass administrator/dean in addition to her bench science.

As a single person, if you want to compete, be a good enough colleague, with good enough connections, that the department/university KNOWS it will bring in extra good people by hiring you. I've seen this work for some douchebags with great friends too; to my mind, that's a heck of a lot worse than the trailing spouse phenomenon. Sekrit to success!: don't be a douchebag, have great friends, don't assume anything about women in partnerships being inherently less talented than men in partnerships (oh wait, I ALREADY covered that under "don't be a douchebag")...

At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Supporting what app said. I did a two-body job search with my husband a couple of years ago. There were several universities, of more or less equal rank, where only one of us had an interview.

We uniformly found that universities that only interviewed me, were much more proactive about the two-body issue, and decided to interview my husband after they had decided that they liked me. On the other hand, universities that interviewed only my husband always assumed that he would show up even if they did not make me an offer, and did not interview me. Guess where we ended up going! :)

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...


You might want to think hard about your phrasing when you lob accusations like Ms. PhD- I think your sexism is showing. I don't think it's true that statistically the female is the trailing spouse.

I think you'll find that HISTORICALLY, many many many many many more women were the trailing spouse.

And, they have tenure. And they're still running labs.

And not that many new people are being hired.

So statistically speaking, if the statistics existed as such, I think we would probably find that women HAVE BEEN more often the trailing spouse.

I'm not saying this is still true everywhere, but I still hear at LOT MORE examples of it going that way than the other way.

See for example a recent article in the AWIS magazine about Joan Steitz, who didn't even consider applying for faculty positions and only got one because Tom Steitz was a champion of her career on more than one occasion.

Most of that generation of women were initially hired the same way. And they're not retired or dead yet, so I think if we had a way to look at who is currently holding a tenure-track position and how they got there, we might come up with numbers that show the majority would have been IGNORED as candidates if they had been applying as single women.

This is just another example where we never hear from the women who didn't make it. Either they have to be content as research assistants forever (as Joan Steitz expected to be), or they leave science entirely, never to be heard from again.

Then you wrote Male has more papers, female has better journals. The actual trailing spouse is impossible to tell from the record

THAT IS MY POINT EXACTLY. We DON'T KNOW. But while you or I might think that the wife has done consistently better, more innovative and important science, the husband might have been the recruit and she might have been the trailing spouse. Because that's how hiring committees assign value. They can't always be aware of how new or difficult or important your work is, especially if they don't work in your immediate field.

And as Kea pointed out, if they have to go on the advice of others, they're using completely subjective evaluations to make their decisions.

In my field, it's absolutely unheard-of for women to be recruited with the husband as the trailing spouse. Still, to this day.

So Becca, maybe you should consider that just because you know of a couple of counter examples, doesn't mean I'm being sexist (?!). And btw, you don't have to be deliberately inflammatory to get me to respond to your comments, either. This kind of thoughtless aggression is why I don't like blogging as much as I used to. If this is how you play IRL, good luck, because I think you'll find no one likes receiving it and you won't like it backfiring on you.

And your point about women as administrators without PhDs? HOW DOES THAT HELP ME, as someone who wants to be a scientist? I don't want to be an administrator when I grow up, although one of my asshole advisors actually suggested that administration was a more acceptable career path for women to take.

How would you like it if they said that to you?

And for that matter, I have to ask, do women administrators tend to hire more women faculty (no?)?

We have no numbers on that, either. The higher-up women administrators I've dealt with have been, consistently, male-worshippers who believe that senior male PIs are geniuses and junior women PhDs are loser wannabes.

At 4:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what about when an academic couple together "shares" a single position? I've heard rumors of this being done, but not personally seen it. I guess it means that together they make the same salary as one person would since they are essentially both taking half a position??

At 4:36 PM, Anonymous hydropsyche said...

Both of my advisors have been women who had trailing husbands who did work similar to theirs. This is impressive enough for my quite young doctoral advisor who was just hired 6 years ago as a total bigshot. It is amazing for my master's advisor who was hired in the late '60s and got a job for her trailing husband. They recently retired, he as an associate and she as a distinguished regents professor emeritus.

At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Hope said...

Yeah, I agree that the whole trailing spouse thing is unfair and ultimately, not good for women. But given that hiring in academia is often driven by who you know (i.e., who was your advisor/postdoc mentor; who are his/her connections; where did you go to school), I’m not surprised at the practice. And I have to wonder, if a department intent on recruiting the husband ends up meeting and liking the wife and offering her a job, is it really that much different — or that much worse — than if said dept. offered her an interview because they’re buddies with her mentor? What is the right way to proceed in a system that is inherently unfair?

