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I am applying for a position in a state where my spouse is. Would it be a good idea to mention this fact in the cover letter so that they know that I am really interested in the position? I just want to make sure that it doesn't go against me.

Thanks.

  • Living in the same state may not help much if the distance between the two jobs is large- are you talking about two job locations that are both within a reasonable commuting distance of a place where you might live? – Brian Borchers Jan 19 '18 at 1:31
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    The answer probably depends on both the state and the type of university. If you are applying for a job at a small college somewhere in rural America, a college which has seen a regular exodus of junior faculty to bigger and better opportunities, then a connection to the state in question might help. If you are applying to MIT, the fact that your spouse is in Massachusetts would illicit a big yawn. – John Coleman Jan 19 '18 at 13:07
  • "I just want to make sure that it doesn't go against me." The cover letter is exactly the right place to put this. If you introduce it without a big fanfare, the best outcome from this would be to show that you would stick around and that you'd give your all for the department in exchange for the privilege of solving your two-body problem. – aparente001 Jan 19 '18 at 14:23
  • If your field is actually math, I wouldn't assume that your cover letter is actually read. Maybe it will be, but I wouldn't count on it. It's better to personally contact someone in the department. – Ben Webster Jan 19 '18 at 16:08
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Yes. Search committees are very sensitive to what are called "two-body problems".

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    Yes, ideally these ctes are so-sensitive, but there are some dinosaurs who still believe that two-body conflicts are a "test of commitment", etc. Indeed, I continue to be surprised at the survival of the "monastic" model of academe (but, I suppose, some parts of "business", too), wherein nothing in planning allows for the possibility that a person might have a partner, kids, friends, family. – paul garrett Jan 19 '18 at 0:38
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    Keep in mind that the committee can't normally ask about your family situation- if you don't volunteer this information, it's not going to come out. Putting it in the cover letter means that the committee will know about it early in the process. It certainly shouldn't hurt your chances. – Brian Borchers Jan 19 '18 at 1:06
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    To elaborate a bit on why committees are sensitive to "two-body problems", it's often the case that a department makes an offer to someone only to be told, "Oh, my spouse needs a job too." At many smaller institutions, it is simply not practical to hire the spouse and the search committee has to move on to another candidate. – Brian Borchers Jan 19 '18 at 1:33
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Failed searches waste everyone's time. Anything that suggests you may not accept an offer might be a warning sign for the department. This could be your spouse, because 1) people turn down jobs if their spouse doesn't want to live in that location (or can't find a job), and 2) two-academic households, they might only accept if offered two positions.

Your situation probably makes the department think you are more likely to accept. It doesn't sound likely to hurt your chances. However, there could also be some old-school sexism, etc., ("oh, your spouse works?") depending on the people and genders involved. I don't know the odds of this being a problem, but worth thinking about before disclosing.

Will this matter a lot? Probably depends on the type of school and how attractive the location is. If you are applying to a less prestigious university in a smaller city, departments might really appreciate the evidence that you want to be there (and won't move at the first chance). When I interviewed at a less-fancy school in my home state, I'm pretty sure that came up as a plus. If it's Harvard, I wouldn't expect it to matter at all.

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In every department I've ever been in, a candidate having a spouse already employed somewhere within commuting distance (or any family connection to the area) would have been regarded as a big plus. Of course, "big" has to be viewed in context here, since obviously, it's quite small compared to the quality of someone's research and teaching. It will only make a difference if the department was seriously considering you already. But every department is worried about whether candidates will accept and retention after someone comes (Harvard included! the sort of people Harvard would hire have lots of other institutions falling all over themselves to make them offers), and the way humans make decisions is complicated.

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