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Maintain a love affair while proceeding with the career

  1. May 2, 2010 #1
    A career in science seems to dictate continuous displacements, until a steady position is reached. I was looking at the CV of various scientists and I've seen that the common path is: taking the Bachelor somewhere, then PhD somewhere else, and several post-doc somewhere else again, until something magical happens and they become professors.

    I am about to leave my city/country to continue my studies in Physics and I wonder whether I'll achieve to keep my love relation stable or not. I have been engaging with her for many years and we would like to marry too but the perspective to live apart for long time is none but upsetting. She is a scientist too and we will try to get a job in the same university but this task appears as joyful as impossible.

    Have you ever faced this problem?
    Do you think is therefore possible to maintain the love affair while living apart?

  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2010 #2


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    Before they were married, my parents were engaged for 7 years, while my father was in university and my mom trained as a nurse, then worked as a nurse. The university did not have provisions for married students.

    For a while, they lived about 380 miles apart - dad in Melbourne and mom in Hobart. During the summers, my dad would travel to Hobart and take a job locally in order to spend time with mom.

    They married after my dad completed his Divinity degree.
  4. May 2, 2010 #3


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    There is big a difference between impossible and inconvenient.

    If two people really want to be together, they will find a way to make the relationship work. Sure, it's less than ideal to live the academic life, but there are advantages to it as well. There are opportunities for travel and living in different parts of the country/world.
  5. May 2, 2010 #4
    Standard advice - Don't go into physics expecting a research faculty position....


    Something that is an unusual tradition in academia is that if you get a professorship in a university, and your spouse is also an academic, the university will try to find a job for the spouse. There are a number of well-known husband/wife academic couples (the Mihalases, the Wills, the Burbidges)
  6. May 2, 2010 #5
    Hi Llewlyn,

    I have known many people in this situation, PhD students and postdocs, so I can tell you a little what I have seen.

    First, everything depends on which topic you are working, and on the politics of your group. Usually, if your work is theoretical (i.e. without experiments) you can, in principle, work from home part of the time. This will depend on your advisor, group, etc. but this can allow you to visit your partner for some time periodically. If you really need to do like this, you can probably talk to your future advisor/boss and maybe negotiate, although I would recommend not to travel a lot during the first months or even first year.

    The possibility of being able to travel is a good thing, but it is only a relief for the hassle of long-distance relationships. It depends on the couple, but not many people will be able to stay more than, say, 4 years in this situation.

    The bad thing is that, after PhD, you will have to start looking for postdocs. And that means that, most probably, you will not be able to decide where you will live the following year (usually people apply to several universities and gets only one offer, or very few), and you will not be sure if your new group will allow you to travel so much. Also, you will be interested in collaborating with people in your new group, so it will not be a very good idea to be outside most of the time.

    So, at the end, what people usually do is try to live together with their partners. Usually that means that one of them has to renounce to something. Many of my colleagues' partners have followed them in their postdoc journey, but it is true that all of them abandoned jobs for worse jobs (it is difficult to advance if you change your job every two years). You can be luckier, but it really depends on what your partner does and if there are opportunities to work on it everywhere.

    In case your partner is on the academic path too, as twofish says finding a professorship will usually mean that your partner gets a professorship too. But, as far as I know, this is not true for postdocs. So you should expect to be apart at least part of the time until one of you finds a professorship, what in principle seems to be rather difficult.
    Last edited: May 3, 2010
  7. May 2, 2010 #6
    Yeah, they do that at my department too. Granted, sometimes one spouse (not always the wife!) gets stuck with a less-than-desirable job, e.g. a non-tenure track lecture position. But they are fairly cool about ameliorating the two-body problem to whatever extent they can. At my school when they hired a new astrophysics professor last year, they managed to find a high energy professorship for his wife. And this was at the height of the recession when they were cutting funding to my university!
  8. May 2, 2010 #7
    Do not give up your relation for physics ( do it only if your battery is empty) :))
  9. May 3, 2010 #8
    Yes, I've experienced this. I'm living in Europe for my postdoc while my boyfriend is in Australia. I started my postdoc a year and a half ago, and despite some visits, it's been a really lonely time for me.

    I'm confident that we'll continue our relationship, and I think it's possible but painful to get through these things. Personally, I'm also disappointed in myself for not making as much progress with my research as I'd hoped and so I've decided to give up on this as a career, so in a way it was for nothing. But I guess you never know unless you try sometimes.
  10. May 3, 2010 #9


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    I remember a couple in which the husband was on the faculty at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, while the wife was on the faculty at Florida State University, in Talahassee, about 120 miles apart. They lived in a little country town half way between. They scandalized the community because, while they were married, she kept her maiden name.
  11. May 3, 2010 #10
    Thanks for the replies guys.

    I don't know how this experience will make me feel, anyway, I dislike to abandon the career or to decide to live forever localized due to my engagement: world is a funny place to travel around and the chance of being a scientist is something I would attempt to.

    Nonetheless, it'll most certainly be painful and finding time for staying together will require sacrifices. I'm going to leave for a PhD studentship, therefore, jobs given by University to spouses is unfortunately none of my concern. I simply hope that she'll win a PhD there too, we have arranged things in order to apply to a city which carries on both our research lines. Moreover I am a theoretical physicist, hence I think I could in principle work part of the time away from my University. After proven my value I'll probably start a negotiation... :-)

    Europe-Australia is really a brave choice, Tiger99. Good luck for the future!

  12. May 4, 2010 #11
    Llewlyn: I think you are making the correct decision. If you don't go to grad school for a relationship, it is likely that you end up feeling doubts. If there is a topic you are interested in learning, go for it! If you get a kind advisor that lets you work from home, the long-distance relationship will not be that difficult.

    However, about your comment "After proven my value I'll probably start a negotiation...", although I understand this is tongue-in-cheek, be aware that in academia you will probably never be in a position to negotiate (unless you get a professorship). Even if you are very valuable, there are many, very good people looking for a job, and there are very few jobs; you can imagine the outcome.
  13. May 4, 2010 #12
    ya, "begging" should suit instead of "negotiating".

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