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 4:31,

re: position-sharing, I know people who did this when the wife was refused a position but the husband was hired (in the '60s). The only examples I've heard of more recently are ones where the couple has children and neither half wants to work full-time. Others have blogged about this (I think FSP had something a long while back and there were other posts that linked to hers).

I'd be curious to know how that happened. Did the bigshot women fit all the usual criteria: spawn of SuperFamousGuy, high impact papers, grants & awards, etc. etc.?

The women I know of who have been "bigshots" were all Spawn of Older Bigshots.

What is the right way to proceed? Nuke the "system" and start over. It's too broken to fix with bandaids. And it wasn't "designed" by some all-seeing logical mind. It has always been ad-hoc on top of ad-hoc on top of every school and every department and every department chair just does whatever they want unless they get sued. And then they put a bandaid on it.

And that, in a nutshell, is how we got what we have today.

At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Hope said...

What is the right way to proceed? Nuke the "system" and start over.

Ms. PhD, I was being serious. I don’t think “nuke the system” is an option.

At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Anon 8:30. Ms. PhD, I cannot believe you think that being an academic couple gives you an advantage over singles. Though it may seem like a lot of universities are doing dual hires, I assure you that there are far more couples who try to get jobs together and are denied. It is much more difficult for a couple to get a job than it is for a single. There is no advantage to being one half of an academic couple.

The problem I have with this whole discussion is that many of you are assuming that the trailing spouse is not also a superstar in their field. I would bet that in nearly all cases where a dual hire actually goes through, that both members are actually quite valuable. Remember, a university can always say “no” to a candidate’s demand for a spousal hire. I really don’t see how dual hires are unethical.

Of course I don’t think it’s good for women, if they are always the trailing spouse, but that’s not always the case. I actually have seen both cases in equal frequency. But this problem is not going to go away. There are studies that show that more academic women have academic husbands than academic husbands have academic wives. The only solution to the “problem” of trailing spouses is for academics to stop marrying each other. Your solution is to “nuke the system and start over” lacks substance. What exactly would you propose that academic couples do? Notice I put quotes on “problem”. This is because dual career couples are not a problem for anyone but themselves. They do not reduce the quality of a department nor do they take away jobs for more qualified single applicants. The only problem is that the couple faces a steep challenge in trying to get jobs in the same place to preserve their marriage, and if they do somehow get those jobs, most people will perceive the trailing spouse as someone who cheated their way into a job. Sounds nice if you’re the trailing spouse doesn’t it?

At 7:43 AM, Anonymous BurntOutPostdoc said...

@YoungFemaleScientist - Faculty hire in France is centralised, and it's a disaster! Nepotism at its best.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Becca said...

It is... possible that this is a very local phenomenon that either you or I are incorrectly generalizing.
Around these parts, there are a lot of scientist-couples. In all cases I know both people well enough to judge, I respect the female scientist's intellectual prowess a lot more. There are also a *lot* of scientist/other employee for the uni couples, and in many of those cases I know that the women specifically were the reason the couple was considered.
While it does seem scientists are more likely to die than retire, the fact is, 99% of the visiting speakers I hear got their PhDs well AFTER 1967 (when Joan Steitz got hers). Steitz's generation is NOT the only one available to draw datapoints from. Maybe you have a particularly antiquated set of professors in your university?

Furthermore, in many of the partnered-recruitment efforts I've seen, I think it would legitimately be taken as a presumptuous insult to call someone the 'trailing spouse'. The university wants *both* people, or they wouldn't bother at all (there are more than enough applicants for jobs these days).

My intensity of response comes from despair, because if you (of all people!) are commonly going around assuming the female is less valuable simply because she is in a couple, or at least that the female must be *perceived* as the 'undesired' one of the two, then how much harder am I, as part of a scientist couple, going to have to work to be taken seriously??

