Job Hunting for Two
When the PhD Ends, the Search Begins
Laura Sirot, who received her PhD in zoology in December, and spouse Peter Piermarini, who received his in May 2002, married in 2003 and spent much of their first year of marriage living apart, while she finished her PhD research in Gainesville and he started a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Though they were able to live together briefly in 2004 while Laura wrote her dissertation, they are now separated for another year while Peter continues his work at Yale and Laura begins a post-doctoral fellowship at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
“Many people have asked me why I don’t find a position in New Haven where Pete has his position,” Laura says. “I thought about this for a while, but I found a person with whom I am really interested in working at Cornell and secured a position there. Both Pete and I think that it would be better for our relationship if we both pursue what makes us happy.”
Sacrifices like these have become common to couples in the academic career field. “The opportunities for two spouses in the same general discipline are extremely limited,” says Craig Osenberg, a zoology professor who is married to fellow faculty member Colette St. Mary. “As a result, compromise is almost always necessary. Making it work takes an incredible amount of goodwill and mutual respect, to say nothing of forward-thinking departments and administrators who are willing to find creative ways to accommodate these couples.”
For Tamatha and Greg, it was a question of being taken seriously as scientists, since neither wanted to be labeled as the “trailing spouse”—the one hired by a university in order to get the other person on the faculty. “When we applied for jobs, we did not put anywhere in the applications that we were married, and we didn’t apply for the same positions,” Greg says. And Tamatha adds, “We wanted to be sure that any offer was made on our merit, not on the basis of our marital status. We wanted to both be wanted—I didn’t want to be the dinghy on someone else’s yacht.”
The couple, which met while working at a veterinary clinic in upstate New York, came to UF in 1996 when Greg was accepted into the zoology PhD program. A year later, Tamatha beat the odds by being admitted into the same program. When Greg graduated in summer 2003, he took an adjunct professor position at UF to give Tamatha time to finish her dissertation. When they started applying for jobs in August 2003, their search was further complicated by the fact that Tamatha had not yet defended her dissertation.
The Chronicle of Higher Education, intrigued by the couple’s story, picked them out of 400 applicants to write columns for its job search diary program in 2004. The couple wrote three columns for the academic publication, expressing their desire for a dual appointment at the same university, preferably in the South. Though they discussed, in detail, their application and interview experiences, they refrained from identifying the colleges at which they applied. After a year of ups and downs, the couple landed their dream jobs—tenure-track faculty positions in biology at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina.
For other couples hoping to land jobs together in academia, Greg and Tamatha have some advice. “Sit down as a couple and decide what you want, not the semester before you graduate, but years before you enter the job search,” Tamatha says. “Know who you are and what you want to do, and apply to universities where you can make that happen.”