Marriage and the Postdoc

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Marriage and the Postdoc

Postby Robbie S » Mon Nov 07, 2005 5:38 pm

My soon-to-be wife and I are 4th year graduate students and are ~18 months from graduation. We have recently discussed our future as postdocs. Ultimately, we have to find two of everything everywhere we go - two postdoc positions and eventually two jobs. When is the best time for us to formally start the postdoc search? A year out? Six months out? Does doubling the search mean we should start earlier than planned? Does anybody have helpful hints at marketing husband and wife teams? Are there pitfalls to applying for two positions at a single institution or even a single lab (we've worked together for 4 years now and haven't killed each other)? And how do we handle the juggling routine of not accepting postdoc positions until we have both been offered a job at the same institution?
Robbie S
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Marriage and the Postdoc

Postby Andy Spencer » Mon Nov 07, 2005 5:50 pm


Welcome to San Francisco/Boston/San Diego!

Just kidding (sort of). You shouldn't have a problem, assuming both you and your wife are viable postdoctoral candidates (PhD + two papers). There's no real need to market yourself as a couple or anything. You both need to act as individuals. No need to mention your spouse until you're interviewing at specific labs.

You need to start looking for positions at least a year out (this goes for any grad student, in my opinion).

As for how to "handle" things, just be up front with everyone. "I'm very interested in the offer, and once my wife and I know all of our options, we'll be making a decision quickly."

Good luck,

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Marriage and the Postdoc

Postby Rich Lemert » Mon Nov 07, 2005 6:06 pm

The only things I would add to Andy's comments is that you will need to be flexible, and you'll probably need to take a few risks. You'll have to pass on some opportunities, for example, simply because there won't be any opportunities at that location for the other. And at least one of you will need to be willing to accept a "less than ideal" situation - or be prepared to wait (possibly for some time) for something to come up.
The risk comes in when one of you is considering an offer while the other is still waiting.

I know several couples that have had no problems getting positions at the same time and in the same company, but this has not generally been my experience. In fact, my wife and I are working professionally in the same city at the same time for the first time in our marriage. In all our previous situations, one of us has been either a student or out of work.
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Marriage and the Postdoc

Postby Becky » Mon Nov 07, 2005 6:07 pm

Hi Robbie,

I can speak from experience as my husband and I went to grad school together, defended within days of one another, and sought out postdoc positions in the same town. We started searching in earnest the fall before we defended. (Defended in February, interviewed in October/December). For us what worked was identifying the labs that we were interested in and then looking to see which ones were in the same city. That narrowed our list considerably, plus there were other factors like quality of life (we knew that we wanted to get away from the New England winters and that neither of us would survive in NYC). We sent letters out to prospective labs at the same time, but my husband ended up with the first interviews. When he went for his interview here in Seattle, I already had an interview at the same institution lined up. He was able to tell the PI that I had an interview scheduled and that he would give him a decision after I had my interview. But, since the position was one that he wanted, he was very positive when he said this. When I went on my interview in Seattle I was upfront and told the PI that my husband had interviewed for a position at the same institute. Both labs were great, well-reknown, and well funded. So we were both able to be very positive in discussions with the PIs. I also interviewed for a position in San Francisco. It came up naturally that my husband was also looking for a postdoc and the PI offered to put him in touch with several other faculty at the school he might be interested in working with. She went so far as to actually speak to one of them over lunch the day that I was visiting. We ended up not going there for other reasons, but I was impressed that the PIs we met cared so much about our situation. I know that it is not kosher to bring up your marital situation when on an interview, but most people I have met were understanding, open about their own experiences, and didn't seem to hold it against me. And they understood when I said that I would being going on other interviews and needed to consider all of my options. It might be helpful to set a date (that you and your spouse agree on beforehand) that you can tell potential PIs you will make a decision by. But again, if you really want a particular position, be very positive in your discussions with the PI. We found that by the time we went on the interviews we had a better feeling about which places we were going to like.

As to working at the same institution I would say that there are some pitfalls. We were in grad school together, but on opposite ends of campus, so we didn't see each other much. When we both started at the same institute on the same floor, things were different. I think that we hung out together too much, and we didn't meet as many new people as we could. I've gone on to a different institution now (same city) and I think that my husband has been having more interactions now that I am gone. There were some people who were rude about us working at the same place (saying that our eating lunch together was like having a date every day), but there were a lot of couples working at the institute. I would pay attention to the culture of the lab when you interview, especially the lives of the other postdocs. Both labs that I have been in have other married postdocs with kids and people are generally more understanding about being married in science. I had a friend who went to a lab in Boston where she was the only married postdoc, everyone else was either single or divorced. She felt the atmosphere was very driven there, so much that she was afraid to tell her PI when she found out she was pregnant, much less share the news with her labmates. I don't know about working in the same lab. It sounds like it wouldn't be a problem for the two of you, but depending on the lab, it might be a problem for the other people working in the lab.
I know this was long, but if you want to discuss more, please feel free to e-mail me!
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Marriage and the Postdoc

Postby Mario Cerritelli » Tue Nov 08, 2005 3:40 pm

Dear Robbie,

I would agree with Becky that your situation is not so uncommon.

One option would be to look at larger institutions. My wife and I are both molecular biologists/biochemists, and we moved together to the NIH over 14 years ago to work in different institutes. The NIH campus in Bethesda, MD, is home to more than 1,200 laboratories with scientists engaged in every area of biomedical research.

It worked for us!

Mario Cerritelli
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