Tuesday, May 18, 2010

more on spousal hiring

I'm not really in the mood to read this and all the links therein, but you might be.

We definitely had an interesting discussion here when I wrote about some ramifications of spousal hiring in a previous post.

I'm glad to see people are talking about it, even if it won't make one bit of difference to my career.

I really do think some people don't realize how potentially complicated and offensive the subject can be.

I recently had a professor tell me he could have gotten me a job as an addendum to hiring MrPhD.

I was disgusted that he actually implied I wasn't worth hiring otherwise, and didn't invite me to apply on my own, if there really were openings (and I'm not sure there are, this guy has a reputation for lies, damn lies, and politics).

MrPhD didn't want the job anyway. The whole exchange was so smarmy that I decided I wouldn't want to apply.

But it was pretty upsetting. I sometimes wonder if these kinds of things are technically (borderline?) illegal?

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At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to your previous blog on pedigree and effect on publishing papers, and getting grants, I would say that pedigree definitely has a role. My own experience tells that. My masters advisor was a distinguished professor in a 2nd tier university and we didn't had any problem with publishing the master's research. But, my Ph.D. advisor was a young P.I. in one of the top 50 universities in US. I will get the Ph.D. in a few days. But, my first Ph.D. paper was rejected in one of the journal. We only had resources to do 2 experiments. Now, we are thinking about making a single paper out of the 2. I don't have any option. Lack of resources compelled me to water down the project and the reviewer of the journal strongly commented against the validity of such an experimental design (which we knew that it would draw criticism). So, my point is that pedigree will count greatly in getting grants which will in turn help in the research and to publish articles.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a more positive point of view on spousal hires. In academia, it is difficult enough to find a place that is acceptable to your spouse, and for an academic spouse relocation is often extremely difficult (even for very, very qualified spouses). Suppose you had multiple offers to choose from; if one of them made a convincing offer for MrPhD, wouldn't you consider that a big plus?

At 2:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it is purely a coincidence that both spouses can get jobs at the same place while interviewing as independent entities (meaning, not bringing up the issue of who their spouse is, when applying for the job), then fine nothing wrong with that. But what I am against is when one of the spouses gets a job they otherwise wouldn't have on their own. Or when one of the spouses gets a position created for them or gets extra consideration because the organization desperately wants the other spouse. This is not to say the extra spouse is not 'meritorious' but maybe simply not a good fit for the organization or department. Yet, they still got the job anyway because the partner "got them the job." I find this to be unfair to all those other legitimate candidates who would/could otherwise have filled the position taken occupied by the extra spouse (since hey, resources are limited, you can't hire everyone you want. Hiring one person means not hiring someone else) but who never got a chance to even try.

I do sympathize with couples who struggle to stay together due to a scarce and over specialized job market. However, bringing your personal/marriage problems into the workplace is not right.

I also don't think I could feel good about myself if I knew that I got a job or was given extra consideration in large part because the organization wanted my spouse.

At 2:56 PM, Blogger geekmommyprof said...

My attitude on spousal hires, affirmative action hires etc. is that the beneficiaries thereof should be grateful for these types of initiatives: they provide access to jobs and solve very difficult two-body problems. Unfortunately, too many people are offended first by someone suggested they be a spousal hires or affirmative action hires, whereas I feel some pride should be swallowed in the name of permanent jobs and uninterrupted cohabitation for both partners.

So what if you are a spousal hire? You will prove your worth and will be eventually viewed as a separate entity. Does it hurt the ego? You bet it does. It requires a thick skin and a bit of resolve, but is worth it.

My husband was a non-tenure-track spousal hire with my tenure-track position (he never wanted a tenure-track job). We as a family are very grateful for this oportunity. Just because he was hired as what can be perceived as an addendum does not mean he does not have his own worth, and after a few years at the University, I am sure he is a valued employee all on his own. I think he would have preferred not to have been a spousal hire, but, as I said, sometimes you have to swallow a bit of pride for what's best for the family. He loves his job, it's a good fit for his expertise, and we're happy with the situation overall. At my university, there is a well-established spousal hire program and its base is that if faculty aren't happy (and they are not happy if they cannot be with their family) they will leave so it's ultimately a loss of resource for the University.

I wish everyone would stop assuming that the spousal hires are somehow 'poor value' and view them in the best sense, as essential mechanisms to keep families together.

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Eleni said...

This small lab that I worked at had four husband and wife PI couples. In two, the husband was definitely the more prominent scientist. In one, they were about equal, and in the fourth the wife was definitely more famous. But it's not like any of the less famous spouses were so far below other people at the lab that anyone seemed resentful, at least not that I could detect.

I worked for one of these professors married to another professor, who said that when they were looking for jobs at one point, there was one place that made them the "great husband-and-wife offer" of a corner office--for them to share! They were obviously disgusted and didn't take it. It's tough, though, to find an institution that is looking for two particular people. She told me to marry a doctor, computer programmer, or teacher (i.e., professions that are employable anywhere).

