How much does your partner know about your job?

For us, we don’t need to be all up in each other’s stuff.  One of us is an academic (me, obvs) and the other is not (my partner).  We don’t totally understand all the other does on a daily basis.  We don’t need to have all the same friends and do everything together.


My partner could tell you, in general terms, what my specialized area of expertise is.  He may not have understood a lot of my dissertation defense, but he did attend it and tell me how awesome I was.  He has met my boss and knows the names of my colleagues.  He probably couldn’t find his way to my office without a map, which is understandable, as he’s only been there once and has been living in a different state.  He knows enough about the academic structure to be able to use it as a metaphor for something else.  He did originally have to ask what tenure meant, what’s the difference between assistant and associate professor, etc., but that was years ago.  He hasn’t read my publications and I don’t expect him to– he would probably find them rather opaque.  He could proofread them if I needed him to, though, he’s pretty good at that.  He’s been with me since before grad school, so he has a good grasp of what I’ve been through and what my job requires.

I know only some about his job.  He finally explained it to me in a way I can understand by using an academic metaphor, though he is not an academic.  I’m really glad he isn’t because I’m sure that two academics in the same household would make me go insane(r).  I know who some of his coworkers are and until recently I could’ve found my way to his general office area (they moved though).  I know some things about his current boss though his name has slipped my mind, if I ever knew it.  I anticipate learning more about his job now that he’ll be working from home (in the same home as me)!

#2’s partner is an academic working at the same school, so naturally they share a lot of common experience and understand each other’s jobs well.  Also they both have moms who are academics.  #2’s partner probably understands more about #2’s research than #2 does about her partner’s research.  He’s also adorable when he uses jargon from #2’s field, as people in #2’s field tend to do because they’re obnoxious that way.

So, readers… as the title says?

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26 Responses to “How much does your partner know about your job?”

  1. Lane Says:

    I met my ex-partner when my company did a lot of consulting for Verizon. I got to meet his coworkers, and he met mine. Our fields are very similar, so he had a pretty firm understanding about my job. Being in the consulting business, we usually work with a new client every few weeks; he could laugh along with me when I described the room of spaghetti disguised as a datacenter network at client sites.

    I have such a hard time describing people’s character and their actions in words. I usually resort to the phrase “You just had to be there!” when I’ve dated people who have never met my coworkers. We spend the majority of our day with coworkers — it’s a shame if I can’t explain my day to my partner.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I do some work at home (or in coffeeshops) so I often don’t see my colleagues as much as I see my students. My partner does listen to me talk about work, though. Poor guy.

  2. eemusings Says:

    Hmm. I am firmly white collar, so I don’t know a ton about my partner’s work (although if he ends up in management I will probably be able to relate more to his job). I *think* he gets what I do now, which is very similar to my previous role, although he never really understood that one until I explained it in plain terms just before I quit.

  3. Kellen Says:

    I’ve gone to work with my boyfriend once, and gotten to meet the other PhD students he works with, plus the advisor that they work for, and I feel like I definitely understand more about his workplace now.
    Of course, I can help prattling on about my job, but I feel like I have 18 bosses some days, since my work is always being reviewed by different people, so it is probably hard for him to keep track of.
    Then again, when you have an accounting degree most people *assume* that they know what you do all day (Individuals’ tax returns. that’s all accountants do, right?) and don’t bother to wonder whether it’s anything different.

  4. Dr. Dad, PhD Says:

    My wife understands the broad strokes of what I do, which is more than enough for me. I met her as I was applying to grad schools, so she sees all of it – the wide-eyed joy at doing something I love, struggles through various challenges, and she helps me plan for our future. She works in a totally different field (business), but we both see ways we can work as a team. Running a lab is a lot like running a small business, after all.

    I try to reciprocate, but I sometimes wonder if I help her as much as she helps me. I listen and try and help, its hard to find a practical use for wicked pippetting skills.

