Ask the grumpies: A two-body problem solution?

Tenured rock star in the humanities (we picked this name for her) asks:

Here’s my advice question. It’s a big one but you guys seem smart about thinking through decisions rationally and I think you and your readership might have some valuable thoughts. My husband and I are trying to decide whether to move.  I am a recently-tenured assoc prof in a humanities discipline at a fancy private R1 university. I get paid well (for a humanities prof) and have modest research funds and a sweet teaching load.

My husband is the trailing spouse. He has been working as academic staff here in a job he does not like. His humanities field is insanely competitive (200+ applicants for every job; he has been a finalist 4 times). Meanwhile he has published a book with an extremely reputable academic press, published some articles, and started working in the field of digital humanities — doing his own new research project this way, teaching a class in it, and starting up a DH working group on campus. All of this on top of his fulltime academic staff job and with zero support from the school.

This year he was successful on the job market and got a TT offer from a second-tier, but very solid, public university in a neighboring state. It is too far to commute and this school is willing to bring me in with tenure as a spousal hire. We both like where we currently live [ed:  A major city] and my brother and sister-in-law live in the same town. Second-tier but solid school is in a less-cool but still entirely serviceable and incredibly affordable large city (apartment here — with 2 kids — and big house there, etc.). We will still have our yuppie necessities: whole foods, trader joes, farmer’s markets, CSAs, bike paths, a bunch of cultural institutions, etc.

We feel like, given the humanities job market, we may never again have the chance at two TT jobs (we have, after all, been trying for 6 years), so this is a huge opportunity. But I can’t quite decide how important it is to be at an R1 and have that status, versus having both of us welcomed and supported at this other less-prestigious place.  My husband’s current job is not only totally unenjoyable but is a career dead-end. We are trying to negotiate something better for him at R1, but it will not be and will never be a TT job b/c they just don’t play that way.

I’m currently grief-stricken because of health stuff going on with my Mom and I’m finding it incredibly hard to think clearly and to separate out reasonable fear of change/moving from that grief from trust-your-gut messages about what’s really right here.

Any thoughts from you and your readers?

This is a really tough decision, especially when you’re worried about family health matters.  Our sympathies with you and your mother.

Our first thought is that when top women in our fields (and it’s almost always women) make these moves, they generally get their top institution to allow them to try it out for a year first.  Your husband would then accept his job and you would essentially keep both jobs for a year.  Technically you would be on unpaid leave from the hot-shot job.  In a year you have a better idea of the differences between the two institutions and your own preferences.  This doesn’t always fly, but it seems to be how most of the academic couples we’ve seen changing institutions make the move.  It is very hard to give up tenure at a top school.  (Websites like Sabbaticalhomes.com can help you find temporary housing, often furnished so you don’t have to move your stuff.)

Let’s say that trying it out for a year isn’t in the cards.  From your email, we’re assuming that staying together is important, so we won’t discuss options that include living apart. For other couples, that might be a solution.  (And we’ve seen this work out too, eventually.)

The main worry leaving your awesome school is that you will get to the less good school and find out that one or both of you is miserable, or your DH doesn’t get tenure and there are fewer opportunities for him in the new town than there were in your old city.

If that happens, all is not lost, assuming that you are still awesome. Because awesome people can move again.

So you need to make sure that if you move, your new position allows you to remain awesome.

What does that mean? Well, what is the teaching load like? (Include things like number of classes, number of preps, size of classes, grading support etc.) How much sharing of ideas etc. can you do with your new department compared to what you did with your old department? What kind of resources are they giving you in terms of travel bursary, research support, etc. compared to what you had before? How are the salaries different? (And is your current department countering with a better salary for you?) The new place doesn’t have to be as amazing as the old place, but it does need to allow you to continue to be a productive and happy researcher. Get things in writing. Negotiate. Don’t just be grateful to be a spousal hire– they’re very lucky to be getting you and you need to protect yourself. You’re a tenured professor at a top school– keep that in mind!  (And no, you don’t have to be a jerk about it– you just have to politely explain why you need these things.)

One of us is at a school that has better resources than its ranking– she still has a higher teaching load than she would at a top school, but the other benefits keep her more productive than she would be at a less resource-rich school at the same rank (and it helps that the resource rich environment is attracting more colleagues in her specific field area). The other one of us is in a resource-poor environment and it’s difficult to even get travel funds. These things are important.  Teaching loads are very important.  If the new school is resource-rich, then you can mostly ignore the prestige question, but if the resources are less than abundant, then your career may be strongly negatively impacted.