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Anon 12:33,

It's easier for me if you click on the comments button for the post on which you would like to comment, rather than commenting on a different one. Sometimes I can't respond to comments on older posts because Blogger doesn't make it easy for me to track them once I hit "approve".

Anon 1:14,

I can't really answer that because MrPhD doesn't want a job in academia, and I wouldn't let him take one just for me. And no one has ever offered to do that for us. Maybe things would have been better if they had?

If anything, I got the impression that I would have gotten a job if we were on the market as a couple, but not on my own or with him working in a different sector. It's almost like some departments would rather hire couples because they figure they'll stay longer?

FWIW, our CVs are pretty similar.

Anon 2:53,

I agree that it seems unfair that positions are created for this reason when so many other people don't even have the opportunity to apply.

Not only might you be insecure about your position, but in many cases you'll never be treated fairly if everyone knows you were a spousal hire.


Didn't you do a postdoc???

I've swallowed a metric ton of pride, fecal matter, and other nouns just to get to this point. I used up my thick skin and my resolve. There was a point where I would have loved for a department to take pity on ME and hire ME.

Now, you can take your pity hire and shove it.

Your husband's job is exactly what I'm talking about. He didn't even WANT the job???!!! How is that good for anyone? The students? The department??

How lucky for your family that he loves his job and you get to have a job you love, too!

I'm not saying he's poor value- I'm sure he's an expert in his field and does what is required of him.

But I agree with the people who are saying it's kind of unfair for the rest of us to bend our careers around helping YOU have a family.

I'm not sure why I should care about your family when you don't seem to care that I can't work in my chosen field.


You would think it would work to just have a portable spouse, but in my experience everyone seemed wayyyy more concerned about my spouse's career and happiness than about mine.

If I had a lead on a faculty position, they asked "What's MrPhD going to do?" I found myself yelling, "I don't even have an offer yet!"

I got this reaction from my advisors, my family, and our friends.

Even my family seems more concerned that he has a good job and kept telling me to just quit science. This from parents who insisted that I had to have a career. Lately it seems like my father seems to think I don't deserve to have a fulfilling occupation, but MrPhD does.

It's really kind of fucked up. But from what I can tell, women who are single or partnered with other scientists have a MUCH easier time getting jobs than women who are partnered with non-scientists.

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Becca said...

Oh the horror! He offered you a job- how very offensive. ;-)
Mind you, it sounds like this particular fellow was a jerk and managed to blow the communication badly. Maybe there was some body-language or tone-of-voice thing about it (or unbloggable details) that contributed to the smarmyness. Because it seems odd to find it "pretty upsetting" to be offered a job.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Kea said...

Illegal? Hah, hah! In my discipline (which is the Last Bastion of the patriarchy) the MAJORITY of women with jobs have partners in the field, or a closely related one, who have no doubt helped them along the way. I don't want to begrudge them their jobs, for they are way more talented than many men with jobs, but it means that single women like me stand almost zero chance of obtaining a job. It is a struggle for many departments in my field to hire more than one or two token women.

So I would put this practice down as one of the major sources of discrimination in hiring. It needs to stop. And yeah, it probably is illegal. I would love to see these department chairs in jail ...

At 5:48 PM, Blogger geekmommyprof said...


A comment on your comment. My husband was never on the market for a tenure track position. We were fortunate there was a permanent staff position at this instituition that utilizes his skills very well (otherwise he would have looked for a position in industry, or more likely I would have taken one of the other offers that included assistance with his placement). I don't think there are any studens suffering because of his hire or that he's taking a teaching job of anyone else who's deserving.

"But I agree with the people who are saying it's kind of unfair for the rest of us to bend our careers around helping YOU have a family."

"I'm not sure why I should care about your family when you don't seem to care that I can't work in my chosen field."

Who says I don't care about you working in your chosen field? And how does my husband, or anyone's husband for that matter, endanger your future position? From your post it appears an administrator hinted they would hire you as an addendum, but you thought that was distasteful...

I read some of the older posts and I am quite sure we are not in the same field, and it is clear that you have had quite a difficult time during your postdoc. But you present your advisor as a spineless, gutless, completely uncreative shmuck. Yet he must have had some redeeming qualities at least when he was young, otherwise he would not have been hired ever (when this was still all on his merit, not his subordinates), if you don't want to give him any credit now...

I have a group of ~10 students and currently 1 postdoc. I think that I am doing my best to help my postdoc with building up his vita, proposal writing skills, and that he's getting plenty of exposure at conferences. From my standpoint, I am doing my best to help him advance professionally. Yet neither I nor anybody can guarantee him a tenure track position. I hope he doesn't come as disillusioned out of his postdoc as you are after yours...

