Interviewing for a postdoc position because it's nearby
August 3, 2017 9:28 AM   Subscribe

My partner is giving a Skype interview for a postdoc position to which she applied primarily because it is close to where I'll be starting a job as an assistant professor (although she is otherwise qualified for and interested in the position). If she gets the job, it will entail changing continents. I assume they will ask why she wants to move. What level of disclosure is appropriate?

We are both researchers in Europe; I was recently offered a tenure-track job in the US. We are both planning on moving, but she would like to stay in research, so the plan was for her to continue her current postdoc position for a spell while looking for suitable positions close to my new job. So now she has an interview at a different institution in the same general area, and I'm wondering how much information she should give about personal reasons for moving to the area.

1) None at all - keep it focused on why she wants to work in the new lab.
2) Little - She mentions that her partner is moving there
3) A bit more - she mentions that I'm a researcher as well.
4) A lot - she tells them I am a new asst. professor, maybe where I will be working
5) Everything - name, rank, serial number, etc.

My feeling is that if they know she is moving to be with me, and I am just starting off on a tenure-track job, that might be a net positive (i.e., they know she's more likely to stay around), but I'm really not sure if that's a correct intuition.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total)
My university (and a lot of others) has a program that actively looks for appropriate on-campus employment, in both academic and staff positions, for the partners of newly recruited tenure-track faculty. I don't think there's any reason at all for her not to mention that you'll be working there.

I also don't think you should assume that they'll ask her why she wants to move. US employment law prohibits making hiring decisions based on an applicant's country of origin. If they even ask her about it, they're committing a really inelegant foul.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:49 AM on August 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

It's kind of shitty and unfair - but if I were hiring a postdoc married to a new local faculty member (and who's also qualified and otherwise a very good fit), I'd count their relationship as a minor positive. On the list of considerations, "perhaps they don't really care about our work, they're just concerned with geography" is typically far behind "this great candidate has outside incentives to say yes and stick around for a few years." I'd go with #4, unless there are other specific warning signs that it's a bad idea. Everyone has outside constraints; an outside constraint tied to a six year plan and a spouse who understands academic life is unlikely to be a negative.

But, do ask if she's actually excited about the job in itself. Taking a job you don't like to satisfy a two-body problem is an invitation to future regrets.
posted by eotvos at 9:51 AM on August 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

It depends a bit on the specifics of the locations and the field, of course (and the lab PI!) For social or life sciences, the primary focus should be on the research, but it's reasonable to say that her partner is planning on moving to the same area. This is particularly useful if you're considering moving to a smaller city, or one in the middle of the country, since they might ask about her familiarity / willingness to move there. Saying "Partner is also going to be working in this part of the country, so it's a good fit for that as well" is great. Honestly, nearly all of my colleagues are familiar with the two-body problem and/or have suffered through it themselves. If the postdoc position will solve that problem rather than cause it, most PI's would be relieved.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:55 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

My spouse and I have moved four times to new cities due to one or the other’s job, and we’ve always been up front about why we are moving. For one thing, it is probably the best answer you can give to “why are you leaving your current position.” In addition to giving them reassurance that you have reason to stick around, it also alleviates any concerns they might have about being the sole cause of someone relocating. I agree with your intuition that giving something close to the whole story is a positive.
posted by Kriesa at 9:58 AM on August 3, 2017

I work in an academic research institute, and I count "spouse got a tenure track job nearby" as a plus in my hiring.
posted by advicepig at 10:37 AM on August 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Definitely tell them. It explains why she wants to move halfway around the world for a post doc and goes a long way towards making them comfortable that she will stay and complete it. Saying she absolutely plans to relocate makes her a real option.Otherwise she is a random well qualified candidate from the other side of the world that they may not take as seriously.

How much to disclose is up to you two. I'd say a normal amount for this situation is "my spouse moved here for work on a permanent basis and I'm looking forward to relocating". If she wants to add that you'll be at University X, that's fine. She will likely have to disclose if its in the same university network just so you know so I'd probably give a bare bones overview. They may ask a few polite questions about the move or offer to answer any questions about the area, if it comes up, but that's all they really need to hear.
posted by fshgrl at 11:24 AM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think academics are pretty sympathetic to the two-body problem. I wouldn't bring it up, but I'd be candid if asked,
posted by SemiSalt at 11:55 AM on August 3, 2017

It's frankly doubtful they'll ask -- the academic job market is totally global and everyone knows that. I can't remember ever being asked if/why I was interested in moving to a particular geographical area. More likely, they'll assume she's interested in a particular lab anyway. If for some reason they do ask, it is so extremely common to have a two-body problem, it is seen more as a positive (she will actually come if hired, and stay for a while!)
posted by karbonokapi at 7:44 PM on August 3, 2017

Your partner may very well get a question along the lines of, "Tell us about your interest in this job." I think mentioning the lab makes sense, and mentioning a partner is a good idea, too, I think, as it explains the reason in a way that academics will totally understand. Otherwise, they might not see the reason for moving so far away.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:51 PM on August 3, 2017

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