I know several women who have made this kind of a move, and they’re all pretty happy. Of course, they’re also making huge salaries at the less-good universities and they have other kinds of sweetheart deals (running a center, being allowed to make new hires, etc.).  You can’t just look a the question in terms of :  one Tenured job at a fancy school vs. one Tenured/one TT job at a not as good school.  You have to look at the whole package.  (And given that you’re moving to a Public university, I am sure you’ve looked at the salary scale of people in the department that wants to hire you…)

If you do decide to stay put… I’m sure your DH knows this, but given that you live in a major city with several universities, he should be networking with folks in those departments… if they like him enough they might be convinced to write a job description for him one of these years.  You can also go on the market yourself to places that have good spousal hiring policies, though it sounds like you’ve been doing so.

Good luck with your decision and best wishes to your family!

#2 would like to add that I support everything above and those are great points.  Given everything you’ve said, I think you should definitely go for it, just do itte, as CPP would say (keeping in mind the options above about trying to take a year of leave, negotiating for more resources, etc.).  I think whatever you decide can work out well for you and your family.  hang in there.  #1 is more ambivalent… the resources available at the new place are important, as is the counter-offer given by the current place.  #2  adds:  time for lots and lots of negotiation with BOTH schools.  Play them against each other.  If DH can get a lectureship, then stay!  #1 says:  Yes, tenure isn’t everything, but being productive is.  Letterhead is also nice.

Grumpy Nation:  TRS needs your help!  What advice do you have for her?  What should she be thinking about in making her decision?

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57 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: A two-body problem solution?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I can’t give you the academic slant but I’ve been on both sides of the trailing spouse thing and that part doesn’t matter so much as long as the job you have continues to challenge you.

    Your husband sounds amazing and if you can make it work, I’d definitely do it. It sounds like he has made some major career sacrifices for you despite having a lot of potential so it would be nice to return the favor.

  2. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Here’s Ferule and Fescue today on the importance of resources: http://feruleandfescue.blogspot.com/2013/04/self-financing.html

  3. Flavia Says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, N&M! And boy, does this email hit close to home, for more reasons than I can go into. Your advice strikes me as right-on, and I’d add that I know two women in humanities fields who also got a year-long (or in one case, a two-year) leave of absence from a tenured or TT position to try out a new job with their spouses. So it does happen there, too.

    Good luck, rock star.

  4. Rumpus Says:

    The two-academic-body problem is hard to solve, but not impossible. I like the try-before-you-buy suggestion here, because it would be sad to move into a worse situation. But if nothing changes…do you really want to stay in the current setup?

  5. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I have no advice, because I have no knowledge of this but because I have no knowledge of this I have a question: What is an R1 university? I’ve seen you guys mention these things before and I don’t get it. Is R1 top-ranked? And in what way?

    • bogart Says:

      It’s a designation within a classification system established by the Carnegie Foundation.

      Basically the 1 means “at the top” (among the best) and the R means research. Since schools typically balance teaching and research expectations for their faculty (more of one should mean less of the other either in quantity or quality, obviously I grossly oversimplify) someone at an R1 is (on average) doing more research and less teaching. R1s also typically have more resources than do other institutions, e.g. better salaries and benefits, fund travel to professional meetings and provide seed money for research, attract better graduate students — aka worker bees.

      You can read more about the classification system here: http://classifications.carnegiefoundation.org/ .

  6. Ewan Says:

    Do it. I’ve been (almost) in the same shoes (possible caveat: male) and moved from Yale to this MUCH-lower-tier R1. Yes, there are enormous work negatives, but life overall is vastly happier.

    • Tenured Rock Star Says:

      That’s good to hear from someone who’s done it, Ewan. Thanks. I should note that the school I’m considering moving to is not an R1. I’d be moving from an RU/VH (research university, very high research activity) to an RU/H (high research activity) and from a private to a public. For whatever that means.

      • Ewan Says:

        Sorry for delayed reply, but feel free to ask in the unlikely event I can be of any concrete use :). emcnay at albany dot edu

  7. bogart Says:

    My only quick thought (beyond what’s been said) is that if you do negotiate for a package at either place, think systematically about what you ask for. I see faculty here (R1) who come in having negotiated for funds to start a “center” and getting $50K-$100K for programming with *no* space and *no* staff support dedicated to whatever it is they’re trying to start up. Don’t do itte! Think through what you want to create or do and then outline what parts it requires (much as you would in a grant proposal, though you may want to talk to a social or natural science colleague to get sense of what’s typical, as my impression is that the kind of funding request I’m advocating is less common, from, and for, humanities faculty). And it’s OK (provided that you’re good with it) that you accept less than what you originally envisioned, but starting a “center” with $50K gets dangerously close to being self-funded as per Flavia, at least in terms of the amount of (your) time required to make things work.

