The Job Hunt: Move With My Spouse or Chase a Paper?

Dear Dora: Job hunting with spouseDear Dora,

I’m a third year postdoc with no first author papers, although we’ll be submitting a manuscript in the next year. My husband was just offered a position in another city and now I’m faced with the decision to move and change labs or try to stay and deal with the distance. How bad does a three year postdoc with no papers look on a CV? Any advice?

– Katelyn – Postdoc

Dear Katelyn,

You are facing a tough decision in a tough economy. It is understandable that you are concerned about your CV lacking first-author papers. If you are looking for an academic position then you probably need to tough it out with a long-distance relationship until your publication is submitted.

In industry, most employers look for specific skills that you would bring to their group. If you are just the person they are looking for, they might be more understanding about not publishing, especially if you have good references. I suggest looking for a position in the area where your husband is employed, even if you decide to wait with the move. Employers take 3-6 months to fill a PhD level position. So, if an opening were to arise, it could take so long for them to interview you and offer you the position that you might have enough time to finish your publication.

I also recommend talking to your supervisor about a plan for your manuscript. Before making this tough choice (long-distance relationship vs. no paper) it is a good idea to clarify authorship (who will be first), and what needs to be completed before you can submit it.  This way, you can plan your research so you can complete your paper as soon as possible. Some supervisors will allow you to work long-distance, especially if you are just writing or doing calculations. Unless you think that completing the paper would translate into a lengthy long-distance relationship, my suggestion is to think about creative ways to complete your project, or at least a significant portion of it, so you will be acknowledged as one of the authors.

As you probably know, the dual-career problem is one faced by many professionals particularly in academia. There are excellent articles on,, and also on the Carleton College website.


Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to [email protected] and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!


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3 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. zach

    wrote on January 13, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Unless your spouse is a scientist, they might have a very hard time understanding that you value the *chance* of publishing a paper more than being with them. My advice would be, if you're close to submitting a manuscript, set a hard deadline (buy the plane ticket!) of an extra month or two and work like a madman to finish everything in time. An open-ended "stay-behind" usually doesn't end well.

  2. Kate Travis

    wrote on January 20, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Hi Dora – Nice answer, and an important (and common) topic. If I may be so bold, we've covered this issue on Science Careers as well. Here's an entire collection of articles on the two-body problem:…. More recently, we published an essay by a dual-scientist couple:… and I interviewed a couple that shares a lab:…. I hope those are of interest to you and your readers. -kate

  3. How Many Fellowship Applications is Too Many? | BenchFly Blog

    wrote on February 4, 2011 at 5:37 am

    […] The Job Hunt: Move with My Spouse or Chase a Paper […]

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