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Asking for job advice for partner from future graduate advisor - etiquette?
July 6, 2012 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm planning to ask for job advice on behalf of my partner, from my future graduate advisor, because my partner's interested in a job opening at my future graduate school. Totally acceptable / useful thing to do, or a horrible violation of academic etiquette?

I'm going to be starting a two year Master's program this fall towards a professional degree. My partner and I are relocating from out-of-state for this program, and I have received a graduate assistantship in the school where my department sits.

My partner (let's call him Sam), whose experience and degree is in higher education, has been searching for relevant job openings in our future hometown. Sam found an opening which is a great fit for him - advising undergrad students in the school where I'll be doing my Master's.

Sam asked me if I'd be open to sending an email to my contacts in my program and asking for any background info about the position. My immediate response was to be wary of asking for any "favors" or "special treatment". The people in question are (1) my graduate program director and (2) my future advisor, who also happens to be my direct supervisor for the assistantship.

However, I've also heard that the relationship between graduate students and faculty is a little more like colleagues than when I was an undergrad, and that faculty know that graduate students have families and partners that are coming with them for a program and want to support them if possible.

I asked Sam to draft up an email, and he gave me the below. Do you think this is an appropriate request? If so, do you think the wording below is fitting? Thanks, MeFi!

Dear Professor X:

It was great to chat with you last month. As the summer progresses, I'm getting more and more excited to start the Master's program in the fall.

As we are relocating to the area, my partner is continuing to look for work. He is enthusiastically applying to the Advisor position at the School of XX, as posted on the University website. It seems like a great fit considering his experience and education (Master's in Education and advising experience). As he prepares to submit his letter and resume, might you have any background or information on the position that might help him to get a foot-in-the-door?

Either way, I'll look forward to working with you soon.

Best - Pants
posted by pants to Education (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Long question, short answer: there's nothing inappropriate with what you are asking. Your request is normal and expected. Don't overthink this. I'm not even sure how this could be construed as a favor or special treatment beyond a professional referral.
posted by saeculorum at 10:36 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


What your partner proposes is Networking 101. But I would cut off the "to get a foot in the door" part of the email. Just say:

As we are relocating to the area, my partner is continuing to look for work. He is enthusiastically applying to the Advisor position at the School of XX, as posted on the University website. It seems like a great fit considering his experience and education (Master's in Education and advising experience). Do you have know anything about the position that might be useful to him or can you introduce him, via email, to someone he can talk to for more information about the position? His email is blah@blah.com.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2012 [10 favorites]


Hmmm. Only from experience I wrote a similar letter to a manager at a sister company. I only got a response of vagueness and obvious answers. I would say that type of response meant it was uncomfortable for him to receive such a letter.

I agree with crush onastick---it was probably the "foot in the door" or other type of language that makes it a little shakey.
posted by stormpooper at 10:38 AM on July 6, 2012


A better email, in my opinion, would be to introduce your partner -- you provide the contact, and he asks them directly for the information.

Dear Prof X,

It was great to chat with you last month. As the summer progresses, I'm getting more and more excited to start the Master's program in the fall.

I am writing because my partner, Sam McPants, is in the process of applying to Position XYZ in our department, and he was hoping to contact you to ask some general questions about the department and position. I've taken the liberty of giving him your information, and he should be contacting you soon.

best,
Pants McPants.
posted by Forktine at 10:39 AM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your prof. is the person least likely to know. Try a staff member instead--admissions adviser, dept manager, or the like.
posted by liketitanic at 10:45 AM on July 6, 2012


A good adviser will be interested in doing things like passing on information to help a student's partner stay gainfully employed.

Your prof. is the person least likely to know. Try a staff member instead--admissions adviser, dept manager, or the like.

This may be true, but you don't know those people. But if the position isn't even in the same department, you should be prepared for the professor not to know anything useful. At best he might know someone else to ask.
posted by grouse at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2012


Yes, this is totally fine. Your adviser wants for you to have as little distraction as possible from your program, and your SO having a job is less distracting than them not having a job. Even if your adviser doesn't know anything about the position, they'll probably have an idea of who you should write to.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2012


My experience is that this part is true:
I've also heard that the relationship between graduate students and faculty is a little more like colleagues than when I was an undergrad

And this part is really not so much:
faculty know that graduate students have families and partners that are coming with them for a program and want to support them if possible.
The second part being much more true of faculty or PhD candidates. It probably depends on where you go/atmosphere of the program, etc., but, that said, I don't think it's a breach of etiquette to put your SO and your contacts in contact. I'm more saying that they may not be likely to have much of an interest in the private life of an incoming student.