    Personally, I like the fact we don’t work in the same field because it 1) doesn’t let us dwell too much on specific problems we’re having, 2) it helps keep our jobs in perspective, and 3) reinforces that our main commonality is our family and each other; our respective jobs do not define our relationship.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “its hard to find a practical use for wicked pippetting skills.”

      Ha ha haha ha! So true. I agree with the part about the main focus of our relationship being each other, not our jobs.

  5. Cloud Says:

    Quite a bit, actually- mu husband and I met through work, and we continue to work in slightly different aspects of the same industry- he is a scientific software engineer and I am an informatics scientist in biotech. I actually use the software he helps to write. The part of my job he understands the least is the management aspect- both people and project. He’s recently started to get some more exposure to those aspects through his job, though.

    We talk shop a lot, and we like that about our relationship.

  6. Money Beagle Says:

    My wife has no clue how to describe what I do. She pretty much goes by the project that I worked in up until 2009 because I could explain that to her without her eyes glazing over :)

  7. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    More than he wants to! Ba-dump-bump!

    But seriously folks . . . though one of us is an academic and the other works in industry, we both have PhDs, he taught for a couple of years, his former diss advisor is a good friend, so he gets the academic thing in general and quite a bit of what I do in particular.

  8. Grace Says:

    I don’t have a partner, but fpr several years I dated a police officer. He knew what I did in a peripheral sort of way, but I was totally fascinated with this work (which I could never, in a million years, actually do myself) and I always wanted to hear him or his friends talk about it. (This is good, because my experience is that cops really can only talk about their jobs and sports!)

  9. Rebecca Weinberg Says:

    I met my partner in a lab during rotations, so.. yeah. We understand each other’s work pretty well. At least to nonspecialists, I think I can actually explain his better than he can explain his, and vice versa. And we use each other to bounce ideas off of when experiments (inevitably) don’t work as they Should.
    I can’t imagine going through the stress of grad school without someone who groks where the stresses come from. The relationship I was in when I began grad school was with a person whose father was an academic biologist, so he I think he knew what I was dealing with pretty well… but then, that may have been why the relationship didn’t last- the last thing he wanted was someone who would never be there for his family like his father the academic!

    • Dr. Dad, PhD Says:

      “…the last thing he wanted was someone who would never be there for his family like his father the academic!”

      That last line struck a nerve – enough that I had to comment. I just wanted to say that the “new generation” of profs take a different approach. I know I do. :)

      It seems to me that work can always be an excuse to avoid family obligations, no matter what career path. If you’re gonna be too busy because you’re culturing cells, you’d be too busy if you were doing the finances. Or working on the car, or any number of less important (relative to family) things to do.

      • Rebecca Weinberg Says:

        First, I know many profs with what appear to acceptable family/work balance (acceptable to them and their families, that is), and I know we are in the middle of a true generational shift where people are becoming less convinced that academia = monkhood and career = all consuming.
        To be honest there were also complicating variables in that example.
        That said, I do think research-oriented TT jobs are difficult and demanding, and there are always compromises between career and family.

  10. Spanish Prof Says:

    One day, my husband asked me who Foucault was. As I tried to explain, he became increasingly frustrated because he had no idea what I was talking about. Then, I became frustrated because he did not understand. That day, we decided that he was only going to read my papers if I needed help with my English. On the other hand, he is an artist, and I can’t draw a stick figure, nor have I tried.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, our relationship goes well because we admire each other’s separate competencies. I can draw stick figures but that’s all, so I admire those who can make beautiful art!

  11. Debbie M Says:

    He knows basically what I do (I’m a bureaucrat in academia), though he insists that I am a programmer and should instead get a programmer job with programmer wages. So I have to explain that I am like the person who enters equations into Excel, not like the person who creates and modifies Excel, I don’t know any programming languages, and I don’t have the patience for all the debugging. He’s been in my office once (no parking, and it’s all secret and off-limits), although he’s driven me a few times. He knows a lot of the names.

