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Susanne Reffert | IPMU | Japan

View Blog | Read Bio

The Two-Body Problem

It seems that almost everyone of my colleagues is either single or in a long-distance relationship. Exceptions usually last only about two years. This is due to the international nature of our job, and the fact that for the first several years in a scientific career, we have to change country, often continent, every two to three years. More often than not, partners can’t just drop everything and tag along.
Personally, I have lived in long-distance relationships ever since I changed countries to start my PhD. Only the last one and a half years have been an exception.
My husband and I met in my office in Munich, and the three months we spent in the same office were the only time for the next three years that we spent at the same place. Unfortunately, we weren’t even together at this point, we were merely concentrating on finishing our respective theses. Then, a period of frequent flying followed. Luckily, we lived “only” 1000km apart and there are lots of low-cost airlines in Europe. For the next two years, we managed to meet every weekend. But this whole traveling business was rather tiring and not exactly what we imagined for our relationship. Even the first year of our marriage, we lived apart!
Still, we were among the lucky ones. Once, having lunch at a big table at a conference, we discovered that of all present, we actually had the shortest commute! Just can’t compete with Sweden to Boston. Also here at IPMU, many of our colleagues are far from their partners (even spouses), and sometimes the distance between them is closer to 10’000 km than to 1000.
That we now share again an office makes us the envy of many. And it is owing to a unique opportunity that presented itself to us: even though we both had one more year to go in our respective postdocs, we applied to join IPMU, which was just opening its doors and had as many as 20 open postdoc positions.
Whether we will manage to find also our next postdocs in the same place is unfortunately very unclear, given that we live in an economy where even finding a single position is not obvious…
Sadly, universities help with the placement of spouses often at best at the faculty level, and also there I see many cases where things don’t work out. Greater efforts in this direction would certainly benefit the ratio of females in academic positions who have children. Raising a child while working in a highly challenging and competitive research job seems daunting enough as it is. But with spouses living thousands of kilometers apart, it becomes a near-impossibility.

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