Durham, NC - Emily Bernhardt and Justin Wright met as graduate students at Cornell. A year ahead of him, she was going to Chile for six weeks to do field work. "My adviser insisted I take a man for safety reasons," Bernhardt said. "Justin wanted to see Tierra del Fuego and came as an unpaid laborer. Because of some problems with local universities, I didn't get a lot of data, but I did come back with a future partner."
Now both have tenure-track positions in the Duke Department of Biology. Finding a joint position at the same institution wasn't easy.
Wright did postdoctoral work at the University of Washington, Bernhardt at the University of Maryland. "The decision we'd faced was whether to work hard to find postdocs in the same place, where one of us might be doing what he or she wanted and the other might be settling, or to go after the best postdocs possible," Wright said. "So we were on opposite coasts for a year and a half. Then my postdoctoral adviser moved to Columbia in New York City, so we were a little bit closer, but still at different institutions."
That changed when both came to Duke in 2004. Bernhardt, who studies the effects of urbanization on stream and river ecosystems, was appointed an assistant professor at the same time that Wright, who is interested in patterns of biodiversity, was hired as an assistant research professor, a non-tenure-track appointment. In spring 2007, he was appointed an assistant professor.
"We took a risk coming to Duke," Bernhardt said. "I had multiple job offers, one of them that included two tenure-track positions for us in another department. We like this department a lot better and thought it would be better for us professionally to take the gamble. Although it wasn't clear at first that it was going to work out, Duke did a really nice job in accommodating us."
The biologists have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter and are expecting another child in December. How do they manage? "One of the advantages of being a dual-career academic couple," Bernhardt said, "is that we both have exactly the same career needs, and each of us understands what the other needs to accomplish to move forward. So we're also good at splitting cooking, cleaning, and childcare."
Wright: "I drop our daughter off."
Bernhardt: "I pick her up. He cooks breakfast, I cook supper."
Wright: "Or I cook supper, and she cooks breakfast -- so we can't even get into arguments over which meal is easier to cook."
A recent opinion column on dual-career couples in the Journal of Higher Education by the pseudonymous chair of the English department at "a southern university" contained this "gratuitous but time-tested advice:" "...if you are a graduate student, don't marry or become attached to someone in your field."
Bernhardt's reaction: "We both go to the Ecological Society of America meetings and have our daughter in daycare there and so many of our peers are academic couples with kids. A woman with a Ph.D. is much more likely to marry a Ph.D. with common interests and common experience than someone she meets at random. For one thing, he's less likely to be threatened."
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