I find myself in an unfortunate two-body problem situation. My fiancée got two offers earlier this year, one a post doc and the other a tenure track position. She deferred the tenure track for a year and is currently halfway through her post doc. The university she got the tenure track position from was happy to do this for her so she could broaden her teaching and research skills.

I am a PhD student who is finishing up in May, but I find myself not having many good options for employment. The area in which she got the tenure track position is very small and there are not many options for people with a math PhD outside of working for one of the universities. Obviously I knew this already. However, none of them are hiring for this coming year.

The two body problem in academia is a classic problem and it's not one that is easily remedied. I'd really hate to be a lecturer because that's a really rough lifestyle and I have a lot of research I want to do. I have at least three or four papers lined up for the next year or so in addition to one I have published, two that I have submitted, and another I'm submitting in the next week or two. I'm starting to feel a lot of dread about this. What should I do (or even my fiancée do) to get an academic position for the fall (ideally in the area she will be in)?

  • 14
    It's not clear what you're asking us. ("What should I do" is of course a very personal decision)
    – ff524
    Dec 28, 2016 at 22:21
  • 1
    Thanks @ff524. I fixed it up a bit. Hopefully that gets the point across better! Dec 28, 2016 at 22:23
  • 1
    Thanks for fixing my title @ff524. That's a much better title! Dec 28, 2016 at 22:33
  • 15
    Has your fiancée discussed this with the university where she has been offered the tenure-track job? They might be able to create a position for you, or offer you a temporary position until a permanent one opens up. Dec 28, 2016 at 23:40
  • 3
    What field is your fiancee in? You can be fairly general, but it makes a rather big difference if she's very employable (e.g. big data specialist) or if this is likely her only good shot at a TT job (e.g. some of the humanities).
    – 1006a
    Jan 1, 2017 at 7:18

5 Answers 5


You (or rather, your fiancee) should talk to the department where she will be taking the tenure-track position. Many universities try to support the employment of faculty members' spouses/partners, as part of their family friendly policies. This support can take a number of forms.

The simplest form that the support can take is for the university to hire you in an academic position. You don't mention whether your fiancee is also in mathematics, which may be relevant. It's often easier to get the school to hire a partner in the same department. The reason is that the hiring has to be done with the approval of the department that is going to be employing the spouse, and that may be easier to get if the department has already made a commitment to one member of the couple. Sometimes (and ideally, I would say), the trailing spouse can be hired in another tenure-track positions.

Other times, the trailing spouse may be hired in a non-tenure track position, but one which can nonetheless be effectively permanent. You say you do not want to work as a teaching-oriented lecturer. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to get a permanent, non-tenure-track position in math as anything else; academic positions in math almost invariably involve teaching. The situation can be somewhat different in the laboratory sciences, where people can be hired as research scientists with little or no teaching component to their duties. At my institution, I know of a case where a professor was hired in the physics department, then his partner was hired as a research professor in biology.

The third possibility is that, even if they cannot offer you a suitable academic position, your fiancee's university may be able to help you locate some other kind of employment. Some schools have official policies that offer this kind of support; but some do not. However, even if there is no official policy supporting this, you may still find people (especially in your fiancee's department) willing to assist you. The help could come through personal connections, or making some of the resources of the university's career office available to you. After she finished graduate school, my own wife got some help from my institution finding job leads, which were extremely helpful.

  • 10
    Note OP doesn't seem to have an objection to teaching, just being a full-time non-tenure track lecturer (i.e. teaching 5 courses/semester for $45k/year or so, which can be tough!).
    – AJK
    Dec 29, 2016 at 3:12
  • 1
    To go along with AJK's comment, I would say a reasonable solution is to get hired as a part-time lecturer in the short term, until you find a permanent solution.
    – Kimball
    Dec 29, 2016 at 18:19
  • 3
    @Kimball: I disagree, somewhat strongly: if you know you don't want to be in a 100% teaching job, you should not take a lecturer position, even as a transient solution. Being a lecturer improves your teaching - but doesn't let you improve the skills/CV items you need if you want a job that is not as teaching-focused.
    – AJK
    Dec 29, 2016 at 22:12
  • 4
    @AJK It depends on preferences, but I think a part-time lecturer position (1-2 classes/semester) is better than no position at all, at least in math. You can get an office, library access, university affiliation, etc. Plus when applying for tenure-tracks, teaching experience/recommendations are important and you don't have to explain away a gap in your CV.
    – Kimball
    Dec 29, 2016 at 22:29
  • 4
    @TomChurch In particular, this answer totally fails to address the fact that the best window of opportunity for this sort of arrangement (before the spouse accepted the job) is already past. It's worth trying, but I doubt much will come of it now. Of course, it would be nice if the OP actually clarified what had happened (whether they just didn't bring up the issue, or did and were refused). Jan 1, 2017 at 16:48

There's nothing particularly unusual about your situation, but I'm a bit confused by your post. What have you done to try to obtain employment thus far? It would pretty late to be just applying to TT or postdoc jobs now. Have you applied for positions in other cities? As other people have mentioned, the lack of any discussion of whether you tried to negotiate a job for you when your fiancée was offered her job (and what happened if you did) seems like a pretty big oversight. I'm going to assume you have asked and were turned down (since if you haven't, why are you talking to us and not her chair?).

