Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘dual body problem’

A-Z of DBOs and a Question

In academia, academic management, discipline on July 20, 2011 at 8:19 am

Female Science Professor has written another gem, this time an A-Z of dual career couples in the Chronicle of Higher Education. As a dual career couple myself, I would recommend it to anyone in the same situation. For those of you who are not familiar with FSP, she is a Full Professor in the Sciences at an R1 University, and so is her husband.

One of the reasons I would recommend this is that she has experience of  the concerns that some people have towards accommodations for dual career couples. I’ve known that this exists for some time, and understanding how to navigate these concerns and sensitivities is invaluable in doing what one can to ameliorate them. I would also recommend it to non dual career couples. If you want to understand the pros and cons of being in a dual career couple this is a great introduction. And since I think dual career couples are not going away anytime soon, both types of Professor need to understand each other better.

In the Bodies section she writes:

Studies of married female faculty members show that many women in the physical sciences and math are married to other academics, the majority of them in the same or similar fields. Although the two-body problem may arise when institutions try to hire male faculty members, it more commonly occurs with female candidates. The issue, therefore, has become inextricably linked with that of hiring and retaining women in science, engineering, and math.

and then proceeds to suggest (very rightly in my opinion) that couples need to understand what they both individually want in terms of positions (e.g.,vtwo faculty positions, one faculty position and an instructing/research scientist position). But, I wanted to return to this paragraph. One of the implications that you could take away from this paragraph is that women are more likely to marry colleagues in same or similar fields than men. Why is that? In my experience I agree with the statement (informally, I’ve not done any research on this). So, it’s a genuine question.

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DBO: The New Normal

In academia, computer science, discipline, research, women on March 22, 2011 at 10:23 am

This is more of a question than a post.

Today I learned, via Facebook of course, that a colleague of mine has just gotten engaged to another researcher. I was reminded once again of a comment that a very smart person—Martha Pollock—made about dual body opportunities. She said that DBO’s are the new normal (I’ve been considering t-shirts ever since). She was referring to DBOs that are any two professionals, mostly I have written about one particular type of DBO, the one I have experience with, two researchers.

So, my question. Are DBO’s the new normal, and if so, what are the implications?

My other question. Do we need t-shirts?

The Trailing Spouse: a DBO post

In academia, academic management, research, women on September 12, 2010 at 9:46 am

Recently Female Science Professor posted an article on the trailing spouse. (The trailing spouse is the person who trails in a dual body opportunity…)

Dual Body Opportunities (DBO) are usually focused on hiring, but this was a post-hiring post. She’d received an email from someone who asked questions about what happens post hiring.

The email to FSP, explained,

After several years together in this department, I am realizing that there is another component to the two-body problem that I had not anticipated: although we have equal jobs, we are not treated as equals. I am not sure if this is the result of 1) difference in job performance; 2) gender; or 3) trailing vs. non-trailing spouse.

And then the author of that email to FSP went on to say that

In our situation, my husband was offered a position first. Our negotiations led to a second position (mine) in which I was provided similar resources in terms of space, start-up, salary etc.

Despite starting on nearly equal footing, several inequities have developed since we started our jobs. For example, despite equal teaching components of our job, our teaching loads are far from equal. Since we joined this department, my teaching assignments have involved more (different) courses, with more students per course, with courses that meet more often during the week.


A second example comes from service assignments. I have been asked to serve on numerous, sometimes time-consuming but largely inconsequential committees where as my husband has been asked and has served on every major decision-making committee we have (e.g., graduate admissions, finances).

Female Science Professor says that while she was the “trailing spouse” in her current position, i.e. her husband was hired first, that while she started out in a position of inequity, things have changed over time, as she’s demonstrated her ability, and also had a good mentor to help her.

Like the author of the letter to FSP, I think that my husband and I were treated equally. Like FSP I think a good mentor matters, and like FSP I think that careers over time vary and that’s crucial to understand. Career change, varying degrees of success or not, has been a feature over my entire career not just since I became part of a DBO. Some of it has been of my own making (poor problem selection, a decision to change jobs, directions etc) and some of it not of my own making. The rhythms of research have this consequence, and we would all advise our students not compare themselves to others. In one way this is true for DBOs also. If you are both trying to have a fulfilling career, then local variability may be just that.

