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AdornosDoorknob

Any have experience attending grad school with a partner?

8 posts in this topic

I am currently searching for M.A. and PhD programs, but I am worried that my partner (unmarried) will have a hard time finding a job wherever I end up. If I go to a school in a small college town (think Penn State, UConn, UNC-Chapel Hill, etc.), there will likely not be anywhere for my partner to work outside of the university and the municipal government. Even then, she is not guaranteed to find a job which makes use of her bachelors degree (chemistry, btw).

Finding programs which are a good fit is a hard enough task. Finding programs which are a good fit for me and which additionally are in towns which can provide reasonable quality of living for my partner is greatly narrowing my options and causing a lot of extra stress.

What have any of you done in this situation? How do you keep yourself and the partner happy? How can I make sure that she finds gainful and fulfilling employment which uses her degree and her skills?

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I started a topic about this situation back in my first application cycle (when I was still married). You might find some useful tidbits there.

In general, it's a difficult subject, but not uncommon. It usually requires significant compromise on either your part or the SO's...and often both. In a very indirect way, my continuation down the academic path was a factor in my (very amicable) divorce. I don't say that to scare you -- just to emphasize that it's good that you're thinking of this now, because it is indeed a major consideration.

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Although feel free to remove any really small or low-opportunity towns (e.g. State College, maybe?) from your lists at this juncture, I think it would be wise to still apply to some colleges in medium-sized towns, especially the educated or tech-y kinds of places (e.g. Ann Arbor, maybe?). There might be more jobs there than you think. If you get into, say, one university in a major metropolitan area and two universities in college towns, you can then research those two towns in way more detail than you could research twenty potential schools' locations before you apply. If you do this research on a smaller number of campuses, you might be able to discover some major companies with branches in town or a couple towns over that would provide good options. 

I say this in part because I think you're worried—totally understandably!—in a way that's leading you to be a bit too harsh to some places. There are good jobs outside of major cities. Although maybe things have changed in the past year and a half, I would have thought that the Research Triangle, for example, would actually be a superb place for someone with a chemistry background to try to find work. Probably your partner wouldn't find work in Chapel Hill itself, but the Research Triangle has a reputation for having good, science-related jobs. There's a lot of places in the country I don't know about, so I don't know how common that is. Does State College actually have many good jobs? I have no idea. Some college towns do have, or are close to places that have, good jobs, though, so I hope you and your partner find more options than you think. Good luck!

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On 7/9/2017 at 5:07 PM, AdornosDoorknob said:

I am currently searching for M.A. and PhD programs, but I am worried that my partner (unmarried) will have a hard time finding a job wherever I end up. If I go to a school in a small college town (think Penn State, UConn, UNC-Chapel Hill, etc.), there will likely not be anywhere for my partner to work outside of the university and the municipal government. Even then, she is not guaranteed to find a job which makes use of her bachelors degree (chemistry, btw).

Finding programs which are a good fit is a hard enough task. Finding programs which are a good fit for me and which additionally are in towns which can provide reasonable quality of living for my partner is greatly narrowing my options and causing a lot of extra stress.

What have any of you done in this situation? How do you keep yourself and the partner happy? How can I make sure that she finds gainful and fulfilling employment which uses her degree and her skills?

My husband is the one applying to graduate school. Thankfully, in my situation, I have been approved to do my job from anywhere in the US. What kind of job is she in now? If she's working for a national company/organization, could she talk to them about working from their other offices? (In which case, you could try looking for schools near those office locations.)

But from our research (we want to stick to northeast cities, if possible), there are still a lot of great programs if you are narrowing by location. The Boston area alone has so many schools within commuting distance--Brandeis, Boston College, Boston University, Brown, Harvard, Northeastern, Tufts. New York has Columbia, Fordham, NYU, CUNY. Chicago has UChicago, UIC, Northwestern. DC has GWU, UMD-College Park, and is close enough to Baltimore to consider Johns Hopkins. And so on. There are so many cities across the US that should have opportunities for her.

