My partner and I are from the same background [math/stat], and we are study buddies as well. We plan to enroll in Ph.D. in the public health program at the same university. It's important for both of us to make an academic career, get into a good Ph.D. program, as well as being together through the ups and downs. Ph.D. is a long time commitment of around 4 years. We both want to spend this time together and in a better way. Getting into the same Ph.D. program will help us to be physically, mentally healthy and active, and collaborate academically. How should we approach the committee or professor about the situation?

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    Strongly related question: Mention two-body-problem in PhD applications? If so, where?
    – Nobody
    Dec 29, 2022 at 12:29
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    I voted to close as a duplicate (it looks so to me, but if it's not, please clarify), even though I don't entirely agree with the accepted answer there--we have considered admitting a couple to our grad program before, and I personally was in favor. (I think it didn't work out because of COVID/visa issues however)
    – Kimball
    Dec 29, 2022 at 13:07
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    "Getting into the same Ph.D. program will help us to be physically, mentally healthy and active, and collaborate academically." That's great, but, to be blunt, how this any of the department's business? You would need to make a case that this would benefit the department, but you're only making a case that this would benefit you and your partner. Dec 29, 2022 at 14:17
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    A couple was just admitted to my department. They did not mention it and said they weren't asked about it. Their names were different, but they attended the same undergrad and mentioned someone could have noticed they shared an address. The answer to your question is "They both get in on their individual merits." Dec 29, 2022 at 16:56
  • I think this is more of a chat discussion and opinion-based so I won't ask a separate question. If your department was hiring a professor (or 2), what would be more attractive--a couple who had the same academic background possibly including post-docs or ones who had different backgrounds and thus wider collaborative networks?
    – mkennedy
    Dec 29, 2022 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


Your situation is like a "job-share," but simpler (conceptually), but also harder to execute. With job-sharing, some employers are willing to accept that it is unnecessary for either of the two people involved have all the relevant skills as long as jointly, they meet the requirements of the job. Your situation is more likely to approximate the case when an employer wants both job-share people to have all the relevant skills.

A graduate school is unlikely to take the view that the two of you together are better than the sum of the parts. Instead, they will want to ensure that each of you is capable of completing the graduate program with or without their partner. I suggest therefore that you both apply (individually) to as many graduate programs as you can, and hope that both of you get accepted (best outcome!). However, if only one of you is accepted, there is still a strategic card to play. Having been offered a place, only then enter into a discussion about how much you would like to accept the place but are really looking for a place where the two of you are accepted.

You can then choose what to do, depending on the outcome of that discussion.

Short form: apply first, hope for the best, then strategize.

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    In my department, if anyone tried to negotiate their partner to get a PhD position (when they weren't also accepted already) would be told in no uncertain terms where they can get off. I believe the same would be true in any UK university. Other countries might be more amenable to these forms of corruption. Dec 29, 2022 at 11:34
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    The second part of this plan seems rather optimistic - good PhD programmes tend to be very competitive. I'm not sure what leverage the couple would have here to get an extra PhD position? Unless one of them is really remarkable, I don't see why the committee would (and at least in my institute, even how they could) give a place to someone they've already rejected. Dec 29, 2022 at 11:40
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    In addition to 'apply (individually) to as many graduate programs as you can', maybe look out for places where there are multiple good universities in a geographical cluster, so even if you don't both get accepted by the same university, you have a chance of getting accepted by universities close enough together that it's still easy for you to spend time together. Dec 29, 2022 at 13:44
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    @DavidA.Craven One could put together a regulatory/ethical justification for it on the grounds that not doing it leads disproportionately to women sacrificing their careers in favour of their husbands', and thus contributes to gender inequality in career progression. Even so, I've never heard of it happening at a level as junior as PhD student. Dec 29, 2022 at 13:50
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    @DavidA.Craven The School of Mathematics at Newcastle says in its Athena Swan documentation dated April 2019 that, on a handful of occasions, it's hired faculty members' spouses at postdoc or faculty level on this basis. I've heard nothing about any lawsuits or arrests. Dec 29, 2022 at 15:48

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