    He can always tell stories about his job and make them interesting. And it’s only partly because he makes colorful assumptions (“They sued us in [hicktown] because those judges will always take bribes”). But also the language he uses (since he works for a Japanese company, his bosses are “the Japanese overlords”). So I know basically what he does (he’s officially a software engineer but really more of a tech writer and product tester) and how the company is doing and I recognize the names of may of his co-workers. I can find his building and his office because of their annual barbecue, although I would come home the same way instead of a different, better way.

    He has no interest at all in bureaucracy and I have virtually no interest in electronics, so it could be a lot worse. Fortunately we both have 8 – 5 jobs and rarely have to stay late or take work home with us.

  12. bloggerclarissa Says:

    My husband and I read each other’s dissertations. My PhD is in Hispanic Studies and his is in financial statistics. He understood and enjoyed my dissertation and we had many lively debates about it. I helped him correct the grammar in his, but I didn’t understand a single word of it. :-)

  13. First Gen American Says:

    We work together, so we know what the other does but my husband has a strict rule of no work talking during non business hours, otherwise it feels like we are working all the time. It’s a good rule but not necessary if you don’t work for the same company or in the same type of role…well, that’s unless you’re a toadie, then maybe you want to talk about work around the clock.

    • Kellen Says:

      Sounds like a good rule. My boyfriend is getting a PhD in engineering, and when we hang out with his friends it always degenerates into musings on random equations that I don’t know anything about. It’s good to practice speaking about other things, so you don’t forget how :)

  14. bogart Says:

    DH and I met over my dissertation data (so romantic ;0 ) and he worked for 30 years in academia in a support role so you’d think he understood how the place works but … not so much. As an example of the “not so much” part, he imagined I’d have “summers off [to devote my attentions to him]” when I was in my first (and to date last…) TT job. Argh!!! Honestly I think much of DH’s understanding of the world in general, and certainly academia / my work relates to some combination of indifference and (unwillingness to tackle) cognitive dissonance … I mean, he pays attention to the stuff he cares about (is horrified, for example, that I can’t tell you which league any given US baseball team is part of), but not otherwise, and doesn’t like to worry his pretty head about the small stuff (e.g. is surprised to learn that there’s not really a separate social security fund as demonstrated by the current debt crisis — though in fairness he is at least paying enough attention to that crisis to have grasped the reality now). Up until he was married to me, what did he care about how faculty spent their summers? And once he was, why pay attention to the big picture if he was unhappy about the here-and-now (full disclosure: he has apologized for being a jerk that first summer and I accepted the apology, so that’s now merely a historical note)?

    I understood what he did when he was doing it (now retired), but only in broad outline (I couldn’t have done it). Put it this way, if you look at C’s complaint in the 7/26 post on her gravity circus blog, DH is the professional she can’t afford and I am C. When we have worked together, DH says annoying things like, “Think. About. The. Syntax!” and I have said, “I don’t care about the *@)$ SYNTAX, just tell me where the semicolon goes!”

    I could readily have found his office (hey, I needed those data!) and he can find mine. He knows who I work with only casually whereas I’m reasonably well connected to some of his colleagues even today, but that also reflects professional interests I share with them, so …

  15. Comrade PhysioProf Says:

    It would be fascinating to answer this question in detail, but it would totally give away who I am. So I must remain silent.

    • Kellen Says:

      Ooh, how intriguing! 20 questions?
      Would this give away who you are to people in general, or only to other “PhysioProfs”?
      *Are you married to the president!?” wait… I don’t think that Michelle is a professor… or has time to comment on blog posts, sadly.

  16. Sandy @ Journey To Our Home Says:

    I think we both roughly know about each others jobs. I think I know less about what he does- he works on chillers and other technical stuff. I just do what I do at home on a much larger scale at work (budgets and bank reconciliations), throw in a bit of forecasting and journal entries and there it is.

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