Also don't cross off schools that are still within a reasonable commuting distance to cities. UConn is only 30 minutes from Hartford, right?

It's certainly going to take a LOT of time and research, but I do feel like there are so many options outside of small college towns!

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I've been on the other end of this. I moved to a small to mid size town with my husband for his graduate work, and I hate it here. It has been very hard for me to make friends and find work, even after 4 years. My husband holds himself responsible for my situation, I have to remind myself that I willingly came along, and so yeah, it's been stressful on our relationship. One major thing that has helped was that before we came here, we agreed that when he is done, we will move to wherever it's best for my career, so I have that to look forward to. He also has been taking that into consideration over the last few years and not getting his hopes up for any particular place to start his career. Plus he's encouraged me to travel for professional-development programs and things like that, even when the money wasn't 100% there.  

I'd considered doing a PhD program of my own when we first got married (no appropriate programs in my field where we are now), and last year when I decided definitively to apply to PhD programs in 2018, he insisted I apply to start this fall even though it means we'll have to spend a year apart. I think he just couldn't stand to watch me wander aimlessly through this part of my life anymore; in a way, as hard as it will be to spend a year apart, it will be less emotional pressure on him and more motivation to get his dissertation written and done. 

So, I guess the moral of my story is that both of you have to be really committed to each other, and while tit-for-tat isn't a great way to run a relationship, in this case you should think about ways you can support her and make it up to her in some way. 

Good luck!

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When I applied to MSc programs, my partner and I were not married and we had similar concerns as you. Later, when applying to PhD programs, my partner and I were married and we still had similar concerns. The second time, they were even bigger concerns because we were moving from Canada to the US, so work authorization for my spouse was also a tricky thing to get. In the end, it did all work out though. 

Here's what we did for both rounds of applications in terms of choosing a location that would work for both of us. My spouse has a generally flexible line of work (non-academic) and any small town (~100,000 people or so) would have options, but of course, the bigger the city, the larger the pool of applicants. The only job-related constraints would be language (some places in Canada require French) and immigration policies (for places outside of Canada). Instead of just job opportunities, we were also considering our personal preferences on where we would like to live too! 

We started by determining what our own goals are (career and otherwise), for ourselves and for each other. We discussed short term and long term wishes and how we wanted to balance them. And we talked about what our major concerns were about grad school and the academic career path. 

Ultimately, we came up with a plan that ensured that both of us were happy. Although I was the one going to grad school, we viewed this as something we were doing together for the good of our family. So, I only applied to schools in locations that were good for both of us. Logistically, the way we did it was for each of us to compile our own lists of places we would like to go to. Then, we looked at each other's lists and we each had veto power (e.g. I might veto places that didn't have research that fit me or I wouldn't enjoy the city and my spouse might veto places that didn't suit their interests). The places that were on both our lists went to the top. We kept an open mind at this stage---neither of us vetoed places that might not sound great initially, but we would at least visit and see what it's like.

As for long term goals, both of our main desires were to set us both up so that we can both have careers in a specific geographical region (close to our families). We know that was where we would want our children to grow up. Our main concern was that the academic job market is brutal and most academics seem to have to move to wherever the jobs were. In addition, while some people we know got TT jobs right after graduation, and a few after 1 postdoc, the norm is 2 or 3 postdocs before a TT job. The nightmare scenario we wanted to avoid was that we would go on the TT job hunt, choose a less-than-ideal postdoc thinking that it would set us up for a good job later, but then go on another postdoc and another etc... In short, while we had long term big picture goals in mind, we also didn't want to spend our 20s and 30s only living for the future and not being able to enjoy the present.

