[Computational Complexity] The Two-Body Problem
Many professional couples can have problems finding jobs in the same city, but for academics the problem magnifies. Even big cities will have only a small number of computer science faculty positions in major research universities and so try to imagine finding two such jobs. This quandary has a name that started as a joke, but no one laughs at trying to solve their Two-Body Problem.
Finding two open positions in the same department and often in the same area (like theory) can be particularly challenging as departments have a limited number of positions available each year. Still a department can often obtain one or two faculty members they might usually lose to a stronger school by going out of the way to solve a two-body problem.
Two-body problems become even more difficult when one member of the couple is considerably stronger than the other, or they are at different stages of their academic careers. In the latter case the older one might have a tenure-track position and then have to go on the job market again to solve their two-body problem. Even if they eventually do land tenure-track jobs at the same department, they will come up for tenure in different years adding more instability.
How about two academics in different fields? Some universities will go out of their way to accommodate such couples, with a dean or provost encouraging one department to hire in order to help strengthen the other department. Many other universities won't try as hard.
Finally are the couples with one academic and a non-academic professional that also has limited geographical jobs opportunities. Here a university can't help at all, one just needs to get lucky.
By US law, one cannot ask a candidate about the two-body problem when they interview, and if they don't mention it one cannot take it into consideration during the hiring process. Nevertheless you should tell the department about your situation. Universities often have ways of solving two-body problems and letting them know about it ahead of time will give them more time to make the right opportunities available.
In the end most two-body problems do get solved, though not always at the place as good as where they might have received a position on their own.
Posted by Lance to Computational Complexity at 6/19/2006 06:03:00 AM