At 6:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you are being unfair to geekymommyprof. She never said her husband didn't want his job, only that he never wanted a tenure-track job. He currently has what he wants, and I am happy it has worked out for both of them. She doesn't agree with you, but she has been perfectly civil; that doesn't mean you should launch such a vitriolic attack against her.

Another implicit assumption you are making is that anytime someone makes a spousal hire, someone else does not get hired. Being on the other side of the hiring committee, I can assure you that this is not true. I have seen several occasions when deans have opened up specific slots for spousal hires from some sort of faculty-retention fund, and these positions are positions the department would have never gotten otherwise; the money would have simply been lying around in the university. Any department would see that as a win-win situation.

At 7:17 PM, Anonymous Lou Dobbs said...

Dear YFS,

My first supervisor was a woman who, while having a very respectable CV in terms of publications and pedigree etc. was married to a stellar scientist who published big-ass Science papers. He was made an offer of an independent PI position and she moved with him.

The institute in question provided block funding (this was in the days where institutes actually had a discretionary pot of money) for her to start up a new lab. It is unlikely that the institute would have hired her and provided funding in this manner had she pitched up on her own, athough they would certainly have taken her if she brought funding with her.

Her skills (biochem, molecular biology) were then both unique and complementary to those in the department (physiology). So, she had a potentially great opportunity on the back of the two-fer deal, as it would have given her the opportunity to get established and find some of her own money.

That's the upside: your partner's success buys you some valuable breathing space to get established and recruit students, etc. I don't think these kinds of opportunities exist anymore, but I may be mistaken.

It didn't take long for disgruntled, male scientists to take exception to her. She was regarded by them as a token hire, that her partner got her her job, she didn't 'earm' it, etc. Emails circulated about the place that made her angry, paranoid and anxious. However, she didn't back down and the instigators eventually lost their jobs on the basis of sexual discrimination charges (arising from this and several unrelated incidents over a number of years).

That seems to me the downside; despite a precarious position and in the absence of clear institutional support, you have to fight to defend your research and integrity internally (to your colleagues) while defending it externally (to funding bodies, etc). That's a tough, two-front battle that the Stellar Scientist didn't have to fight, but Mrs. Stellar Scientist did. Add to that she had to raise two kids and it makes life pretty tough.

In any case, I got a good grounding in the basics in that lab, and valuable science came out of it. So I don't know if that argues for it or against it.

I just know that it isn't over once you get a position and it isn't all about 'sucking it up' and getting on with it; you have to fight for your position whether 'earned' as some would put it, or not.

PS - hope the transition to the dark side is going well for you.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger geekmommyprof said...


After your response to my previous comment I started reading some of your early posts, and I had a few thoughts (link to post below). You may not agree, but it looks like you enjoy a good argument nonetheless


At 9:36 PM, Blogger ~profgrrrrl~ said...

Even my family seems more concerned that he has a good job and kept telling me to just quit science. This from parents who insisted that I had to have a career. Lately it seems like my father seems to think I don't deserve to have a fulfilling occupation, but MrPhD does.

Although our situations are quite different, this point resonates with me. I cannot tell you how many times in the last 2 years someone has assumed that the answer to my 2 (or now 3) body problem was for me to quit. Yes, I should quit and take care of the baby and make our home life easy, and then when she's in school I can find a "nice little job" doing something. Or if we need more money right now surely I could find something part time. No one at any point along the way thought 402 should have to change anything. Even now, as he's moving to "my" town people continue to query why we didn't do things in reverse (because of course, as the woman I should be a trailing spouse). Grrr.

Anyway, I'm annoyed for you that you have to deal with that, too. Of course it's not surprising (sadly) that people think that way. Just annoying. And I'm not really sure how to counteract it because any reply pointing out the inherent sexism seems to fall on deaf ears. I feel like I'm back in some undergraduate sociology courses again learning about how traditional gender expectations suggest that men find their satisfaction in their jobs and women find their satisfaction in their man. Ugh.

On another note, because I'm not in the sciences and I'm genuinely curious -- how prevalent is the whole science couples phenomenon? Particularly in the same field who work (at least somewhat) together? It's sounding really common from what I read here, which I guess surprises me. It's not common at all in my area.

At 6:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The comment you just wrote is so true! I did have some success with this year's hiring season and managed to get the golden ring, but everyone is so much more concerned about what my husband will do. The most infuriating thing is now that I've landed a 'real' job, they've all started in on the when-are-you-going-to-have-babies shtick again. 'I already had a four and six year old when I was your age' Yeah, well I've been kind of busy, and things are going to get more busy before they get any less busy, so back off!

At 8:56 AM, Anonymous prodigal academic said...

