Solving Our Two-Body Problem in 30 Seconds

We’ve had two small developments in the graduating/finding jobs front of our lives since my last update that are having a major impact on our two-body problem!


New Information


1.  In a meeting this week with my advisor, he stated that it is his goal for me to graduate this summer and I told him “I’m on board with that.”  Of course, this doesn’t mean that I will graduate next summer because it’s up to me/my work as well as my advisor, and if the next big experiment I’m preparing for doesn’t go well I might be left scrambling.  But… next summer is our goal.


2.  Kyle was advised by his advisor (and that’s what they’re for, right?) to write up and submit the papers on the work he’s done in the last couple years before he starts applying for postdocs.  His advisor said that based on Kyle’s publication record it looks like he hasn’t done any work in the last couple years (of course he has) so he needs to get that up to date before sending out his CV.


So in the space of a week, my timeline for this summer firmed up a little, while Kyle’s ability to start his job application process was pushed back to mid-spring or so.  Yikes!  Kyle is able to stay in his current lab after his defense while he looks for his next position, but I have been offered no such extension (and I probably wouldn’t take it if I were).  The job searches that we expected to be staggered by about a year are now looking like a two-body problem.  (OK, OK, it’s not a real two-body problem because we are not both seeking TT faculty positions.  I realize that situation is way harder.  Please forgive my usage.)


The Old Solution to Our Two-Body Problem


Kyle and I agreed before we were married that we would prioritize his career in terms of where to live, at least for our first post-PhD jobs.  That was because 1) we expected that I would be the trailing spouse, as Kyle started his program a year before I did, and 2) he wants to continue in research whereas I don’t have a target post-PhD career path/job.  Our general outline was that Kyle would graduate first, find and move for a postdoc, and I would find something interesting to do in that city starting about a year after him.  We would re-evaluate in the last year of his postdoc, taking into account how our career aspirations had evolved.


But when I heard that my advisor wants me out next summer and I know that I may or may not know by that time what city Kyle’s postdoc will be in, I started to freak out a bit.  I can’t imagine starting a search for an unknown job type in an unknown city!  I’ll almost certainly be unemployed for a while, though not in the way I wanted to be.


The New Solution to Our Two-Body Problem


On Wednesday, while we were baking cookies for a holiday party that evening, I said “Kyle, we need to have a big serious talk.”  He replied, “Now?  We have to leave in a few minutes.”  I conceded, “Let’s start the conversation now and we’ll return to it a few times probably.”


I laid out for him what I saw were our options:

  • I can apply for jobs in all the cities he’s considering (sounds exhausting!).
  • We can plan for a period of unemployment for me after we move to where his postdoc is while I search for my job (we need to start saving…)
  • I can develop some location-independent streams of income that I can sustain here and in our new city until I find a full-time job (this might be interesting).


We then came up with our solution – and it only took about 30 seconds!  Kyle will apply for postdocs at the top labs in his field and I will apply for jobs in San Diego (where we want to end up long-term).  If he gets one of those target postdocs (in Boston, San Francisco, or Los Angeles), we’ll move there and I’ll look for a job there.  If he doesn’t, we’ll move to San Diego and he’ll find either a postdoc or a real job there.  Done!


blue and white concept map of USA


Am I Serious?  Kind of.


We are psyched about this plan!  I’m speaking a bit tongue in cheek here when I say that the method by which we’ll choose where to live has been determined, but it’s at least a good starting point.  Kyle may add a few more labs to the target group if his first round of applications is rejected, but there are good options in San Diego as well if we do move there for my job.  I’ll also apply for two jobs I’ve had my eye on for a few years, regardless of what city Kyle wants to go to.  Whether I stay unemployed during my job search or hustle online for a while will depend on when our respective paychecks start and stop and how much money we have on hand (I still want to take our big post-defense vacation).


I really liked having that plan of being the trailing spouse in place and now I’m happy to have another working plan.  How this two-body problem will play out will become clearer and clearer with time and I just have to be patient.  I’m also excited to have a target city for networking and the job search.  I already have two local people in mind in my field I should contact.  And if you know anyone in San Diego who needs an engineering PhD to write or analyze or consult… let me know!


How have you resolved your two-body problem?  Have you ever done a long-distance job search?  If you were job-searching in a new city, would you put all your efforts into that or also try to make some money in the meantime?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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16 Responses to "Solving Our Two-Body Problem in 30 Seconds"

  1. Alicia says:

    Thankfully, we didn’t have this issue, because we had my fiancé turn into the trailing spouse and we were focusing on my career now. I’ve never seen two PhDs end so close together in my experience – there is usually about a years difference. I think it is awesome the way you are going about it… Just go with San Diego unless the jobs takes Kyle elsewhere (I love San Diego. I have family there and wish I could visit more often).

    About the publishing thing – it is nice to get wrapped up before Kyle starts his career! I am in a similar situation, where my last publication was 2011, because then the project I started was a tangled mess that was hard to separate into logical chunks. I just submitted a paper, and have another two in prep, but it was hard to do, especially while working full time… and in Kyle’s situation with a new postdoc! So from that perspective, not only does it strengthen his CV, it makes his life transitioning to a PDF so much easier!

    I love your use of the term “two body problem” 🙂
    Alicia recently posted..Where are the Women in Science?

