UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 14 | Dec.
The Challenge for Partnered Professors
By Michelle Cook
From Marie and Pierre Curie to Masters and Johnson, some
of the worlds greatest research has been done by partners
whose professional and personal interests overlap. Yet it
can be difficult for academic pairs to find jobs in the same
field on one campus.
I feel sorry for academic couples who are married but
who dont have a job together, says Philosophy
Dept. head Mohan Matthen. Its very stressful and
difficult to arrange and it puts a strain on their lives.
Matthen and his wife, Philosophy professor Catherine Wilson,
were luckier than most. They were hired as a couple for their
current positions, which made their decision to come to UBC
in 1999 an easy one.
There are no statistics on the number of couples working
together at UBC, but the university encourages spousal appointments
as part of its Trek 2000 recruitment goals. Former Science
dean Maria Klawe says the faculty has been able to double
the number of female professors in the last four years mostly
due to hiring couples.
For other partners, the joint job search isnt as easy.
Professors Daniela Boccassini and Carlo Testa say it was a
fluke that they found two complementary positions in the Arts
Facultys Dept. of French, Italian and Hispanic Studies
in 1992. Before that the pair lived in California where Testa,
a modernist scholar, found work in his field and Boccassini
didnt, then in Edmonton, where Boccassini found work
in her field of medieval and Renaissance studies, but Testa
In Edmonton, we learned that institutions in general,
once theyve secured the services of one person, they
tend to take the support of the other more or less for granted,
so its not wise to go into that situation as a couple,
Still, the hiring climate for academic duos has vastly improved
over previous decades.
When well-known neuroscientists Patrick and Edith McGeer
arrived at UBC in 1954 after working together at Dupont, couples
were forbidden to work in the same faculty. While her husband
attended medical school, Edith, a trained chemist, began groundbreaking
research in the fields of neurochemistry and neuropharmacology
as a volunteer until the times and university
The McGeers, who are now professors emeritii, still work
at UBCs Neurological Sciences lab where they are searching
for a cure for Alzheimers disease. They say theyve
never let hiring policies stop their research.
We just did our thing, they say. We didnt
let it bother us.
Finding jobs on the same campus may become easier for the
next generation of academic couples, but Wilson and Matthen
still have their concerns.
Weve been noticing a trend in earlier marriages
among graduate students. Theyre on the job market together
and theyre very idealistic about finding a joint placement,
but getting a foot in the door as a couple is really tough,
Wilson says. Marriages often dont do well in that