On the other hand, the post to FSP raises quite fair questions. While research is uncontrollable, the types of service, the loads of teaching etc. should not, IMO, vary so much. Those are very reasonable to observe and ensure that equality is being managed. I’ve posted before about academic service loads, and gender imbalance. More general imbalances persist, like the fact that wome still earn 77cents on the male dollar, despite the promise of equality. It’s these structural and persistent inequities that I presume that the author of the email refers to when she asks FSP whether it’s gender thats led her to become the trailing spouse. I can’t answer the question she poses, but I have great empathy for her situation.

What I most agree with in FSP’s post is having a mentor, formal or informal, who is your champion. And of course not having the same mentor as your DBO. Trying to make as much of your individual identity. I’ve talked about having separate projects and so forth, establishing individual research identities that are clearly visible and easy to separate and articulate.

The letter to FSP raises some really important concerns. A DBO is not just a hiring concern, it’s something that has to be managed continuously (I’ve written about this with respect to tenure, but certainly I think it’s also a part of total career management). That may include deciding that there are gulfs between the partners that are not fair, nor of the partner’s own making/circumstances (the latter say being a difference in points in career) and taking actions to try to resolve this.

If I had a “making the most of this” comment to end with, I’d say that there’s a degree of intentionality and thought that being a DMO demands, and that’s probably no bad thing for a career.

Relationships: A Diversity Issue?

In academia, women on July 13, 2010 at 12:18 pm

In the continuing adventure called “so you have a blog, what are you learning” I’ve managed to have another blog experience. In a post, ironically about a previous blog learning experience, I added an observation that also invited commentary. I said…

The only thing that happened afterwards was that I went through a phase where I started to get the distinct impression that my relationship choices (although distilled to my assumed sex life) was of more interest to gossips than those of my male peers.

I stand by this. And it was most pronounced when I was dating anyone who was in a different place in their career than I was. I’ll spare folk the details, but while some people were pleased for me, the word couch was also used (not positively). Hopefully things have changed.

So, why do I think having personal relationships is connected to diversity? Well to my mind, diversity is more than just a commitment to an individual, it’s a commitment to all the possibilities that a diverse environment can create.

Lets start with me. If I represent a commitment to bringing women into STEM, then that commitment begins with me as a person, but it also includes allowing me to have a life. What type of diversity would it have been if my attempts to be human were choked? Part of my life was about relationship forming. Some might say that the workplace is not the right place to do that. I would assert that the research workplace demands so much time that it can cut into non-workplace opportunities to form relationships. It also happens to be a place where you can meet, in a diverse environment, people who share similar interests. Not just work ones, but ones that extend beyond that.

Indeed, since I am part of a dual body opportunity, and I know many others who are also dual body opportunities it’s clear that the workplace has been and continues to be a place where people do form relationships. I think that that’s part of diversity, it’s an embracing of and a commitment to sorting through new experiences because you have a diversity of people who are participating in your culture. Dating and marriage are a normal part of everyone’s lives, and by changing the workplace we make it more possible for it to be an experience that happens to intersect with the work environment in more ways. Is that so terrible? I don’t think so.

What I will say, and I’ve said it before, is that these relationships require some special thought. The most important questions usually turn on whether there’s a conflict of interest. It requires consideration of all the potential stakeholders beyond those in the relationship itself. For example, it would have been a conflict of interest for my husband to sit in on the discussions of my tenure case, it would have affected not just us, but also our colleagues. In fact, from what experience I have with diversity in the workplace, most of the things that need to be handled with care turn on when person A by virtue of their role/position has access to the examination/review of person B, and A&B are in a relationship. (If anyone can think of anything else, I’d be grateful).

To go one step further. I’d argue that broadening the workplace to be tolerant of, and thoughtful about, these possibilities actually improves the workplace. Not only does it make it more diverse, it makes us think more carefully about all the relationships that exist and how we manage them all with fairness and good will. I’d like to hope that diversity brings about a permissive while thoughtful culture, open to all possibilities while careful to preserve fairness.

That sounds like a good place to work doesn’t it? I think it is.

