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Currently, my fiancee are both currently pursuing our PhD's in bioengineering and materials science and engineering, respectively, at the same university. She wants to eventually have an industrial research position and I want to do a post-doc with the intention becoming a professor. We are ~3 years away from needing to have the serious version of this conversation, but which route of the two would be the bottleneck in our eventual decision? Are there more industrial jobs available than post-doc positions? Are there any other dual-academic-career couples out there with advice for us? I hope the content of this question is appropriate for this stackexchange. Thanks so much.

  • I am in a similar fix, would love to see some nice advice!! :):) – dineshdileep May 16 '14 at 5:12
  • On the "positive" side, the world as we know it could not exist in 3 years. It's good to plan ahead and to have a strategy for life, if you keep in mind that in several years there are several things that can change: a) the wold, b) your mind, c) (very specially) the opportunities. – Trylks May 16 '14 at 12:38
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    I just want to point out that the answer will vary depending on field. For instance in biology, there aren't many industry opportunities unless you want to leave biology totally. My impression is that things are very different for engineering (and even for non-biology sciences) – adam.r May 16 '14 at 16:50
  • In some universities, if one member of a couple is given a position, the other will have better chances of getting a position, so the couples don't split. If there is collaboration between a company and a university, it could help. – Davidmh May 16 '14 at 17:29
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I don't know much about bioengineering and materials sciences. In my area (CS) there are many more industrial positions available than academic positions.

However, industrial positions often tend be clustered in regions, and there might not be too many academic jobs in those regions (or they might be very highly competitive).

Sadly though, I suspect that basing your decisions on where you might do a postdoc is a problem, because a postdoc itself is a temporary position, and so you're really only deferring the real problem. One argument would be that if postdocs in your area take a while (say 3-4 years vs 1-2), then you might as well operate as if that were the permanent job, and then reevaluate after your time is done and you're on the academic job market.

Good luck: two-body problems are tricky, and when one partner is on the academic track it gets even trickier.

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  • Ah, thanks for your insights. I was under the impression that usually post-docs are "usually" offered professor positions. – tquarton May 16 '14 at 17:50
  • @tquarton Post-docs are considered more likely to be offered a given open, available position than other applicants - but in general most institutions are not hiring on the same timeline as your average length of postdoc. So if you have a postdoc of 1-4 years and your university only hires professors in that field every 5-20 years, you can see how this heightened opportunity to be chosen might be an utterly moot point. – BrianH May 16 '14 at 17:59
  • I don't know about your area: as @BrianDHall says there's a huge imbalance between number of postdocs and number of faculty slots in that area. and even if there's a vacancy it's by no means a given (or even close to it) that the in-house candidate will be preferred. – Suresh May 16 '14 at 19:48
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I am in a similar situation @tquarton. I'm a BME phd and my fiancee is a medical student. 2 comments that i don't think have been made about the academic route.

  1. I've been told, and seen a few times already, that post-docs in our field are actually less likely to make the jump to assistant professor at their current school. The reasoning I've heard is that your colleagues making the decisions are often unconvinced of how important your research is to the field since they cannot possibly stay up to date on your niche, so they expect that you should be able to find jobs at other universities to "prove it"... If you do get external position offers, I think you are more likely to bargain for a 'raise' at your current location. I say this because I am in a similar situation and I tell my fiancee that I expect my post-doc will not be my final landing spot, which is important for our future planning.

  2. also, it is common, if one of you is especially talented or lucky for that matter, that universities will accept you as a couple. This is a nice situation when it happens, and I've seen it once at both locations i've been so far in my career.

I'm very interested in this question, and this is my perception so far (4th year phd). If one or both of you are willing to take an industrial job, this will certainly increase your chances. Good luck! :)

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First of all I would like to mention that I am a PhD student in a Bio-Engineering department and this answer contains information about the issue from that perspective.

When I have started to my PhD I was thinking of pursuing an academic career in my field and would like to conduct research on tissue engineering. Then I saw that there is no straight way to this career. The first thing that disappointed me was that the field that I would like to improve myself was a the field of expertise of anyone in my institution. Due to lack of experts on that field in the institution I couldn't study on that field. If you ask why I didn't try to find an another institution, I can only tell that there are not many institutions in the country that have that sub-field of Bio-Engineering. I then choose to studied a very different field than my original intent and now I am close to the graduation.

I am looking to industrial jobs and also to the post-doc positions and I can tell that there are more post-doc positions for our field than industrial jobs. The problem is that those post-doc positions almost always require publications in Nature, Science etc. so it is very competitive. I wish you and your fiancee could find the place that you can fit. Me and my fiancee are not successful at finding it yet, but I have not lost hope.

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  • Thanks for sharing Umut, I wish you and your fiance the best as well. – tquarton May 22 '14 at 18:36
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The main advice that I have on this topic is that it can be difficult to return to academia after a stint in commercial enterprise (i.e. "industry"). There are exceptions -- some people do publish from commercial positions, or otherwise develop some exceptional expertise that gives them opportunities as academic researchers. My impression is that returning to academia is easier for engineers than for basic science researchers (such as biologists, like myself).

The flip side is that if you want to go into industry, you might as well get started ASAP, unless you think your post-doc project will make you an attractive candidate for companies.

So at least for biology, my understanding is that if you shouldn't leave academia until you are sure that you want to. This is especially important for biologists, since there aren't very many "biology" jobs outside of academia, so leaving academia often means leaving biology.

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    I think you might have misunderstood the motivation for the question. She doesn't want to go PhD->Industry->Academia. The concern was geared towards which of our two distinct paths would be the limiting factor in eventually settling in the same place together. Thanks for your answer though! – tquarton May 16 '14 at 17:51
  • I shouldn't answer prior to having coffee. – adam.r May 16 '14 at 21:14
  • Haha, no problem. – tquarton May 16 '14 at 21:56

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