I am 25 years old, and in a few months' time I will have to decide whether to get a job in London or apply for a postdoc somewhere.

Apart from all of the usual pros and cons (eg. job security, salary, lifestyle) associated to each path, one thing that worries me most is my loneliness. I am worried that if I were to get a postdoc (say at some small university in some small city), that I would never meet someone to date and get married to eventually. Most math postdocs tend to be male (I believe) which is fine for me since I am gay. But it seems to me more likely that I will find true love taking a city job in a metropolitan environment where there are many more people. And I am really not sure that the "single life" is amenable for doing a postdoc in a foreign country (where I'll likely have to look to find a postdoc in my field).

I apologise if this thread is not suitable for this board, but it is an important consideration in a potential academic's life. I would truly appreciate your thoughts and experiences.

Edit: I guess I am asking whether I am right to be worried about the lack of potential for dating in a studious and bookish environment like academia, and whether anyone has any advices about how to deal with this.

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    In my experience, and this will depend a lot in the culture, you may get more social life in a smaller city. If you go to a large place, there are so many options that you are responsible to find them on your own; whereas in a smaller place people at your work are more likely to engage you into their social circles.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 19:43
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    "I am asking whether I am right to be worried about the lack of potential for dating in a studious and bookish environment like academia" You are not. Of all the things I have heard about postdoc life, being unable to find a Significant Other is not one of them. If you would find somebody with a job in industry, you'll also do fine as a postdoc.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 20:02
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    You seem to be under the misapprehension that the UK contains nothing between London and "some small city". That's actually rather patronising to the rest of the country. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 22:20
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    @xLeitix: Sorry to contradict you, but you have heard it now. I met several interesting people when I was doing my postdoc, but when they found out that I was going to be forced to move cross-country in a year or two, they cut things off. (See Nate Eldridge's comment below.)
    – Anonymous
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 16:58
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    UK "small city" universities are great places to meet people. 1) The cities usually aren't that small - anywhere over 400,000 people will have a lively, varied, metropolitan social scene. 2) Smaller cities have more community. The university will be a great hub for like-minded people, and everywhere being not too far makes people more spontaneous. In London, everything is scattered. 3) Seeing people is less complicated. London is notorious for friends barely seeing each other because they live far apart and don't get around to scheduling a meet up. In small cities, they just meet up. Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 18:08

5 Answers 5


How is Academia different that any other job? You work for a number of hours a day, and then you are free to use your time solving jigsaws at home or socialising with other people.

Perhaps the academic environment has the advantage of multiculturalism. In most industries, the large majority of the people are from the country; but at universities you can find much more diversity, and thus, easier to find people you feel more comfortable with.

Lastly, in large cities there are, statistically, more potential "suitable partners", but they will be more difficult to find. As a mathematician, you may want to model it as an Erdős–Rényi graph, for the fun of it.

In the end, I think either path will have comparable a priori chances of finding love, so this should not be your main criteria to decide what to do with your life. Being happy with what you do will make you a nicer person, and have a larger impact that the city you are in.

And, to put at ease your concerns, most professors I know are married, and they certainly went down the postdoc path.

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    Not all mathematicians are specialists in Erdős–Rényi graphs, and life. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 20:21
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    Re that last sentence: I'd be very interested to know what ages those professors were when they met their spouses. For instance, it's logically conceivable that they were attached before becoming postdocs, or that they delayed finding partners until getting more permanent jobs.
    – user4512
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 2:41
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    I know professors who found their professor partners long after getting a permanent job (in fact, I know one who married her PhD student), and I know people who were already married with children as they started their PhD studies. The two-body problem may arise, though (see e.g. this question).
    – gerrit
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 16:02
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    I must be doing something wrong. So far I am not managing to work a few hours a day and then be free to solve jigsaw puzzles. As far as the difficult to find point: dating websites, online meetup groups, etc. And finally, social networks are well known to look very little like Erdos-Renyi random graphs. Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 19:22
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    "You work for a number of hours a day" -- the upper bound on this number is relevant here. It does not seem to be uncontroversial.
    – Raphael
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 15:45

From the anecdotes that I am familiar with, there seem to be two key questions:

  1. Is the community that you are going to dominated by the academic institution?
  2. Would you prefer to avoid dating undergraduates or potential colleagues?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you may have a difficult time finding romance. This is particularly true for some U.S. institutions that are not near anything else (e.g., State College, Pennsylvania), because most of the potential matches that you will meet would be too "close" professionally. Likewise, if you have highly unusual tastes, your only option may be to go to a large city where the population of people you are interested in will be non-trivial. Otherwise, however, your dating prospects are likely to be dominated by constraints on your social life rather than the number of possible matches.

