I often read the Chronicle of Higher Education’s career section, soaking it all in as a way of gathering more information about my chosen career path and the culture of academia. I think I’ve really learned a lot since I made this a part of my day. In particular I enjoy the Balancing Act pieces, which are about the work-life balance.
Today I read an article about having a nonacademic spouse, and ways in which stress on the career path can suffer from miscommunication in such a relationship. The article, by David Perlmutter, is called “Is your spouse hurting your career?” I can’t help but think that this article really has very little to do with academia and very much to do with the importance of communication in a marriage. For me, Husband is not an academic, but reading this article seemed totally useless, as I cannot even imagine Husband making the assumptions or comments discussed in this article, because we talk all the time about our career paths, and I share with him as I learn about the nature of academia and the pros and cons of a professorial career. This part really blew me away:
But an academic career involves only two key promotions, the first of which — tenure — is literally make or break. If you are denied tenure, you have virtually no chance of getting another position at the same university. Yet I have heard nonacademic spouses tell their partners: “I meet deadlines all the time; tenure is just a bigger one, right?” Or, “Too bad you didn’t get tenure. But you can always try again next year.”
I mean, is it really possible that the author hears this all the time? Going through the tenure process and receiving or being denied tenure is such a huge part of an academic’s career. If a non-academic spouse of a professor really doesn’t know that you can’t try again next year, it seems to me that the marriage would be one with some pretty serious issues. Your spouse should be your partner, supporting and helping you in all that you do. Maybe not all spouses share as much as Husband and I, but there should be some level of understanding and support that helps each spouse grow in their career, at least if they are attempting to manage career and family life together. Not only that, but often when an academic is denied tenure it means they may be looking to move for a job at a different school, and in the least it often means they are out of a job. No matter what career a person is in, wouldn’t they discuss these concerns with their spouse?