I have about one month of “maternity leave” left and it is seriously cracking me up.
Figure 1: Last night I noted to the family that trying to catch a picture of a baby smiling is like trying to catch a fart in a butterfly net. These little toothless grins are one of the best parts of my day.
I place “maternity leave” in scare quotes because my post-partum experience has been less “maternity leave” and more “maternity leave but might show up when you least expect it”. This week I agreed to come in on Thursday to perform a procedure for someone and a friend is going to stay with Tiny Diva. Friday I’ll show up for weekly meeting with Tiny Diva in tow. Tiny Diva has proven a hilarious addition to our weekly lab meeting as folks try to decide who gets to hold her during the meeting. I think the group finds her calming, as I seem to say fewer bad words when she’s there. This experience has made me very thankful that I chose a place that has been supportive of my reproduction.
But, more on that later. For now, I have a letter from one of you hilarious little muffins…
Dear Dr. Isis,
You are a goddess worthy of your title, and your blog is a goddess-send to all of us lowly muffins laboring away in academia without a decent pair of shoes (have you seen the wages they pay us peons?).
Here is my question: I met my significant other when I was a graduate student and he was a postdoc. He is now an assistant professor and I am weeks away from defending and about to start a postdoc of my own. We have some terribly clever ideas for blowing the collective minds of the [chosen field of science] world, and we are so excited to collaborate on a more formal level than just tossing ideas around at the dinner table. My question: are there ethically tricky things I haven’t considered related to our desire to apply for grants as co-PIs? I am pretty sure academic couples who collaborate exist, but I am not sure if special rules apply to them that wouldn’t be necessary to consider were we “just friends.” I can see that if one of us applied for a grant that included a tech or postdoc, hiring the other would be…odd. But if we apply as co-PIs and we’re upfront about how we will each contribute to the research, is there anything strange about the fact that we’re also (soon to be) husband and wife?
Thank you for considering my question – I’m just
–Trying to Do Awesome (and simultaneously ethical) Science
I should point out that there is, in fact, an ethicist somewhere in the blogosphere. Not that my lack of formal ethics training (other than those little online courses) is going to stop me from answering this question. But, I should also disclose that I have never coauthored a scientific document with a person whose penis I am formally acquainted with. Not that I don’t think this would be fun. I’ll also confess that I think it would be totally hot to look at my data and have sex at the same time.
And now you know something else about me that you can never un-know. But, I digress.
If you apply for a grant or write a paper, do you have to disclose that you are coauthor with the person whose shoulders regularly host your feet? I’ve never seen an application with such a question. Financial disclosures? Yes. Intimate disclosures? No. And, as I have progressed in my career and have learned things about some of the relationships in my field, I am thankful for that. I don’t want to know anything more about who knows what about whose physiology.
I’ve known several married couples over my career that have collaborated – both reproductively and scientifically. When I was an undergraduate, I worked for a woman whose husband had the lab next door. She was brought to the university and he followed as a spousal hire. They each have their own research interests, but they occasionally collaborate too. They have different last names, but it’s generally known in that field that they are married.
I now have faculty-level friends/collaborators who are married, have the same last name, and routinely publish together. They go to meetings together. They also work in the same space, which sounds like the 7th circle of hell to me. Part of the reason I go to work is get away from my family. In this relationship, she was hired and he followed as a spousal hire. But, even though they share some space, their main research addresses different questions.
One of the most senior scientists in my field collaborates with his wife all the time and they share lab space within the same collaborative institute. They have the same faculty rank, although I think he is generally more well-known than she is.
I think that, in science, fields are small and people generally know who is married to who. I also think that, in an environment where we dedicate so much of our time to our careers, people are bound to fall in love, get married, have children, start to hate each other, get divorced. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
I don’t think that this is anything special that needs to be disclosed, with a few exceptions. If this reader were eventually hired as faculty, I doubt her husband would be asked to be on her tenure committee. My university is also generally unhappy about people hiring family members to work in a position subordinate to them – like a man hiring his wife as his postdoc. If this reader were asked to review her husband’s grant or one of his manuscripts, she should state that she has a conflict of interest and decline.
I’d also caution this reader to be cautious about forming too many collaborations with him early on. To use her postdoc time to form her own independent ideas and then build an independent research direction. In each of the cases where I have seen spousal collaborations be successful – meaning that the female partner has been successful and is respected in her own right – each partner has had their own independent research program where they have developed tools and hypotheses that are not replicated in their partner’s lab. The collaborations have blended their expertise instead of replicating it. I think that’s important.
There’s also a fine line between the right number of hilarious collaborations and too many. The risk is that if this couple forms too many close collaborations too quickly, this reader will start to be seen as subordinate to her husband. It’s cute to have collaborations until you realize that your partner is receiving the invitations to give talks, etc for the work you’re doing together.