However, they might be able to point your SO in the right direction of someone to contact. As much as I like Forktine's draft of an email. I would reword "I've taken the liberty of giving him your information" because to me it sounds, well, a bit presumptious. YMMV.
posted by sm1tten at 10:57 AM on July 6, 2012


Totally appropriate, and crush-onastick has the wording that I would use.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 11:03 AM on July 6, 2012


I do this all the time for my grad students and welcome the opportunity. As long as the inquiry seems sincere and doesn't smack of entitlement (and yours doesn't), there's not a problem.
posted by 5Q7 at 11:05 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Personally, I wouldn't ask your advisor about this. The department admin would be much more appropriate, in my opinion.

If one of my students, especially a 2-year MA student whom I hadn't met, asked me this, I might be annoyed.
posted by k8t at 11:16 AM on July 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Seconding k8t. For this type of position, the chair is probably the only one in the dept. who has any useful ideas about what's going on--and even s/he may be out of the loop if it's an administrative position. I wouldn't be put off by this kind of letter (although the "foot in the door" bit might raise my hackles a little), but I'd essentially have to kick it back to you with a polite "no clue" kind of response.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:41 AM on July 6, 2012


Like others have said, the faculty member may be no help at all, but it certainly wouldn't be a breach of etiquette to try. It depends on the department, but I work in a graduate office and many of my colleagues would be more than happy to assist someone in your situation if they could.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 12:22 PM on July 6, 2012


I agree with most of the above posters that although asking for advice does not cross any lines, your advisor is likely to have no idea about this program or have any way of helping. The department administrator is the person who really does have the best information and ability to help.
posted by JayNolan at 12:56 PM on July 6, 2012


Specifically, what your partner needs to know is the name of the hiring manager for the position. That way, they can write them a letter directly, as well as submit via the online application.

I mention this, because when we hired a position, we had to wait weeks until HR forwarded us the resumes of candidates. And the formatting was totally off. Had someone taken the time to find out my name and send me their stuff directly (as well as letting me know they had applied online, but it was a top choice so they thought they'd reach out), their document would have been first on my desk, and the only thing on my desk for about 2 weeks.

Now how he gets that info - that is where the department admin comes in - or the advisor. Even saying that your partner would like to send a copy to the appropriate hiring manager, and wonder if he (your faculty) knew who it was - or if the dept. admin might know - is a more specific, actionable request. Then you can follow up with the dept. admin with the faculty person's blessing, who might not know, but is more likely to be able to find out.
posted by anitanita at 2:06 PM on July 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a question for you: by asking this question, are you genuinely looking for information, or are you trying to give your partner a bit of an advantage in the application process? Either one is totally fine, but if you're actually looking for info on the position, I would skip the professors and just ask the department administrator and/or someone in the administration. If you're trying to give your partner a strategic advantage (a totally fine thing, I think), I would go through the faculty members, who will probably refer you to the administration, but might mention your partner to the relevant people. This isn't going to get your partner a recommendation or anything, but it might get his application an extra look (which can be a HUGE advantage).

I think it's a good idea to do this and I think it's expected for the partners of grad students (although, I too would leave off any explicit mention of "foot in the door" to avoid the appearance of trying to curry favor).
posted by Betelgeuse at 4:28 PM on July 6, 2012


Speaking as a former graduate program director, this is totally fine (though as others say, leave out the part about getting a foot in the door). If you've been admitted to a program, it has a stake in your success; even more so if you have an assistantship. Whether either of your contacts has the knowledge or contacts to give helpful advice is a different matter, and depends on how big the institution is, what university-wide committees they have worked on, who they hang out with at the bar, etc. But there's nothing wrong with asking, and it might produce some helpful information.

BTW, I initially misread your question because you said your partner had found "a job opening at my future graduate school." The way US universities are often organized, the "graduate school" is a separate administrative unit, headed by a dean, that groups together the graduate programs' administration--registrar, bursar, degree certification, awarding assistantships, etc. That could make things more complicated for a job, especially if it involved access to the confidential records of your program; if he got such a job he might even have to declare a conflict of interest.

If it's advising undergraduates, though, it's in a separate administrative unit of the university, and I can't see a problem. It's fairly common in my anecdotal experience for partners of grad students to find jobs at the same university. This is partly because universities are often a, or the, major employer in the area, and partly because grad students' partners are often smart and reliable.

posted by brianogilvie at 5:23 AM on July 7, 2012


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