Dual Body Opportunities

In academia, academic management, discipline on May 5, 2010 at 4:49 pm

(Note: while the majority of this post was written prior to an inspiring talk I heard, that talk was the incentive to finish it off since it explicitly acknowledged this trend).

It seems to me that there are increasing numbers of couples who both pursue careers in research institutions. This is sometimes known as a Two or Dual Body Problem, but I prefer to see it as a Dual Body Opportunity. This is not surprising since I am one half of just such an opportunity.

But, while I think there’s increased awareness of dual body opportunities, I think that it’s not well understood by people who are not part of such a partnership. The intent of this post then is to offer some experiences and reflections, but to most importantly get the conversation started. Because I think that there are real advantages for Universities to employ dual body opportunities. Among them I would include that they hire two people who are implicit mentors to each other, providing support, guidance, throughout the career; and if those couples enjoy working together and start conversations, then they have the possibility of crossing a significant hurdle faced by interdisciplinary research which is crossing the terminological/disciplinary divide. Given the emphasis on interdisciplinary research that seems like a huge win.

From the outset, I’ll add that I’m going to largely talk about two body opportunities where both partners are researchers and working at the same place, but I think that’s a variant of the far more common situation where people live in dual income families. All of the challenges any working family face, are also faced by a dual body partnership. I think those aspects of dual earning partnerships are better understood.

1) Balance. How much do you identify with your partner versus how much you establish your individual identity.

It’s crucial for the individuals as well as the institution to know and feel that they’ve hired two scholars. So it’s important to set up independent streams of work. That’s not to say that you can’t do some work together (although I know dual body opportunities who prefer to work apart), but its crucial that each person has a very clear sense of what their individual contribution is to the project and how that fits into their own career trajectory. I’ve work with my partner, but also with other faculty and independently.

2) Substitution. Thinking about when substitution of one for the other is appropriate.

People are busy and a dual body is occasionally seen as a short-route to passing on information or having the conversation with the actual person. But it’s not good for anyone. It’s certainly not good for the dual body, opportunities to network are a valuable if not vital part of scholarship. Research is a very communicative business. Each opportunity missed is just that, an opportunity to be part of a valuable exchange. From the perspective of those taking the short cut I would also suggest that time saved is also opportunity lost in talking to the *right person*, i.e the expert rather than the expert’s partner! This doesn’t happen often, but it does, and I’ve tried to be very good about encouraging the person to talk to the expert.

On the other hand, there are classes of completely reasonable requests. I’ll help a staff member figure out receipts for travel that involves my partner, and so forth. That’s helping people do business more efficiently and it doesn’t affect my or my partner’s career in anyway.

Perhaps what I would stress here is to be aware of the substitution and ask a question before replying, is this career related?

3) Conflicts of Interest. Times when explicitly considering the dual body is crucial.

The above two points mostly turn on establishing individual identity. In unusual circumstances the successful establishment of individual identity actually works against the dual body opportunity. Tenure is a good example. My partner went up for tenure the year before I did, and spent the subsequent year distancing himself from the process because I was going up for tenure. Universities are used to the transformation of responsibilities assigned to newly tenured faculty, a set of new processes kick in. But, of course those processes have to be examined not just whether they are appropriate for the dual body person to be in, but from the perspective of whether it’s appropriate if you consider both partners.

My sense of the year that my partner spent was that he was asked to be vigilant to the potential conflicts of interest and recuse himself from anything that was problematic. I think it would be even better if we could get to a culture where these sorts of consideration were borne more widely. So, my advice to dual body opportunities is to be very sensitive to conflicts of interest, and to raise concerns quickly to appropriate parties, and use that as an educational process for the university.

In conclusion, I can’t help thinking that dual body opportunities are just one aspect of creating a diverse University. What may seem like a small population (the number of people who are in a dual body partnership) reflects a different type of person entering academia. Perhaps that’s a stretch, although in my case I am a woman in Computing which makes me a minority. What I really mean is that these configurations stretch and test our processes and culture by inviting us to reflect on the assumptions embedded within. And if it makes us more thoughtful about our processes and how they support people who have different life configurations, I can’t help but hope that it gets us towards a more critical reflection on what we might do to attract the best people whatever their life circumstances might be.