  8. Tenured Rock Star Says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments and thoughts so far! It’s TRS, the OP here. Just FYI: there is no way my husband will continue in his dead-end academic staff job next year if we stay here at fancy private R1. He will likely have a lectureship though probably with more teaching and less pay than he would like, but the details of the “counteroffer” for him are still being hammered out. And, of course, with insecure long-term prospects. The school would be unlikely to cut off his deal in the future because it’s a retention issue for me, but there are really no guarantees in the world of the lecturer. Also, FWIW, it should be noted that my husband is not pressuring me to leave my job so that he can have the TT one he’s been offered. He is quite reluctant to ask me to do this, but we are both trying to figure out how best to make this decision.
    Other information: teaching and grading load at new school would definitely be more. There are various internal research grants available for people like me and the school would top off my salary and pay benefits if/when I receive external fellowships (which almost never, in the humanities, even cover your salary).

  9. plantingourpennies Says:

    I think the advice #1 and #2 gave seemed spot on – particularly that you should try before you buy, as it were.
    What is DH’s perspective on this? Does he like working as an instructor (or whatever your institution calls non-TT)? Some people genuinely enjoy not being required to research, publish, etc. I guess what I’m asking is – does DH want a TT position because he somehow feels the need to be an “equal” in the relationship pay-wise, or is it because it is a job that he would genuinely enjoy more than his current position.
    I’d try and consider the relative happiness gained/lost by both partners – but like N&M said, that might be something you just need to try out for a year before you can really judge accurately.

    • Tenured Rock Star Says:

      DH likes teaching and is very good at it, but is and would like to remain an active scholar. He also would like to do some institution-building on the digital humanities side of things, something that’s easier to do with a TT position and all that means: status within the institution, administrative support, institutional “buy-in” to one’s (non-teaching) skills, assets and potential contributions. The job at the other place is a digital humanities job.

  10. The frugal ecologist Says:

    Congrats to you & your partner for persevering. I am also still dealing with an unsolved two body problem, so it’s nice to hear of someone succeeding! Taking a year of leave sounds like a great idea as others have mentioned. Is there a particular aspect of the new job that is giving you pause? Teaching/grading? Could you negotiate dedicated support to help solve this issue?

    I echo N & M’s comment to look at the whole package. In our case, two pretty good TT jobs would VASTLY improve our life quality versus staying in our current situation of super cushy job for me, where my partner feels like a pariah…

    • Tenured Rock Star Says:

      Thanks for your response, frugal ecologist. What gives me pause about the new job is the step-down in status, higher grading and teaching load, and move to a new, less awesome city than the one we live in now. Of course there’s lots to be gained too!

  11. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I don’t like the idea of the LW leaving a fancy elite private institution for a lower-ranked public institution. Since DH is a digital humanitarian, couldn’t he just take the risk of setting himself up online in an entrepreneurial independent manner and trying to make a go of it extrainstitutionally? This way the LW keeps her sweet gig, they stay in their cool city, and DH is the one who takes the risk instead of the LW.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We will note that both of us are at public schools and neither of us has gotten a raise (other than the assistant to associate bump) in YEARS. #2 has actually never gotten a COL or merit bump.

  12. Historiann Says:

    I think the options the grumpies outline here are right on. DEFINITELY take at least a one-year LOA, and push for two just in case. It seems like Rock Star may owe her husband this move, as it sounds like he’s been sucking it up (and working his butt off) for quite a while. OTOH, this post comes at an interesting time, as I was just on the phone with a friend who *resigned* her tenured position to take a job as an untenured associate professor at her husband’s (a new assistant proffie) uni. Now they are both miserable and on the job market again–and she told me that she wished she had never left her tenured position. (Mind you, this wasn’t at a fancypants R-1–it was just a regional comprehensive uni with decent pay for its location, friendly and open-minded students, and a support system for their family in the community.)

    Living in an affordable community usually comes not just with more affordable real estate, but also with less traffic, perhaps more green space, etc., so be sure to think about these intangibles when you imagine how your life might be in New Town. OTOH–again!–that support network you’ve got, and all of your friends in Now City, should not be ignored as amenities that ease your current life. It’s a lot harder to make friends and find a new community when you’re in your 30s and 40s, and everyone is busy with kids, jobs, etc. People just don’t have the same amount of hangout time that we did in our 20s.