Anon 2:53 and Ms. PhD, I don't really understand this "unfair" idea about spousal hires. An employer can use pretty much any method they like to find potential employees (especially at private universities, that are not accountable to taxpayers). They are not obligated to do a full search to fill an opening. That said, I think all searches should be conducted in a fair manner, and I really, really hate "fake" searches which waste everyone's time. Better to just hire the desired candidate and get on with it. As for whether hiring without a search is good for a university, that is a different question.

It kind of depends on the situation. From what I have seen, it is actually pretty difficult to convince another department to hire an academic spouse on the TT even if part of the salary comes form the Dean. That said, a TT position isn't a reward for achievement or good behavior. It is no different from any other type of job--the goal is to find productive and successful employees who will improve institution. The employer doesn't care about sampling the whole wide world of available employees. From a university's perspective, if Prof A + spouse is better for the university than Prof B + Prof C, then the university will try really hard to find a spot for Prof A's spouse.

Also, doing a search is time consuming. It eats up everyone in the departments' time. Losing a good prof after spending 6 or 7 figures in startup is expensive and stupid. Some places do the math, and decide they would rather take a chance on the spouse than definitely lose Prof A. There is nothing about "fairness" in the consideration.

Personally, I have not yet either been a spousal hire nor sought one. My spouse is not an academic, so I get off easy. Spouse has used resources at my places of employment to find local jobs--this is a normal part of recruiting. In my opinions, spousal hire is just another type of this. It happens in industry too, particularly in regions where professional jobs are difficult to find.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

thanks, blogger, for eating my reply to these.

argh. maybe will try again later. right now i want to smash something.

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to say there is a bit of bullshitting involved when you say the "spousal hire" is also a valued employee. Anyone who is hired anywhere can be consoled by calling him/her a "valued employee". Everyone is "valued". That's NOT the question. Value is RELATIVE. The question is whether we should value a spousal hire as much as a real hire? Clearly not... anyone who didn't get hired on merit can claim value...except the value he/she brings in helping the institution secure the lead spouse among its employees.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MsPhD:"But I agree with the people who are saying it's kind of unfair for the rest of us to bend our careers around helping YOU have a family."

Exactly my feeling too. I really do sympathize with people who have the 2-body problem (I do as well, you know). I know how hard it is for both spouses to find fulfilling jobs and careers in the same city. I know that everyone wants a normal life and normal family. But. You make your own choices and choose what to give up in order to have something else. that is life.

I don't agree with the practice of spousal hires because this denies many other qualified job candidates opportunities, just so that "you" can have your family. What about the other job candidates, don't their livelihoods count too? this is selfish. Let's face it, the definition of a spousal hire is someone who would not have applied for or taken that job were it not for being married to whoever they are married to. Regardless of how much they may prove their worth later on once hired, that is beside the point. The point is, how is this in any way fair to the other job candidates who WOULD have applied and taken the job as their first choice?

I also don't buy into the "professors are so valuable we must do everything to make them happy so they will stay, including hiring their spouses." Again, this rock-star treatment of giving extra consideration to one individual at the expense of so many others, it is just not fair or ethical.

At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@prodigal academic "There is nothing about "fairness" in the consideration"

well from the rationale you gave for why spousal hires are a good idea then yes you are right, it really has nothing to do with "fairness" which, according to MsPhD and other commenters, is exactly the point all along.

TT jobs aren't given as a reward, like you said. however, when there aren't many jobs that you qualify for (due to specialization and scarcity of number of positions in existence), you can see why people who have trained for these jobs for up to a decade or more, get edgy when their chances to even compete for the jobs legitimately are further reduced by unfair hiring practices.

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With due respect, you are being just as hypocritical and disrespectful to women scientists as some of the people you criticize.

Suppose a woman scientist gets a job through a spousal hire somewhere (and yes, in our society, women are more likely to be spousal hires than the other way round.) In addition to dealing with male scientists in her department with super-egos, now she even has to deal with people like you! People, who on the surface, complain about the under-representation of women in science; but once a woman is hired, they start complaining that she is not "qualified enough" or she did not "earn it", for some unspecified measure of merit, which has been decided by male scientists in the first place! Merit in the sciences is a very relative term, and is mostly determined by recommendation letters; letter writers are human beings, mostly senior men, and they are very much prone to all sorts of biases. Given all these things, who is to say who has merit and who hasn't? Hiring committees are far from omniscient, and they have their own prejudices too. Don't you think you are being hypocritical here by assuming that just because a woman was hired as a spousal hire, she has no merit?

And for all those of you who think single women have it easier than women partnered with male scientists, go read FSP's blog. It is very clear that she is very talented, but if you read about her job search, she says that for a long time, because of her two-body problem, it was very unclear to even her that she would be able to do what she wanted. I am not going into the game of "who has it harder" here, but women scientists who have partners in academics typically have a very tough time with two-body problems, and in many cases, it is their careers that are the victims.


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