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Dual-Careers in Higher Ed - Part Two

Couples Seek Complex Balance

Career Tools  |  by Charles DuBois
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Every dual-career couple has its story, each involving a complicated list of aspirations in the balance -- satisfying work for two professionals, a good life for the kids, stability as a family, friendly living environment, adequate compensation and benefits, career accommodation between partners, and more.

Decisions come only after much introspection and serious conversation. Just ask Mary Beth Rosson and Jack Carroll of Penn State, and Christine Min Wotipka of Stanford University.

The transitions made by Rosson and Carroll have been comparatively easy. Each time they were recruited -- by Virginia Tech from IBM and by Penn State from Virginia Tech -- it has been as a couple. Even an opportunity at the University of California-Irvine was under the same circumstances. But that does not mean the changes have not been without emotional edge and choices to weigh.

Speaking of their transition to State College from Blacksburg, Rosson, a professor of information sciences and technology, said that from a personal perspective the most difficult thing was moving their daughter, then a high school sophomore. Also, they left behind faculty colleagues and a Center for Human-Computer Interaction that Carroll had worked hard to develop.

But, she went on, "Many things were easy because of the similarity in region, university culture, and so on."

And while they parted from friends on the Virginia Tech faculty, several of their graduate students chose to come to Penn State as well, and several active or soon-to-be-funded projects proved to be transferable.

For Christine Min Wotipka and her husband, Anthony Lissing Antonia, career aspirations and families were significant considerations in deciding between Stanford and the University of Minnesota. At the time, the two were on leave from the California-based school and holding positions in Minnesota. The two universities wanted to know the couple's intentions.

There were many things to think through -- Wotipka's ties to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, work schedules that accommodated child-rearing needs, Antonia's ties to northern California, support for standard of living, and the potential for academic development. What helped tip things, said Wotipka, an assistant professor of education, was that Stanford was more adept in working with their needs as a dual-career couple.

She believes that job-seeking partners must educate hiring schools about issues important to them.

"Assume that the institution is not going to know your needs, some of the burden is going to fall on you," she said, also urging couples to seek out on-campus advocates and resources.

Partners need to communicate with one another, Wotipka said. They need to think about what's best for the long-term, and think beyond individual goals.

Penn State's Rosson said she has counseled younger academic couples to focus career moves on denser metropolitan areas, where there are more job opportunities. She also urges them to check out an institution's track record in recruiting and supporting dual-career couples.

Lastly, she recommends that couples work out an agreement for how they might alternate the focus on each partner's career over time.

"Sometimes," Rosson said, "a couple will just go with whoever gets the best offer, with the other one trailing behind and trying to make it work. But that may not be the best thing in the long term and you need to spend some time on scenario planning."