    In any case, taking a one-year LOA (and resisting any pressure you might feel from fancypants R-1 to resign) so that you can make a considered decision will help you keep all of your options open while you test the waters. This is an enviable position to be in, so congratuations and good luck.

  13. Tenured Rock Star Says:

    Okay, I hear everyone pretty much agreeing with the grumpies that I should ask for the year of leave to try the new job. I am, dare I say, a little afraid of doing this because: a) I am a woman and have not been trained to bargain hard; b) I am currently on leave so this request will violate my school’s policy about not being on leave more than one year in a row. I think b) would not bother me so much if a) were not the case. One question: we tell New School that I’m just trying it out? Are they going to feel dissed?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Maybe now is a good time to check out “Women don’t ask” from the library? Also Lean In and Nice girls don’t get the corner office.

      When you negotiate here remember you’re not just doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your family. Your DH will also be happier (since he’s a nice guy) if you get the best deal that you can and have that escape clause.

      I’m pretty sure that legally you have to tell the new school you’re on leave from the old one. As for dissed? Are you kidding? You’re Tenured Rock Star– if they’re a department worth joining, they’ll be falling over themselves to spend that year courting you.

    • Historiann Says:

      I think it’s pretty typical for people at the kind of institution the Grumpies describe you as being at to take a year unpaid LOA in order to try out a new job, rather than resigning a tenured position. If your current institution plays the game, they’ll let you have a year of unpaid LOA, especially if they don’t really want you to go. As for New School, they should understand that while you’re moving you’re entire family to take their joint offer in good faith, you’re not an idiot who will throw away tenure! My goodness. Their job is to make the jobs you and your husband have been offered just as attractive and positive for you as you would hope. Otherwise, of course you’ll return to your tenured position!

      Weird policy of not being on leave for more than one year in a row–I thought fancy R-1s of all unis would be cool with this, unless it’s one more oriented around undergrad teaching than graduate instruction. Because what happens when someone wins an NEH or a Guggenheim, and then ends up having a baby or a heart attack the following year–does your institution force tenured faculty to RESIGN because their health or family issues are poorly timed so as to “violate” their stupid policy? I don’t think so.

      Work with your Chair to see how best to pursue this–maybe it can be styled as a kind of family accomodation? I don’t know. As with all situations, it’s best to RTFM and be armed with information about how other departments have handled situations like this recently.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My understanding is that there’s a nominal rule most places about having to come back a year after sabbatical, but in practice they generally ignore it.

  14. Funny about Money Says:

    I spent 15 years at a second-tier university that exactly fits the description you offer, and several good friends are still there. Lemme tell you something: they lie to new hires. The things that they claim will be so are not so. Everyone who takes jobs there, including some fairly heavy hitters paid generously to join the faculty, ends up disillusioned. One hopes this is not true of all second-tier schools; but if the spot-on nature of your description is no coincidence, they should be careful.

    If one of the two people is presently happy with her job, it would be most unwise for both of them to move until they both fully understand the real situation at the other university. Probably the only way for them to find out is for the husband to accept the TT position and then keep his ear to the ground for at least a year before she quits a good job at a better institution. If she could take a leave of absence and then return to her job for a year, so that he would have two full academic years in place before she quits, that would be good.

    If she can’t get a leave of absence, it might be best to plan a year or two of commuter marriage. Have him take the job, scope out the scene, and decide if he likes it and will continue to like it.

    As for “I am a woman and have not been trained to bargain hard”: You can do it. Just remember: A$k and ye shall re¢eive. It’s true.

  15. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    Okay, I hear everyone pretty much agreeing with the grumpies that I should ask for the year of leave to try the new job.

    I don’t agree with this at all. Even taking a one-year leave seems too risky to me to your career trajectory. If your husband is the one who is not happy in current circumstances, then he should bear the burden of going to the new city and new university and seeing what it is like while you continue to rock out where you are. I know this sounds heartless, but you worked your asse offe to get where you are, and it shouldn’t have to be the wife who is responsible for adjusting her career goals to make the husband happy, rather than vice versa.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Who, then, takes the two kids? If she keeps them, then that’s an additional burden on her. If he keeps them then she has to commute. In either case there’s additional expenses.

      She’s tenured… a year of leave won’t be career suicide.

      • Historiann Says:

        Agreed. Switch the sexes of the players here, with the husband the Tenured Rock Star and his wife the hardworking staff person who manages to continue publishing & finally gets a job offer. We’d all think the husband was being a dick if he didn’t at least give the job at second-tier uni a try, especially considering the other potential upsides of the move for the family as a whole.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        Yeah, I see what you’re both saying. My thinking was too influenced by the natural sciences situation, in which moving a laboratory with equipment, reagents, and personnel is a huge burden and always has a large adverse effect on short-term productivity.

      • becca Says:

        I don’t know how old the kids are, but we did a long-ish distance (100 miles) commuter parenting trade-off thing (one month with Dad, one month with Mom) when Roo was ittybitty. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, but it’s not as simple as “kids are present, ergo two households are impossible”. Both of our daycares were owned by the same corporate overlords, and we didn’t have to pay for the time we weren’t there. So, while it’s incredibly intensive emotionally, and there were real costs to driving, we made it work because we had to.
        It was not long-term sustainable for us, but if there is a huge “moving productivity hit” (either because of lab infrastructure or because e.g. all your grad students can’t move with you, or the like), it might sometimes make the most sense to try the commuter thing for a year to get a feel for what the new town is like and what the institution really is like.

        All that said, if it were me? It might come down to which was closer to my Mom. Even though that probably isn’t the “right” call for the long term.

  16. Perpetua Says:

    Here’s my two cents from the 2 body trenches: my husband and I were in a similar situation – I got an offer from a school that had offered a job to my husband. Same teaching load, but a clear “step down”, much smaller dept., no grad program, little research support or intellectual culture on campus. We also objected to the town/environment & thought the move would result in a drop in our quality of life even though it meant we could be together (w/ our very small kids). I didn’t want to do it – I didn’t want to leave my job, because I’m ambitious. Moreover we didn’t see the new situation as permanent – we couldn’t see ourselves happy there long term. It’s easy to get ‘stuck’ at lower tier schools because rightly or wrongly (and by this I mean wrongly), depts judge the quality of the candidate’s current institution often more than the quality of their scholarship. You can make a lateral move or a down move but after tenure a move up (esp for a couple) is pretty rare, unless we’re talking about the supernovas of superstars. We’ve seen it happen (getting stuck) to many people, both couples and not. For us, that was the deciding factor – the idea that we didn’t want to stay (which meant we didn’t really want to be there) and that staying there short term might make it harder to move again.

    Generally speaking though, I don’t object to the idea of making a downwardly mobile move. There are lots of great places with vibrant faculty that aren’t ranked in the first tier. And if it was in a place we wanted to live, or felt happy to live, we’d take it. I could give up graduate teaching, for example. It’s easy to think that the superstar can cram a spouse down a university’s throat (forgive the expression), but, while that happens for the supernovas, for everyone else, it’s much more likely that a “lesser” place would hire the trailing spouse and then wisely jump at the chance to get the superstar. Great schools say “no” to partners they view as lackluster (even though they are often wrong), but ambitious second tier places are too smart to lose a superstar. Does that make sense? As for a commutable distance, I have nothing wise to say on the subject – my husband and I live 400 miles apart. The cost of that – financial, emotional, professional – is pretty significant. It diminishes my productivity considerably.

    Basically, it’s not a sure thing either way. If your partner really wants it, and you think it would be okay (I mean, workable) for you, and you like the place well enough – then that and a good attitude is about all the certainty you will probably get. Even a one year there won’t necessarily tell you how satisfied you might be at the new place long term.

  17. GMP Says:

    Hmmm… When I read the Tenured Rock Star’s email, my gut reaction was profound discomfort. I am not sure why, but I could try to articulate it.

    I agree with everyone that try before you buy would be good, but it seems it won’t work here (TRC is on leave now). My university (R1, highly regarded public university, physical science field) has a policy that you have to come back for at least a year after sabbatical, otherwise you have to pay the university back all of your sabbatical salary. Other than that, it used to be a given that you could get a leave of absence to try a new job, but the second one was never granted in this case (it is granted in cases where it’s clear you will come back, like being an NSF rotating program manager for 3 yrs, for instance, or having to care for a family member). But, with recent changes in the college administration, the try-before-you-buy year will be no more; they will make people quit and then reapply later if they are unhappy. So pretty tough… But, as N&M said, for a tenured rock star, they might be lenient… Still, the point of this paragraph is that my understanding from what TRS wrote in comments is that it may not be possible to get the try-out year.

    Now as to why I was so uncomfortable… TRC and family seem to have a nice life overall. Her DH seems active and able and productive on top of his regular duties and lack of appreciation. My feeling is that he should just keep doing what he is doing and sooner than he knows he will begin to gain appreciation and will be able to harvest what he sowed. If they move to a lower tier place, there may be nothing more to bargain with and they can easily get stuck…

    Now I am going to write something that will likely not help make me more popular around here, but here it is: speaking as someone who’s being on recruitment committees, the fact that TRC’s spouse was a finalist 4 times without getting any offers is a red flag to me. If I can be blunt, I would consider this a sign that traditional TT is probably not the ideal path for him. Whatever was the reason he hadn’t gotten any of those other offers where he interviewed previously may be the reason why it’s so hard to get him hired in a TT position at TRC’s FancyPants university. I have no idea what it is, but I have seen it time and time again — we are often oblivious to our significant other’s professional shortcomings. Some brilliant people are just not of the traditional academic mold, and sometimes they do get a TT position at a low-ranked place, but their talents really would be much better suited for a different kind of job. It seems that TRS’s DH knows what he likes to do and is very proactive, I would really explore the ways to do that in the city where they are now, but without the TT position. Perhaps go unemployed for a semester or a year, keep the affiliation with uni if necessary but perhaps without pay, and really immerse himself in the digital humanities work. Perhaps he can do what he likes with private funding etc. If he is really passionate about his work and good at it, and it seems he is, the opportunities to cash in on his excellence in this vein will be better where the family is now, and I really believe they will materialize.

    FWIW, and I don’t mean to be nasty or anything, my gut feeling is that the move, as described, will overall hurt everyone. It feels like it won’t really be a realization of what DH wants in his career, and it be a significant step back for TRS and their social life in general. I really feel this move is a bad idea, based on the info provided…

    Good luck to TRS and DH whatever they may decide!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      She hasn’t asked about try-before-buy yet, to my knowledge. And I know of many places that nominally have that policy but almost always waive it.

      If it’s really that she needs to spend another year at the top school, then her hubby can ask for a year delay before starting his position. I did that at my school.

      I was second choice at a lot of places I applied, and in at least one instance the school asked the college if they could hire both me and my friend who was their first choice, but were denied at the dean-level. In a field that has a lot of applicants and very few openings, I don’t think being second or third choice is necessarily a red flag. We often wish we could hire our first five choices, but end up getting our first.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        I think the point is if you are never the first choice, that may mean something.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Out of 5 flyouts, he is the first choice once. That’s about my track record too.

      • Historiann Says:

        Yeah, I don’t think that coming up with zip after 4 campus interviews means much in the humanities job market. I’ve been on a total of 7 interviews and (sadly for me!) I’ve only ever had 2 job offers in my career, both of which I accepted. I’m no rock star, but I’m not a chump. In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t get some of those job offers, because those environments would have been bad for me professionally. (But it still stings, even now!)

        And as for nicoleandmaggies claim above that “we often wish we could hire our first five choices, but end up getting our first.” I have seen it happen more than once. I think if you’re invited to campus it means that you’re clearly qualified for the job. The reasons we end up ranking one candidate #1 and other candidates lower has to do more with their specific perceived “fit” in our department. Sometimes we have a clear consensus as to who should be ranked first. Sometimes it’s a really split vote, with all 3 or 4 finalists having a strong showing. But sadly, we can only offer one job, and we can only offer it to one person at a time.

        BTW, some of my best colleagues are people who were clearly not ranked #1 for their jobs by the department at the time. In the end, the final ranking is kind of a crapshoot. I’ve only seen one or two candidates on campus whom I found totally objectionable or would have been cheesed if we had hired them. (Fortunately, we didn’t!)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Like that woman who got drunk and started shouting obscenities at the job market dinner. I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from that…

        (One of our staff members had been having his anniversary dinner in the same restaurant that night, and said, “After you left, she started screaming the F-word! On a job interview!” I was all, “She was using that word all night!” He said, “Well, she must have gotten louder after you left.” How embarrassing.)

      • GMP Says:

        This is interesting. Perhaps it’s really the case of humanities vs sciences (or physical sciences).

        FWIW, I can tell you the experience from the searches this year, just for comparison. We had two very specialized searches in parallel this year, I was chair for one. In each we interviewed 4 people. Each search had well over 100 applications (again, they were specialized, when we have broad searches, we easily have 500+ applications). In mine, easily the top 20-30 people looked extremely strong on paper, we could have interviewed any of them. Of the 4 we did, we did not like the first three candidates; this included this season’s hottest commodity dude, who is interviewing pretty much everywhere under the sun because he has the equivalent of Buddha and Jesus Christ vouching for his ability to walk on water. But, we were actually fairly disappointed how the first three interviewed and would not have been happy making an offer to any of them. But then the 4th guy came and we loved him and gave him an offer promptly; while he’s not the hottest commodity, he did get a few interviews and got a very high percentage of offers of those he did get (75%), so people who saw him realized he was the real deal. Luckily, he accepted our offer and we are very excited to have him join the department. The parallel search also liked only one person; if he refuses, there will be no other offer to anyone else. If the guy in my search had refused, our search would have failed too and would have waited till next year. My colleagues tell me this is a fairly common scenario — many people look good on paper, but (I suppose luckily for search committees) many don’t have a strong enough showing, so in the end the decision is fairly clear.

        In my field, only people with extremely strong pedigrees + records get more than 4-5 interviews per season. Even many with very strong pedigrees don’t get that many. My point is that it is so f*ckin’ hard to just land an interview, that you really have to make sure you do well at those you do land, especially if you are pedigree-challenged [for the record, I got a PhD from a decent but not fancy state school, well-known advisor, but I had lots of publications.I had 3 interviews, 2 offers and withdrew application from the 3rd as I got offer from current place of employment (which I liked best of all three) 2 days after that last interview (which was at a place I liked least)].

        My postdoc was second choice in his first and only interview last year. This year he had two and has one offer already, waiting to hear from the second place. He planned that, if he didn’t get any this year, that he would give up on chasing academia (I think he’s very talented and would make a great prof). Luckily he won’t have to leave academia, but it was close…

        Again, it is so f*ckin’ hard to just land an interview, I find it really surprising when I see candidates not have a strong showing (of the three that didn’t work in my search, one gave the world’s most boring talk, I ended up falling asleep; another seemed really pissed that we asked them questions about their talk; a third was charming but too green and/or simply unprepared and tried to bullshit their way around technical issues, which did not go well).

        These are my recent experiences in a physical science field at an R1 public uni, so I am sure there are all sorts of differences from the humanities or social sciences. Sorry for going on a tangent here. (I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious, scout’s honor! :)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We were looking in a very specific small field this year, and there were 4 top candidates that everyone looking in that field interviewed 3/4 of, and we were competing with 3 other schools. Very oddly and without any coordination, the three we flew out were each the top choices at one of these places and the fourth at the other. It just sorted that way. (Personally my top choice ended up at a higher ranked school, but I was out-voted to give the offer to my second choice who accepted, so everybody is happy. We did not like the third candidate for that search, but she was the first one to get an offer at one of the other schools.) Fortunately it also sorted such that at least 2 of the candidates got their first choices so we didn’t have a stalemate. (Though if it hadn’t worked out, we would have widened the search and had some amazing folks on our short-list.)

      • Historiann Says:

        Like that woman who got drunk and started shouting obscenities at the job market dinner. I’m still not sure I’ve recovered from that… Heh. That beats the guy who asked if he could “borrow” a Chapstick at the dinner the night before his interview. The drunken curser is a totally different level of inappropriate.

      • Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

        Hmm. I am usually the one launching into drunken expletive-laden rants at job candidate dinners, albeit in a cheerful and uplifting–not angry–manner.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I think that’s expected of people in NYC. Also NJ, only less cheerfully.

    • Tenured Rock Star Says:

      Just to add to the anecdata here about DH having been a finalist 4x with only one offer: I, TRS, had extremely uneven luck on the job market. The year I first went on the market I had 3 interviews, only 1 of which led to an on-campus, which led to the job I have now. The other two interviews (that went nowhere) were at 2nd-tier places. Since being here at fancy private R1, I have applied for 2 other R1 jobs (b/c of this two-body problem), which led to initial interviews but no on-campus visits. Indeed, when I went for a campus visit at New School, it was my 2nd on-campus visit ever, out of probably nearly 30 or 40 jobs and postdocs I’ve applied for in my total career. My point is that even someone who is “successful” cannot just go around getting whatever jobs she applies for in the humanities job market. It SUCKS. And as I said, in DH’s specialty it is much more competitive than in my own. I can’t do the math here but I think that if out of 200 people you are 1 of 3 invited to campus, then you are probably pretty darn good. I will say that DH’s research is a bit unfashionable at the moment and I do think that is hurting him. His recent endeavors in digital humanities are, however, clearly helping him.

      • Historiann Says:

        Thanks, TRS! I will live in hope from now on, for both your sake and my own ;)

        I would guess that your DH’s efforts in the Digital Humanities will be something his new dept. will want to see him continue. As you suggest, they didn’t hurt, and they very likely helped him. Even if a department has no clue as to what “digital humanities” is or what it can do for them, they want to hire junior faculty like your DH to help them figure it out. It’s a pretty significant leverage point for him.