Unfortunately, you face some nasty choices here. My personal recommendation is to try to get a job somewhere else. Being separated from your partner sucks, but your other options are probably being a lecturer or being unemployed, both of which will be bad for your long-term prospects.

In the long term, you should expect that you and your fiancée will have to apply for TT jobs elsewhere (either to actually take the jobs, or use as negotiating leverage). So, what you should focus on is being marketable when you do that in a year or two. So, get the best job for your career in the long-term wherever that is, and get used to flying.

If you really can't stand to be apart, you can contact local universities, even if they aren't hiring. It will be bureaucratically impossible to make you a TT offer at this point (it's way too late this year for that), but they may have lecturer-type positions for you. Often in the spring, they'll realize that they have teaching needs (someone decides to take a job elsewhere or take a leave, and they end up with a hole in their teaching schedule). But since you've said that's not what you want, that just circles us back to the long-distance option.


This is essentially an impossible question to answer, but I'll point out a few things that might be useful. (I'm a physics professor at an R1 university in the U.S.; parts of this may or may not be relevant to your field or area.)

The very best thing you can do to get a long-term academic position in the same geographic area as your fiancée is to be the best you can possibly be in your field. This may sound like a silly thing to point out, but I think it's under-appreciated. Creating positions, or even creatively making use of existing positions, is tough; a really good motivation for faculty to work on this is for them to really believe that you would be great to have as a colleague. Conversely, if they are not very excited by you, doors will not open. I've seen this happen many times. (And, it makes sense.) You might not like this, but if staying away from your fiancée for a year and working on your research at some other position makes you a stronger mathematician, it will probably help both of you in the long run.

Another route is for your fiancée to threaten to leave unless a position is found for you. Given that she hasn't actually started, though, this would be a bad idea -- it will generate a lot of ill will, which junior faculty should try to avoid. Of course, and I know this doesn't help you, the time to have negotiated and set this up would have been before she accepted the position, when it would have been very normal and understandable.

A third path is for you to take some sort of adjunct-like position, assuming such a thing exists or could be created. In my experience, people over-estimate the likelihood that this will morph into something "real." (See item 1.) I should also note that creating a job for a particular person is often difficult or sometimes even illegal (in contrast to running an open search.)

Good luck!


I might first try to decide which of the following is a bigger deal:

  1. Working in a job that is not centered on research and mathematics
  2. Having some significant uncertainty over the next 2-3 years about where your family will be living/working in the future.

If the first is a bigger deal, you probably want to do your best to land in a TT or something close - which probably means you need to find a postdoc. If the second is a huge deal (for instance, if you want to have kids in the next year), you could consider administrative-focused alt-ac positions within your fiancee's university (https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/november-2013/in-admin-four-history-phds-discuss-their-alt-ac-careers). These might be easier to get if your fiancee's department is trying to ensure she stays!

Are there multiple universities in this area (as suggested by your post)? One possibility would be to find a postdoctoral position in the same area, preferably in a different department than your fiancee. This is a temporary solution, but one that keeps you in the hunt for a tenure-track position. If you build a strong resume, it might be possible to be hired either at your wife's current university, or for both of you to together move to a new university. This is a difficult path, but can happen.

I suggest "preferably in a different department than your fiancee" because in many places, if you join a department as a postdoc, they may view you only as a trainee, and have difficulty seeing you as a potential equal/TT candidate. (Of course, other departments like to hire their own... YMMV.)

Finding a postdoc in a small town can, of course, be difficult - you may have to search in more fields and departments than you first planned. For instance, applied mathematicians could postdoc in some computational/theoretical groups in mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, physics, etc. You could also consider a long-distance relationship for a few years - though it is tough!

One last note: negotiating for a two-body accommodation usually requires leverage of some sort, e.g. "here is a great person we want to hire" or "we need to prevent this person from leaving." Right now, after your fiancee has already accepted the job and negotiated for a deferred start, but before she has started working, it sounds like your leverage is near its minimum.


I have at least three or four papers lined up for the next year or so.... What should I do to get an academic position for the fall (ideally in the area she will be in)?

First part, written by Buzz:

Many universities try to support the employment of faculty members' spouses/partners, as part of their family friendly policies. etc.

Second part:

If you don't succeed in getting the type of research position you would like, in the desired location, and you can get by without any income for a little while, you may want to consider asking a math department in your partner's town to host you as a visiting researcher in an unpaid position. This would give you some sort of office space, perhaps shared; people to interact with; and an affiliation.

I've seen trailing spouses make this work. Sometimes they apply for their own grant money.

  • 4
    There wouldn't be grant money like that in mathematics, but asking for an unpaid visiting professor position is indeed a good fallback option.
    – Tom Church
    Jan 1, 2017 at 15:29
  • 1
    @TomChurch - I've seen unpaid trailing spouses get grants in applied math. Bummer that it doesn't work in pure math. Jan 1, 2017 at 17:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .