My partner is currently interviewing for tenure track positions. I am a first year PhD students and We would ideally like to be in the same city. Ideally I would like to find a co-superviser to continue the path of my current PhD or find a new PhD that I like and start over.

When is the best time to mention this two body problem? ( It is not mentioned in his application) What is a good way of phrasing it? The positions we are talking about are in the UK and Denmark.

p.s: Is it possible that mentioning the two body problem will reduce his chances of getting the position?


Two-body problems is something which is usually only brought up proper once you have the offer during the negotiations phase. Then, hopefully, your partner's future institution will really want to have them, and hopefully try to accommodate their wishes.

Of course, the room for negotiations at tenure-track level might be limited, depending on the place. But then again, giving a funded PhD position is a comparatively low effort/risk, as compared to giving a partner a permanent faculty-level position. So I would think that chances should be reasonably good, though it might of course mean that your partner will get less startup funding e.g. for PhD students (the university will ultimately look at the full package).

Finally, if your partner is being asked in the interview if there is a two-body problem, or generally about family-related issues with relocation, they should answer truthfully.

Independent of all that, it should also be a feasible task to find a new PhD yourself in the new place (unless it is very small), as PhD positions are much easier to get than faculty positions. So overall this might not be so much of an issue.


Context: US based answer. I’m a professor and former department chair who has had a lot of experience with situations like these, both on the hiring side and in other ways.

When is the best time to mention this two body problem?

It’s important to understand (and this is something that I think the other answers are missing) that this question has no right answer. There isn’t a “best time”, just different pros and cons to mentioning it at different times.

If he mentions it early in the interview process, he is giving information that is potentially useful to the interviewing department. They may be able to help with the two-body problem, which would give them a competitive edge over other departments. This could make them more excited about the prospect of hiring him, and a bit more likely to make him an offer. They could also tell him and you about resources that may be available to help with situations like these, like extra funding to support your acceptance to the local PhD program, which could help you focus your own search efforts and perhaps ease some of the stress you may be dealing with.

Alternatively, the information may make the department less excited, and a bit less likely to choose to make him an offer, if they get a sense that the hurdle of causing him to choose to move to their city is improbably difficult or too much trouble. This could happen for example if your area of PhD specialization is so esoteric that they think it is very unlikely that you’ll be able to find a co-supervisor in their university or another nearby one, or if your partner is only a marginally attractive candidate to them to begin with.

At the very least, revealing this kind of information early on will signal that your partner is a serious person with a professional attitude, who is engaging with the interview process in good faith and is not wasting people’s time by playing games. Some people (me, for example) would be impressed by such an attitude, and that could also conceivably affect the likelihood of getting an offer. Even if he doesn’t get an offer, it’s always good to leave a good impression as this could end up helping in various ways with his future career.

Conversely, springing this information on the department at a late stage after an offer has been extended may (or may not, depending to some extent on the local culture and on the way he brings this information up) feel like he is pulling a bit of a “bait and switch” maneuver on them. It may be a dealbreaker and leave the interviewers with a sense that their time has been wasted, leaving a sour aftertaste.

Finally, revealing the information early on may help avoid wasting his (and your own) time and mental energy. Bringing this up could give both of you useful information and possibly rule out that institution as a viable option. If there is no hope for you to find a PhD co-adviser where he is interviewing, are you both sure that there is a point in going through the interview process?

What is a good way of phrasing it?

In a forthright and polite way. He should simply explain the situation and avoid giving any obvious signs of dishonesty or immaturity by disclosing misleading information or answering follow-up questions evasively.

Is it possible that mentioning the two body problem will reduce his chances of getting the position?

Yes. It’s also possible that it will increase the chances as I explained above. The most likely effect will be that the chances of him getting hired will not really be changed at all, but the interview process will go more smoothly and pleasantly for both your partner and the people interviewing him, he will leave a slightly better personal impression, and you and him will be a little bit less stressed out while the process is playing out.

Summary. At my (US) university it is definitely helpful to mention a two body problem early on. We have lots of experience and resources to support candidates and their family members in those situations, and usually see them as an opportunity rather than a reason for discouragement or to give up on promising candidates. During the years when I was a department chair I interviewed around 20-30 tenure track candidates, and the topic was a standard one to discuss, and one that we were able to help with on several occasions leading to a successful recruitment.

On the other hand, the other answers suggesting not to mention it until late in the process also have a valid point. I don’t think anyone will argue that your partner has an ethical obligation to explain his personal circumstances before receiving an offer, and if he feels that there is a strategic advantage to withholding this type of information, it’s perfectly legitimate to do so, and there are specific situations where that could be a good idea. However, personally I think any perceived advantage to such an approach may not be as significant as people without experience in such matters typically think, and may be nonexistent.

  • 2
    You seem to view the tenure track hiring process as a market in which the applicant has the stronger position - arguing that allowing a department to make a stronger offer will make the department "more excited about the prospect of hiring him, and a bit more likely to make him an offer." This view of the tt job market strikes me as a little odd. Apparently, that's what you're doing in your field, but it seems from left-field in others. I think what you're saying makes sense if the couple will insist to be at the same place, which, again, I don't see as the rule. Jan 22 at 20:28
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    @gnometorule I don’t see on what basis you interpret my answer in such a way. The point I’m making is that if a department is somewhat excited about person X (enough to be seriously considering making them an offer) and you then give them additional information that gives them reason to believe they are more likely to be able to make person X an offer he will accept, they will typically become more excited and view the prospect of making such an offer to X a bit more favorably than they did before. This has nothing to do with who has a stronger position.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 22 at 20:33
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    @gnometorule Not sure I got that same impression, Dan's answer seems pretty balanced.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 22 at 20:33
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    @gnometorule sure, but “I wouldn’t do this” doesn’t address why one shouldn’t do this, and doesn’t convince me your judgment is correct. It’s just your personal feeling. I believe you are falling prey to the same fallacy I mentioned in my answer that a two body problem is always perceived as a liability and a flaw to be hidden until one must absolutely disclose it, and that mentioning it is “rocking the boat”. As I explain in the answer, that’s simply not how many people on the hiring side think about this issue.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 22 at 20:43
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Oh come on. I don't know where in the world you are coming from but it seems to have given you an extremely cynical view of the world. "I'd like a job for life but it's important to me that my SO also have an opportunity to work towards their goals" is not petty or inappropriate. "I want my spouse to be able to continue research" does not announce "I want to start inappropriate relationships with students".
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 23 at 6:23

UK perspective

First, it is important to remember that the UK is a relatively densely populated country with reasonably good transport links. As a result, it is very common for academic couples to work at different universities (many UK cities have more than one university), even in different cities. Some couples manage to find positions that are close enough geographically to enable them to live together all week -- examples of city-'pairs' that are eminently feasible for commuting: Manchester & Liverpool; Edinburgh & Glasgow; Bristol & Cardiff; York & Newcastle. But it is not unusual for UK academics to do long-distance commuting, even to the extent of staying in hotels or renting a 2nd home (even before COVID-19, some UK academics would cluster their on-campus commitments to a couple of days per week, and then work from home the rest of the time).

In the UK, "spousal hire" (that is, offering a job to a person by virtue of his/her being the spouse of someone who has already been offered a job) is generally illegal. When it comes to hiring, every candidate must be treated as an individual on merit alone. The same principle would apply to a PhD position (although it is not employment, strictly speaking).

So, there is almost certainly no point bringing up the two-body problem until after you have received a job offer (possible exception: if your spouse already works in the local area, and you are thus applying for the job in order to solve a two-body problem, and you are applying for a lower-ranking position than your current post).

Of course, staff at the university are perfectly entitled to offer informal advice to the spouse of a colleague. It may, therefore, be appropriate to seek such advice after receiving the job offer but before signing the contract.

Now, as far as getting a PhD place in the UK is concerned: as long as you have a coherent research proposal (you need to have a fairly clear idea of your thesis topic, although it is understood that this may change/evolve somewhat) and the appropriate credentials to pursue it, getting a place somewhere is not too difficult (of course, actually completing the PhD is still a long and hard journey). The two main challenges are securing an appropriate supervisor and funding. If you want a funded PhD place, it is much more competitive, and may require some flexibility on the topic, supervisor, and institution.


This type of question will be discussed after your partner has been extended an offer. If a department is committed to hiring faculty, they will, within reason, attempt to help their spouses get settled too. If you’re both in the same field, this might work out; if not, there might not be much they can do. Given that you’ll mention it after an offer has been extended, it can’t hurt your partner. And at that point, there is no need for special phrasing as two-body problems in academia are common.

Given how hard it is to find a tenure track position even without further constraints, you might also want to begin discussing with your partner what to do if getting you to move into a Ph.D. at the same university/in the same city won’t work out. Off-hand, I can think of two cases where the spouse was accommodated, but of plenty more where that was not possible.

  • 1
    "if not [in the same department], there might not be much they can do": Sure, the department or search committee head can talk to the president/rector of the university - not very likely in the case of a TT position, but otherwise, sure.
    – user151413
    Jan 22 at 13:34
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    @user151413: well, I said “might.” :) I’ve seen it happen, but not into a Ph.D. program in a different field. There are many theoretical ways the department could help, but only so many in practice. Jan 22 at 13:38
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    Though this is unrelated to "PhD program", and much more likely to "tenure track". If this were a faculty member which Dean at department A strongly wanted, then they could certainly press for a PhD position at department B (of course, at some point they would probably have to return the favor). The "value" of a PhD position is small, so if I were department B, I would likely try to accommodate since it would buy me a favor from department A in the future.
    – user151413
    Jan 22 at 13:40

(The question changed. This advice is not for Europe.)

Is it possible that mentioning the two body problem will reduce his chances of getting the position?

It's possible. I see no reason to inform the search committee that you have a problem that might make the hire more complicated.

When is the best time to mention this two body problem?

Probably never. The faculty search committee does not control PhD admissions, particularly if you plan to get your PhD in another department or at a nearby university. They will not be able to help you achieve your goal.

I think the most you can hope for is that your partner's new job comes with a tuition waver for you. Tuition wavers are not usually negotiated as part of salary packages. They are automatic.

  • 6
    Which tuition.?
    – user151413
    Jan 22 at 10:24
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    Ya PhDs typically don't pay tuition in Europe...In fact it's often considered a job so they're actually paid...
    – BLBA
    Jan 22 at 12:14
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    Also, which PhD admission?
    – user151413
    Jan 22 at 14:33
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    This does not seem to answer the question, which refers to an interview for a tenure track position, not to a PhD admission. Could you please edit it to answer the question or remove it altogether?
    – Massimo Ortolano
    Jan 22 at 15:13
  • 5
    They will not be able to help you achieve your goal. This is factually incorrect. I know of specific examples where they were able to help in a situation identical to OP and her partner’s.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 22 at 20:59

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