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He’s not carrying me November 20, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, family, papers, research, writing.
Tags: , , , ,

(Image courtesy of the Wife Carrying World Championships.)

Way back in the dark ages (i.e. this summer before school started), GEARS and I were chatting (because he actually had time to breathe then).  The topic of me working with my husband came up, and he made a comment saying I should be careful not to publish too many papers with my husband because people will assume that he’s carrying me.  I said that was true, but the people who make that assumption are also likely to be the ones who assume I’m an idiot by virtue of my sex.  He conceded that was likely true, and then the conversation moved on to other things.

However, GEARS really does have a point.  This is particularly frustrating because of situations like the following:

About the same time that GEARS and I had this conversation, my husband asked me for help on a paper.  The paper was one written by The Minion and which Mike was a coauthor.  (I, however, am not.)  It had been submitted twice to a pretty good journal in engineering, and rejected both times.  He asked me to take a look at it.

After reading the paper and the reviewer comments, I suggested some major changes.  The problem was that the reviewer kept asking for comparison of The Minion’s widget to some other widgets, as well as a few other things that didn’t seem relevant to what they were doing.  I told them that while the paper was supposed to be about this new process The Minion used to improve and old widget to make a new one, the paper was written as though it was showing off a new widget.  If they could change things so that the paper was more about the process than the widget, than comparison to the other widgets would seem irrelevant as you already have comparisons between the old widget and the other widgets.  They really wanted to compare the old widget to the new widget to show that the process worked.

My husband rewrote the paper in line with my suggestions, checked with The Minion, and resubmitted.   I’d like to say the paper got accepted, but it didn’t.  On the other hand, the nature of the comments changed from assertions that the paper was useless to specific comments to improve the paper, all of which were easily addressed.  Once those changes were made, the paper was resubmitted and accepted.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the kind of thing that other people see.  People seem to think that when you’re not married to someone you collaborate as equals, but when you are, someone is pulling more of the weight.  I imagine that’s true in some cases, but certainly not all.  And in our situation, my husband gets as much help from me as I from him.

If he really wanted to carry me, we could always look at participating in the actual sport of wife carrying.  Apparently we’d only have to go to Wisconsin to compete.

Of course, I’m personally more interested in the husband carrying competition:


1. aaaaa - November 20, 2011

In my field, people usually tend to assume that the more senior member of the couple “carries” the junior one. For example, we have a husband-wife team where the wife is an assistant professor and the husband is a postdoc, and people tend to assume that she did all the work. For most couples though its the other way round.

In general for both men and women I think it is a good idea to write a lot of papers which are not with your husband or wife — at least until one reaches a certain level of seniority. After that nothing matters. :-)

mareserinitatis - November 23, 2011

This is part of the reason I opted to go somewhere else for my PhD and to do it in a different field. We both thought it was a good idea for me to show competence in something else, working with other people.

On the other hand, I still like collaborating with my husband more than anyone else, so it gets kind of hard. There are few other people who I can wake up at 3 a.m. and say, “I’ve figured it out!” :D

2. GEARS - November 23, 2011

I remember having said conversation but I don’t remember my exact response. But you do bring up a very valid point. People with the two-body problem (and I’m one-half of those) have this issue all the time. Depending on how closely related the two people’s field are, there can be substantial overlap or not a lot. In my case, it’s pretty substantial.

In practice, DrWife and I help each other on proofreading aspects and we discuss ideas between each other often. However, we haven’t published anything together (although we were going to do some work together in the near future). In our case, we don’t have the same last name, so unless you know both of us, it’s not that big of a deal.

But the idea of one spouse carrying another is a big deal. In many job interview cases, particularly at universities, “they” want partner A but have to take along partner B (or know that the candidate is not coming without some deal). That leaves partner B is a rough situation because they are either a “favor” to another department or they’re always seen as excess baggage. I don’t know if the answer is to hide the two body problem or come right out an say it. My experience has been the latter but it’s definitely an issue.

mareserinitatis - November 23, 2011

I have no idea. I know that our situation right now is very, very odd. My MS advisor was collaborating with CNSE, so I ended up working here for my MS. When I needed a summer job after my first year of PhD, my husband mentioned I needed something, and our supervisor said they had a lot of simulation work that needed to be done and most of the people who used to do that had graduated. So because I had worked here for my MS, they were happy to bring me on. Although I’m sure there are people who think I’m here because of my husband, I’m fairly certain my supervisor hired me on because of my skill set and has kept me on because of my contributions.

I have no idea how this will change once I’m done and looking for a TT position, though. It’s hard to imagine we’ll get this lucky twice.

GMP - November 23, 2011

Do you both want TT positions? Would they be in the same field?
I think it strongly depends on how well the two departments play at your target school. I heard of a recently solved two-body problem of a colleague whose wife was a postdoc when he started on the TT, then the department where she postdocked was going to hire her as TT but some people were territorial and wouldn’t allow it; she went and got a TT and received a fast-track tenure at another university, having established an extremely strong record. During the entire time they have had two kids and a hard part-time long-distance marriage. Finally, his home department worked it out with a third, friendly department to give her a tenured position (she works in a very interdisciplinary field) so the family is finally put. I actually think she’s better than her husband.
So things can work out.

mareserinitatis - November 25, 2011

He doesn’t want a TT position. He likes doing research, but he’s not so sure about the teaching. And he really don’t want to get involved in the tenure rat race…he said it’s bad enough in industry. :-) The position he’s at right now is strictly research, and he really likes it. However, not too many places I know of where they have positions like that.

3. The Little Woman | FCIWYPSC - July 23, 2013

[…] discussed both the drawbacks (and here) and benefits of working with my husband before.  Today, however, I’m feeling like […]


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