    1. Alicia says:

      Okay, I thought you were taking the Physics term and using it here, but after a quick google search I realized it is commonly used for academic couples. 🙂
      Alicia recently posted..Where are the Women in Science?

      1. Emily says:

        It is a clever take on the physics term, but not original to me! 🙂

    2. Emily says:

      We have seen 1 dual-PhD married couple manage to graduate within a couple months of one another and start postdocs in the same (overseas!) city at the same time – but yeah, everyone else seems to be staggered by a significant period of time. I think it makes it quite a bit easier.

      I totally agree that Kyle (and I) should wrap up our papers before leaving our current labs. I just thought Kyle would be able to 1) defend, 2) start applying for jobs, and 3) submit his papers. I figured there would be plenty of time for writing and submitting while interviewing, but Kyle’s advisor’s point makes sense, too. I’ve left a job without publishing before and it really is difficult to get it done after you leave, like what you’re doing now.

  2. Do you read wandering scientist’s blog? She does biotech in SD.
    Nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Books for 3 year olds

    1. Emily says:

      I’ve read it a few times, but I should subscribe! Thanks for the tip.

  3. We’re dealing with a similar problem, as the missus will graduate in about 3 years and then we’ll have to consider post-docs (one move) and then, hopefully, TT faculty positions (another move). My job right now is flexible but who knows if I’ll have it when these moves happen. There’s no real easy solution but our take is that I’ll go where she does, but hopefully we’ll be in a spot financially that if I have to leave my job and take a lower paying one, it won’t hamstring us.

    If you end up going to San Diego, the missus and I used to live there and might be able to recommend areas to live in, places to go, etc. It’s a great but expensive city.
    Done by Forty recently posted..One Case of Homelessness

    1. Emily says:

      That’s great that you have a job right now that you can move with, and you are setting yourselves up for flexibility later. That’s the attractive part about FI, right?

      Yes, we will take advice when we have firm plans to move there! We plan to rent for a few years until we have a down payment and get to know the area during that time.

  4. E.M. says:

    While we’re not exactly in the same situation as neither of us work in academia, I am getting a little antsy waiting for my boyfriend’s promotion possibilities. He has to take a test, pass, and then start searching/interviewing for positions in the areas we’ve targeted. I am really nervous to move without any work lined up, but I’ve heard it can be difficult to do long-distance job searches, as most people prefer to hire locally. My plan is to work on growing online income before moving, and work part-time once we move to see if the online income will develop into something sustainable.
    E.M. recently posted..The Benefits of Living in a Low Cost-of-Living Area

    1. Emily says:

      It is really difficult to wait on someone else to make decisions about your shared life! I’m a Meyers-Briggs “J” and Kyle is a “P” – the only M-B difference between us – and it really crops up in planning for the future. Kyle doesn’t seem to be bothered by this uncertainty to the degree I am. Your plan sounds similar to mine, except that I will start searching as soon as I know the city for sure (if it’s not San Diego), even if it is less effective than searching locally. I’m not cut out to be a freelancer!

      1. Leigh says:

        That’s funny – I am INTJ (sometimes on the edge of E/I) and I’m pretty sure my boyfriend is INTP 🙂 Your posts about Kyle sound so much like him! Especially the electronics “budget” 😉
        Leigh recently posted..My Goal Isn’t to Retire Early

        1. Emily says:

          I’m an INTJ too, with borderline I/E and N/S, so we + our SOs are just alike! I guess it’s not that surprising. 🙂

          1. Leigh says:

            The internet ate my reply 🙁 I’m also borderline N/S, though I was much more N when I was younger.

            I think that INTP and [I/E][N/S]TJ is a really good complement. It means that my boyfriend and I are likely to have similar ideas, but I’m more likely to express them (borderline E) and plan on them (J versus his P). It also means that he understands my (T) optimizations and plans, even though he would be much less likely to take those same actions. It also means that generally I’m more likely to come up with social ideas and he’s happy to do them, but that he’s not going to stop me from wanting to stay in for the evening. My S ideas, on the other hand, he just listens, haha 😀 I think we also have the same love language, which is really awesome.

            Oops, I should get off the computer!
            Leigh recently posted..My Goal Isn’t to Retire Early

          2. Emily says:

            Kyle has never taken a proper Meyers-Briggs test, but we did a mini one during premarital counseling. It was really eye-opening. I thought Kyle and I were so similar so it was a big surprise that we were J and P but it explained so much about what I found maddening about him. Before that experience, I thought he was just, like, wrong in how he didn’t like to plan or think about the future much. Finding out he is a P made me realize that he’s not wrong, just different… and that’s okay. Pretty silly of me, right?

            Most of the couples in premarital counseling were quite opposite in M-B and there’s a lot of “complementarian” teaching in our church, but I really like that Kyle and I are so similar. I mean, we’re not totally the same, but I think being very different would be more difficult than helpful, especially since I am so high-conflict.

            That is amazing that you have the same top or couple-top love languages. I’m jealous! Talk about a positive feedback loop.

  5. […] Solving Our Two-Body Problem in 30 Seconds was featured in the Carnival of Financial Planning. […]

  6. […] offered him a short-term postdoc in his lab, so he has had continuous employment.  Our original two-body solution was for Kyle to apply for top postdoc positions in his field in several cities while I […]

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