We came up with a strategy to avoid our worst fears. First, we both decided that while academia would be a great career path for me, we are not going to have the "TT job or bust" mindset. Next, we decided that every position I take from then on (at the PhD application stage) would have to be a top-tier type position, or something that really sets us up very well for moving back to our geographical area. So, this meant that when applying to PhD programs, I only applied to top schools with the plan that if I only got into second-tier schools, it would make the odds of a TT job in our geographical region of choice very slim and the two of us would be better off if we followed a different career path. When applying to postdocs, I followed the same idea. 

The second strategy was to choose a program that would allow me to develop useful non-academia job skills. Ultimately, we would both be happier in our geographical region and outside of academia than in academia but outside of our region of choice. In addition to programs that would allow me to develop useful skills, I generally favoured places that would have good brand name recognition for employers outside of academia. This second preference played a larger role in the "choosing which offer to accept" stage rather than the application stage, since nothing is sure when you're just applying. 

Finally, the last strategy to combat our fears/worries was to make a commitment to ourselves. We decided that 10 years from the start of my PhD program (we'd be in our mid-30s), we will be in our geographical region of choice, no matter what. This was to alleviate the worries of chasing postdocs/TT jobs indefinitely and that we would be not living in the present enough. Although it was always true, making this commitment was a reminder to ourselves that we can just quit academia any time. For most grad students, we are achievement-seeking personalities and "quitting" might be hard to do. This promise to ourselves was a reminder that we can leave if we want to. 

So with these ideas, we both agreed on 8 places to apply to. My spouse visited grad programs whenever possible. I made it clear to all the grad programs that this was a decision that both of us were making together. Many places directly reached out to my spouse to recruit her as well as me, which was very appreciated. After the applications decisions were made, my spouse and I ranked the offers. Our top three choices were the same, but most importantly, the top choice was the same for both of us. So that was how we decided.

If you want an update on where we are on our plans, we are now 5 years past the start of my PhD (i.e. halfway through our 10 year plan). I just graduated from my PhD last month and I have just started a postdoc this week. I ended up with a fellowship postdoc position in our geographic region of choice! Our hopes are that we will never have to move away again. However, we're still open to it if there's a really good (but temporary) opportunity for a second postdoc, but only if the opportunity provides increased chances for a permanent academic job in our current area and that increase is worth the move away from our families. If not, and if there turns out to be no more academic opportunities in our area, we'll find non-academic jobs and stay where we are :)

Good luck with your decision making process. If you want to discuss more personal issues, feel free to send me a PM. I can also provide more details via PM if that helps someone in a similar situation.

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Posted (edited)

22 hours ago, rheya19 said:

So, I guess the moral of my story is that both of you have to be really committed to each other, and while tit-for-tat isn't a great way to run a relationship, in this case you should think about ways you can support her and make it up to her in some way.

Thanks for sharing your experience.

I am in a similar situation. The plan we have now is that I will only apply for M.A. programs. This way, if I end up in a small town, it will only be for two years. Then, if she wants to do an M.A., I will move with her to wherever she wants to go so she can complete her graduate degree before I start a PhD. That handles the next 4-5 years pretty effectively, but then we still have to figure out what to do for PhD. Most of the schools I am looking at for that are in major metro areas, but they are also highly ranked schools which will be hard for me to get into. Either way, I think it will only be the first 2 years which will be a struggle, but she has indicated that she is willing to take a less-than-optimal job only while I do an M.A.

Currently, University of Louisville, University of Kentucky, and University of Maryland are the schools on my list which best fit both of our needs. The schools which worry me wrt her work are Mississippi and Penn State, which are both in small, isolated rural communities. Both are over an hour away from the nearest major metro, and she shouldn't have to commute two hours a day for work, but I really want both of those schools, so letting them go will be a hard decision.

Edited by Cotton Joe

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@TakeruK I am glad to hear that everything worked out for you so far. 

I think we are in a similar situation in that we do not want to leave our geographical region for too long. There are great schools in my region, and I know of at least three top-tier programs to which I want to apply eventually. I like your idea of changing careers if you do not get into one of those top programs. I may run that by my partner later and see how she feels about that.

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