More and more universities in Germany are setting up Dual Career Offices to help the spouses of top researchers to find employment when the couples arrive at a new university. There are so many possibilities for dual career couples in academia and academics will be one of the first to provide an overview of the possibilites for dual career couples.
BY JUDITH JENNER
They make decisions jointly and both strive for successful careers - this is the challenging story of dual career couples. A new study has found that in almost half of all cases where offers of employment are turned down, poor career prospects for a partner are frequently cited as at least one of the reasons. As a result, increasing numbers of universities are setting up dual career offices to help the partners of top researchers find jobs.
Suparna Goswami and her husband Samarjit Chakraborty from Calcutta love their careers. Up until February they both lived in Singapore where he worked as an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore while she completed her PhD. Then Samarjit Chakraborty was offered a position the Technical University of Munich (TUM). For both of them it was clear that the new location would also have to offer career prospects for Suparna. "For this reason moving to a small town was out of the question", explains Suparna. Munich offers excellent career opportunities for both of them thanks to the first class university and the good network of companies. So in February, the pair, who are originally from Calcutta, India, moved to Munich. Figures estimate that some 30% of male scientists are romantically involved with a female colleague with this figure rising to 80% for female scientists.
During the appointment negotiations, the university offered Samarjit the services of its Munich Dual Career Office. The office has been managed by Kerstin Dübner-Gee since the start of 2008 and it seeks to "provide a highly personalised advisory service, particularly with regard to the competitive benefits of international recruitment". Dübner-Gee knows that "soft factors" such as providing support for partners in finding a job can help tip the scales in persuading a high calibre researcher to move to Munich. In the past five years the Munich Dual Career Office has provided 47 consultations, and 26 clients have found jobs. Support and guidance is still on-going for the others. So far in 2009 we have had 20 clients, five of whom have already found jobs.
But the picture is not so rosy for all universities, particularly those in structurally weak regions. Dübner-Gee estimates that there are 25 technical universities which offer a dual career service. While the majority only offer this service to top-level researchers, at places like the University of Konstanz it is also offered to mid-level scientists. In exceptional cases "start-up money" can be given to couples while a partner is looking for a job. "The aim, however, is always to achieve long-term employment relationships", explains Julika Funk from the Dual Career Couples office at the University of Konstanz.
Subtlety is always required at universities where a position at the same university is to be created for partners, and, at the end of the day, expertise must always remain the key deciding factor.
In the majority of cases Kerstin Dübner-Gee deals with the wives of top scientists, probably because she works at a technical university. Men accounted for just 14% of all consultations in the past year. Kerstin notes that men look for secure, long-term employment with the prospect of advancing their careers. She goes on to say that women, in contrast, easily adapt to situations once the decision has been made. She is convinced that the commitment to dual career couples will bring more female scientists to TUM.
In their efforts to find suitable jobs for partners, universities are now working with companies and neighbouring universities. Braunschweig Technical University uses the South-East Lower Saxony Dual Career Network to provide links with potential employers. At the Technical University of Munich a number of partnerships are in place with the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz Center in Munich, the German Aerospace Center in Munich, the Fraunhofer Association, Süd-Chemie AG, Infineon Technologies AG and Munich University. Kerstin Dübner-Gee used these contacts to help Suparna Goswami and forwarded her CV to various companies. Following a number of interviews at various companies, Suparna will probably work at TUM like her husband as she has been offered a postdoctoral position in the department for information management.
"In contrast to the typical misconception of Germans as being cold and distant, our reception here has been warm and very friendly", remarks Goswami. So far she has managed to develop informal private contacts. Leaving Singapore was not easy for her, not least because of its relative proximity to her native India.
Where accompanying partners also work in scientific disciplines, research grants can present job prospects that are mobile, provided a suitable facility can be found. The German Research Foundation (DFG) provides an independent research programme for postdoctoral researchers and another programme, the Heisenberg programme, which is for those who have qualified for professorships. The Humboldt Foundation supports the families of grant recipients although there is no specific dual career programme. A portion of the grant awarded to Alexander von Humboldt professors can, however, be used to create a position for an outstanding scientist's partner.
For Professor Chakraborty, his appointment as a full professor of real-time computer systems at the Technical University of Munich was a significant milestone in his career. Having gained his doctorate at ETH Zurich he has already gained experience of the European university system. "Research in the USA and in Singapore is more results-orientated than in Europe where there is much more academic freedom, for example, to pursue research where the results are open" he explains. So would he have come to Germany if his wife had chosen to stay in Singapore? "No" he says definitively. But he can imagine the day when he would follow his wife if she received an interesting job offer. And, if the services of a dual career centre were offered to him, he would gladly take advantage of them.
academics :: July 2009
BY JULIKA FUNK AND ELKE GRAMESPACHER
The phenomenon of dual career couples at higher education institutions has increased significantly in recent years. The extreme demands regarding timing flexibility and locational mobility, especially during the qualification phases, which often coincide with phases of starting a family, present both these couples and the higher education institutions with special challenges.
The biggest problems for dual career couples are organising childcare and time management. 56 percent of mothers and 47 percent of fathers are dissatisfied with their own work-life balance (Walther/Lukoschat, 2008). What can higher education institutions and scientific organisations do to support dual career couples in the academic system?
In a survey performed in 2002, the administrative offices of higher education institutions were questioned on the relevance of this issue in their appointment procedures (Rusconi/Solga): "Are the career perspectives of a candidate's partner discussed?" Approximately 27 percent claimed to do so very often or occasionally; 35.4 percent said they asked about it in some individual cases. Approximately 33 percent of the equal opportunities officers who also participated in the survey stated that they discussed the subject very often or occasionally; the same amount did so occasionally. These data were confirmed in a recent survey of administrative offices of German higher education institutions (Detmer/Meurs, 2008).
32 of 81 university administrative offices (approx. 40 percent) replied in the affirmative to the question "Does your higher education institution offer tangible support for dual career couples?" But the available support has so far been mostly unsystematic and dependent on the personal commitment of the university's administration or equal opportunities officers. There is however a fundamental need for regulated and transparent support for dual career couples; this support should be systematically and equally available to all employees of a higher education institution, confidential and able to draw on reliable networks.
Some higher education institutions have meanwhile begun to offer such regular services; they set up service centres that are often integrated into equal opportunities offices, welcome centres or recruitment teams, taking up the idea of supporting dual career couples that originated in the Anglo-American area.
According to a recent study on scientist couples at leading American research universities, recruitment of couples, so-called dual hiring, has increased significantly in the United States since 2000 (Henderson et al., 2008). 36 percent of respondents have partners who are themselves employed in academia; of these, 63 percent are even pursuing a career in the same field. Even in the USA however these figures still show a clear gender bias: primary importance is generally attributed to the man's career.
Something that was previously left to chance, often considered a disadvantage to women in appointment procedures (family ties or a relationship with a husband already established in academia) or solved by means of opaque structures can today be an advantage for the institution of academia.
The activities of a dual career service are based on networks and developing co-operations with industry and public service institutions. Collaborations between higher education institutions can be of particular significance here. The international network project "Supporting Dual Careers" operates on this basis. The network (currently) consists of seven higher education institutions (University of Constance, Eberhard-Karls University Tübingen, Zurich University, Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Constance University of Technology, Economics and Design, Ravensburg-Weingarten University of Applied Sciences and the Weingarten University of Education).
Each of these higher education institutions has a dual career couples service centre where partners of newly arrived scientists are advised primarily in career matters. The main advantage of this association is that several regionally close higher education institutions collaborate with each other - and that means that employment options for couples where both partners work in academia are increased.
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