      • Tenured Rock Star Says:

        Oh, dear, did I sound that snotty? Sorry! What I meant was that doing well on the job market is kind of random! The inconsistency of my experience bears that out … indeed my current job seems to be as much of a fluke as a well-deserved reward. Not to diss myself: I think I am hardworking and smart and had a good dissertation project, but it’s also clear that once I arrived at an elite place, people began to view me differently and I received the equivalent of private handshakes, etc. Lots of people I went to grad school with who are just as smart and hardworking and productive (and more so, in some cases!) have ended up all up and down the scale of colleges and universities, or have failed to find jobs at all. My DH is but one of these folks.

      • GMP Says:

        TRS, please don’t fall prey to the impostor syndome. You sound just like the vast majority of successful academic woman (including myself) whom I have met — each and every one of them will say that they are nothing exceptional, that they are Ok, hardworking and smart, but that they lucked out and fell into success, that there is nothing special about them, that they basically didn’t deserve it. You say you were lucky, and there are plenty of other people as worthy as you or even more worthy, who did not succeed. I know luck is important, but I don’t know any successful men who would say they were unworthy and simply lucked out. Every successful man I know emphasizes how he of course deserved it and was more meritorious than the others.

        You had one on-site interview and got an offer at a prestigious place. You had what it took to make it materialize. That is not just luck, trust me. If you don’t believe that you are awesome and totally deserve to be there, over many others who are seemingly equal but not really, please believe your colleagues who hired you and then tenured you.

        I would really really hate to see you leave a successful position and lose the bargaining power you now have, Perhaps now that your DH is moving away from the unpopular topics (which may well be the reason why his TT hadn’t worked before) and towards more popular ones, I can’t help but think that if you stay put a year or two more, perhaps something will materialize at your current place or you will both be able to move somewhere that is less of a step down for you and your family.

        Good luck!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The interview and landing the job is not so important… plenty of white guys who never produce anything can do that. You are tenured at a top school. They don’t tenure just anybody.

        I agree with GMP about the imposter syndrome, but I disagree with her beliefs that the entry-level humanities job market is anything but a crapshoot conditional on having a certain level of awesome. You have to be pretty amazing even just to get on the short-list.

      • Tenured Rock Star Says:

        I appreciate the admonition to stay the F**K away from the impostor syndrome. It’s a killer, fer sure and something for women in particular to watch out for. My point is not that luck is responsible for my success, but that I am deserving and let’s say fortunate, not lucky. I really do believe that just as it’s important to fight the impostor syndrome it’s also important to keep a healthy perspective on the structural problems facing academia, particularly in the humanities, and to fight the idea that it’s all wonderfully meritocratic, cream always rising to the top etc etc. Again, none of this is to say that I don’t deserve what I have. I do. It was a point made in the conversation about whether it was suspicious that DH has had 4 on-campus interviews and only 1 offer. I was just arguing that no, it isn’t suspicious in a really competitive field in the humanities.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Or as Malcolm Gladwell says, you need luck and ability (and at least 10000 hours of practice) to be a superstar.

    • Astra Says:

      I disagree that GMP’s experience is general for the physical sciences. In my field (astrophysics) it is such a buyer’s market right now that hiring is a total crapshoot and five interviews before getting an offer is likely the norm for all but a few. It would not be a red flag in my field until you started getting shortlisted several more times without an offer.

  18. hush Says:

    I’m sorry about your mother’s health challenges. I’m inclined to say stay put for now because I’m not sure the hubby will ever be satisfied at work like you are (How do I know this, you ask? I don’t, it’s just a gut feeling I have), and it seems the only real reason you are wanting to move is for the possibility that he will someday be happy at work.

    Don’t leave a job you love, a town you enjoy, and a town where you have family living. Does your hubby need to work to support your family? Can he stay home and do his side business he enjoys?

  19. Tenured Rock Star Says:

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks so much for all the thoughtful responses. DH and I did a lot of soul-searching and decided to stay put. The university gave him a new job — a part time teaching position that gives us less $$ but gives him a lot more time to do his own research. He also managed to negotiate a new computer and a modest yearly research account. We are only guaranteed 6 years of this arrangement, but we are hoping that either something better comes along during those years, or that the university continues it: a) because it costs them pennies and b) in the interest of keeping me happy. So, not perfect by any means, but at least he’s out of the dreaded academic staff position he hates. In the end, he felt like the job he had gotten wasn’t enough of a slam-dunk for him to warrant uprooting our lives and having me leave my position.

  20. link love | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] An update from a previous ask the grumpies post… what did tenured rock star end up deciding to do?  Check out the comments! […]


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