"And your point about women as administrators without PhDs? HOW DOES THAT HELP ME, as someone who wants to be a scientist? "
I wasn't implying such administrators helped you directly, I just think they are good things to keep in mind. For one thing, it's probably a net-plus that a woman was actually *gasp* desired for a position that pays well ($300k/year). Without some women in high level positions, that depressing "70 cents on the dollar" statistic isn't going to budge.
Furthermore, I'm mentioning it because I think it's probably healthy for scientists to see men in the role of 'trailing spouse'- to counter all the sexist assumptions that tend to get made about academic couples.
With an administrator wife/scientist husband, it's really REALLY hard to see the wife as the trailing spouse. Do you really think a university would magic up a 300k/year job (+ benefits!) for a scientist, just because he stomped his little feet? Or is it much more likely that they can throw in a position for the biomedical faculty member (whose grants had better take care of his salary anyway) to entice a good administrator?

At 3:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

24 years ago I was the 'hired spouse' in soc. My husband was hired in a TT position in a natural science. I was hired after not teaching for 1 semester, by a social science dept -- but as a PT assistant professor with a FT load. I taught more students than anyone else on the campus. The next year, I was 'promoted' to a "temporary asst prof" and still taught more than anyone else on campus (over 9000 students on our campus and I had twice the normal load). I did that for 2 years. My evaluations were stellar; I published and no one else in my discipline did, etc. When we both went on the market in year 3 (that was our promise to each other when we got married -- if both not in TT positions in year 3, we'd go on the market) -- and we each started getting on short lists in the same city, but at different schools -- SUDDENLY without us asking, a TT position was written that basically was me.

I applied, did the interview, etc. I have published 3x more than anyone else in my discipline, brought grant money, and now am an editor of a journal.

I was a good hire -- productive, engaged, a good student, and I am very active on committees. Yet there are some in the dept who still call feel I was forced down their throats.

What do we have to do, as the academic spouse? It's often a no-win situation.

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Good point. But do you think the problem is that it's centralized, or how France administers the hiring?

One thing I wonder about is whether it wouldn't be better to randomly select the people in charge of hiring each year. Seems to me if people know they're going to be doing it, or if they do it year after year, that is when nepotism becomes strategized? But that's just a theory.


You make an interesting suggestion when you say Maybe you have a particularly antiquated set of professors in your university? I don't know how to go about assessing whether the places I've worked are more or less antiquated, or whether some fields are more or less dominated by older faculty. It would certainly be interesting to see the data!

I'm not saying I agree with the terminology of "trailing" or that I believe the spouse is less valuable (usually she's much more valuable!) but I'm trying to point out that many faculty still see it this way. And that has implications for all women, whether we're married to other scientists or not.

This is the problem I've had with hiring in science in general. There's how we'd like it to be, and then there's how it actually is.

I've done a lot of things wrong because my advisors were living in "behave as if the world were as you wish it to be" la-la land.

I'm sorry if it's depressing and difficult for you to consider that some places are like this, but I certainly didn't realize it until it was too late for me.

I hope you're right that it may be more localized or discipline-specific and not so widespread as it appears from what I've seen.

re: women as high-paid administrators, yes I see exactly what you mean when you say it's good to see women getting paid more in general and their husbands getting hired as the "trailing" spouse. I've seen this happen.

I just wonder if it's not another gendered assumption that women are appropriately working in administration (e.g. "advanced secretarial work" in some people's minds) but that women should stay out of, or are not genetically able to excel at (Larry Summers!) math, engineering, or science.

It also makes me sick when I see labs or departments showing that they have women around, but it turns out that all the women are temporary students, administrators or office staff. It's like the 1950s all over again.

At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Ambrosia Everlovely said...

It is so bloody hard for career spouses to get a job together, that if you both get jobs in the same city that you both enjoy it is a miracle!
I am in this position, and my husband initially followed me because my position was worth it.
Part of the negotiating is making the selected candidate happy, in their office and in their life.
In our next position, we will try and negotiate a 'package' condition again.
It's not necessarily that one is better than the other, but one is better suited specifically for some position.
Being stuck at home isn't every career spouses dream....

At 4:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When are you going to discuss Greenspun's essay on "Women In Science"?


I think it is a much better explanation than all your sexist theories.

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This actually happens very commonly in the medical field - known as "Couples Match" during the fourth year of medical school. Couples can request that their match lists (their ranked list of hospitals/specialties that they would like to complete their residency in) be compiled together so that they end up in the same city/institution. Unfortunately, there is nothing like this for MD/Ph.D couples, or Ph.D. couples, for post-docing or faculty positions. I wish that there was a more logical way to consider a scientific couple for faculty positions, but with tenure-track positions the Holy Grail they seem to be, that seems tough. Take the advantage while you have it, and just work hard to get that tenure and R01's!


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