How do I approach the “2-body problem”?

Some students applying to graduate school have a significant other that they are considering when making the decision about where to go. This is often unfortunately referred to as the “2 body problem”. These students can get contrasting advice about how much to consider this person and if they should tell admissions committee about their significant other. What is the right thing to do?

STUDENTS

Did you have a “2 body problem”?

I was dating a girl going to school in Massachusetts at the time and living in Maryland. It was decision between distance and longer distance.
-Chris Hofmann

Yes
-Cara Schornak

I did, I was engaged going into the application process so my wife needed to be able to find work in Nashville
-Teddy van Opstal

 

Did you ask others for advice about how to approach this conversation? If so, who did you ask and what was the advice?

I did ask for advice and got varying advice. Some people said distance doesn’t matter and some people said it is an important time to concentrate on yourself. Overall the advice was do whatever you think is best for you.
-Chris Hofmann

I asked my good friend who was a graduate student at another university for advice. He told me not to mention my significant other until after I had received acceptance at a university. If my boyfriend did not get accepted at that university as well, then I could ask the admissions office if they had any tips or suggestions for the two of us.
-Cara Schornak

My wife and I had a serious discussion about what cities and school would allow her to also pursue her interested as well as mine. I only applied to schools that I know would have allowed her to work in her field. You can talk to others about it, but really this conversation is only necessary between you and your significant other at the time of application process.
-Teddy van Opstal

 

Did you tell any admissions committees about your significant other?

Yes and no
-Chris Hofmann

In a way
-Cara Schornak

At the time that I was accepted for interviews for graduate programs, it wasn’t necessary to bring up my significant other since these schools would work for both of us.
-Teddy van Opstal

 

If so, when did you bring this up?

I mentioned it during a faculty interview or two but I did not feel the need to specifically bring this up.
-Chris Hofmann

My boyfriend came with me to my Vanderbilt interview weekend. During the dinner hosted by Roger Chalkley, I introduced my boyfriend to Roger, and over the course of the conversation, we revealed that he had not been invited to interview at Vanderbilt. Even though I hadn’t planned to do that, I think the timing was perfect to talk about it.
-Cara Schornak

N/A
-Teddy van Opstal

 

What was their response?

They did not seem to mind.
-Chris Hofmann

Without any prompting from us, Roger offered to ask around for faculty who were in need of a research assistant if I was indeed accepted to Vanderbilt.
-Cara Schornak

N/A
-Teddy van Opstal

 

Now that you are on this side of things, do you have advice for the best way to approach this conversation?

As far as a conversation with faculty, I don’t believe this conversation needs to exist unless you are with child or want to ask about healthcare or something like that. As far as talking to your significant other, the best thing to do is be honest. Grad school is a time for you to grow as a person and as a scientist and that requires 150% of your time and energy. If they are going to move for you it will be hard and distance will be even harder. Be honest about what both of you want and need out of a relationship.
-Chris Hofmann

After I accepted my admission to Vanderbilt, my boyfriend found a research assistant position with a new faculty member through Roger’s connections. My boyfriend really likes the research in that lab, so everything worked out well for us. I would advise others to wait for an opportune time to bring up the subject. Your initial application to a graduate school is probably not that time. The opportune time depends on your unique situation. My boyfriend applied to Vanderbilt but wasn’t offered an interview. If he had been offered an interview as well, we might have approached the situation differently. Maybe we would have waited until after we had both heard our acceptance decisions. Overall, I think the best time to approach this conversation is when you spot a good opportunity to bring it up while still being tactful.
-Cara Schornak

I think this conversation is a must before even submitting applications if you’re in a serious relationship. The later you wait, the harder it’ll be to reach a compromise between your career goals.
-Teddy van Opstal

 

FACULTY

Should prospective students bring up a significant other during the application process?

YES
-Dr. Jim Patton

No/ It depends
-Dr. Christine Konradi

YES
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou

 

If so, when is it appropriate to discuss this?

During the interview
-Dr. Jim Patton

If the significant other needs a job at Vanderbilt, then the applicant should talk about options with a faculty member of the BRET. This does not need to be brought up with the faculty interviewers, unless the applicant chooses to. If the significant other wants to go to graduate school at Vanderbilt and has already applied but not been invited, the BRET should be informed before the visit and Dr. Beth Bowman might decide to bring the application in front of the committee, which can look at the application and decide to invite one or both applicants.
-Dr. Christine Konradi

After acceptance
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou

 

Do you consider students who have a significant other differently from those that don’t, and why?

No, we try to accommodate
-Dr. Jim Patton

There is no difference in consideration, unless the significant other wants to go to graduate school at Vanderbilt as well. Under these circumstances, the BRET can decide to bring both applications in front of the committee. Generally, the committee will be told about the situation and the issue will be discussed under consideration of the special circumstances. The initially chosen applicant will be invited independent of the qualifications of the spouse, so the only difference is that the significant other’s prospects might get better in that situation.
-Dr. Christine Konradi

No. We constantly strive to balance work and life and this is an excellent example. I do not consider those students differently, simply because of their family situation. That in my opinion would be discrimination.
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou

 

Do you have any advice you’d like to give to students who have this extra consideration?

Good luck!
-Dr. Jim Patton

If the significant other has not applied to Vanderbilt, I do not think that this should enter our considerations, other than trying to help the significant other to find a job or to address schools and family life in Nashville. If both apply to graduate school and one gets in, it will be up to them to decide what to do.
-Dr. Christine Konradi

I would recommend to go to each interview/application process with one goal in mind: To assess whether the environment is right for their education. During the interview, your goal should be to determine whether this is a place you want to do research/obtain education at. Once you have made those decisions, and you are at the acceptance level, then, you can discuss what possibilities there are for your spouse. Then, you can choose among the institutions who will help accommodate your family.
-Dr. Maria Hadjifrangiskou

 

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