There is a further consideration that is not in your post, but which I think is also important to keep in mind. A postdoc is inherently a temporary position, so if you find a serious romantic partner, the two of you are likely to soon have to confront the two-body problem. This doesn't have to be a show-stopper, but it's probably worth thinking about the degree to which you might be willing to adjust your career goals to match with the goals of a partner...

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    +1 for the last paragraph. In particular, if you enter a relationship which lasts until the end of the postdoc, your partner has to be open to relocating, or you have to leave academia, or you have to do some complicated long distance thing, or break up. That's a nontrivial consideration. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 22:40
  • Well, if you consider "potential colleagues" to include only people from within your own department or from closely related departments, State College still has a decent number of options. I know a lot of people who met their partners in grad school there, people from other unrelated departments or who were unaffiliated with the university entirely. (But of course you're right that it's about as isolated a college town as you can find anywhere in the US.)
    – David Z
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 11:13
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    @DavidZ There are worse at the postdoc level: consider, for example Los Alamos National Labs. Now that truly is a very small community where one might step very carefully around questions of romance...
    – jakebeal
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 12:07

Great question! I would not worry about the lack of potential for dating. I was a postdoc for three years, and although it was quite a lonely life, I had a lot of friends, mostly PhD students from outside my own department. The reasons for this were (a) it is quite hard to befriend PhD students in your own department when you are a postdoc; it's like an officer trying to fraternise with privates and (b) younger academics with permanent positions tend to be married/have children and are not looking for social life.

So although I was shut in my office all day, the graduate community in general was a great way to meet people. However, I did not find anybody. I think key reasons for this were (a) uncertainty about my future (I was doing a postdoc in a foreign country and in an area in which I felt insecure and probably wasn't going to continue, and I think that women found this lack of confidence and future plans unattractive) and (b) incompetence.

Now I am working in industry, and I don't find that single life in industry is any better or worse than single life as a postdoc. It's actually harder to meet people because there is no campus, and the people I do meet tend to be less interesting.

Summary: ignoring the other pros and cons which you mentioned, there might be plenty of potential for dating graduate students from outside your field.

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    I can't say I've ever had any difficulty befriending PhD students (or, for that matter, faculty) in departments where I've been a postdoc. Sure, you're senior to the students but you're not, to continue your military analogy, in the chain of command above them. Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 22:26
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    @DavidRicherby agreed. To add to that, being a PhD student hasn't been an obstacle for me in that regard. As long as I respect the person and don't make an issue of "status", age is by far the biggest factor in how to get along with someone.
    – Moriarty
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 0:01

Unfortunately, based on my experiences, I am somewhat more pessimistic than other answerers to the question. As a postdoc I met a couple of interesting potential dating partners, but they weren't interested in getting involved with someone who had to move across the country in a couple of years.

I then began a tenure-track job in a rather small, quiet city. For some people this is exactly their cup of tea and they are quite happy. For me, it represented some compromises that I had to make if I wanted to continue my academic career. Among them, I've found it difficult to meet people with whom I have much in common.

There are many ways in which your situation could turn out well! And, I think most people that decided to go into academia are happy with their choice. You might get a job offer in an appealing big city. You might end up in a small town, meet someone there, and discover that you love it. And at no point, even once you are tenured, do you ever have to commit to any job for the rest of your life. You can always apply for other academic jobs or go into industry.

Nevertheless, I'm afraid that I believe that your worries are indeed reasonable. Best wishes to you, whatever you decide.


How do you know that there isn't someone in this small institution that is thinking, "Damn, there are no dating prospects here."

And then when you meet said someone, well there isn't much competition.

But the fact is if you have a campus that will give you 10,000 choices vs another with 20 choices, it really comes down to there is only "1" and you don't know if that person is in the 10,000 or the 20.


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