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The importance of helping mobile partners find a job

The international mobility of academics has increased over the last few decades, especially among PhD students and post-docs. In response a growing number of European universities are developing and implementing dual career services to attract and retain international researchers who move abroad with their family.

These researchers are often joined by a partner who resigns from a permanent position at home. In most cases the partner works in academia and is typically a woman who accompanies her male partner even though both partners often have equivalent research qualifications.

On many occasions, if a researcher returns home sooner than expected, it is because the partner is not able to find suitable employment in the new country.

A possible key to retaining high-profile researchers is to focus on providing the right tools and guidance in order to assist the accompanying partner in their job search and in creating a professional network. EURAXESS and the University of Copenhagen have developed and implemented dual career initiatives that have already helped several of these partners to continue their career abroad.

European dual career initiatives

EURAXESS – a Pan-European initiative delivering information and support services to professional researchers – is increasingly advancing its knowledge on dual career services. Several European universities actively working with dual career services are sharing experiences and developing tools to make these services available for other institutions. In 2012, a two-year project, TANDEM, was launched with team members from five different European academic institutions.

The main aim of the TANDEM project was to analyse the mobility obstacles for researchers and their family members and to show various strategic and institutional ways of minimising them.

More than 3,000 doctoral and post-doctoral students answered a survey, which showed that between 40% and 60% of respondents moved abroad with a partner. The project analysed the basic requirements for a successful implementation of dual career and integration services and developed a modular approach that can be adopted by any academic institution interested in providing dual career services.

The survey outcomes show that researchers with partners ranked dual career and housing as the most important aspects in the mobility process. Moreover, they indicated that the existence of dual career services would influence their final decision if they got several job offers.

Additionally, researchers stated that there is a general lack of useful dual career and integration services available across Europe.

In order to address this issue, a new three-year EURAXESS project (TOP III) started in 2015, where participants from six European countries, all actively involved in dual career programmes, are working on the collection and analysis of dual career practices in their respective countries. The end result will be a collection of beneficial dual career practices and recommendations on how to implement these services.

Dual career services

The University of Copenhagen, acting as leader of the EURAXESS TOP III project, is one of the European pioneers in offering dual career services to its international scientific staff, from PhD students upwards. In 2012, International Staff Mobility, a specialised department under the central HR organisation of the university, initiated the Dual Career – Spouse Network*.

This network assists accompanying partners by providing professional and personal network opportunities and guidance in job search in Denmark through personal coaching and workshops.

The monthly organised Spouse Lunches are focused on giving tips on career-related topics and cultural aspects about Denmark. Each month’s theme is conceptualised based on input from guest speakers, recruiters and partners from different parts of the world. Social events, specific events for children, excursions and a monthly newsletter are also on offer.

More than 400 registered active partners are part of this free programme, where 90% are women and 75% are looking for jobs. Each year approximately 100 1:1 job coaching sessions are held. Partners are encouraged to actively organise and participate in the events. This has resulted in them setting up their own job search group.

To give partners the opportunity to meet company representatives and to do job-related voluntary work, the University of Copenhagen decided to set up a subsidiary of the International Dual Career Network or IDCN in Copenhagen. The activities of IDCN are focused on career events hosted by corporate members from various sectors.

These activities are noticeably improving the situation of many spouses. Evaluations of the Dual Career – Spouse Network show that participants received the necessary training, information and networking which eventually resulted in a job. Partners stated that being part of the network has made them happier about their stay in Copenhagen and that they are planning to stay longer.

In Denmark, where living expenses are among the highest in Europe, it is crucial that both partners work. This makes dual career services even more important.

Ewa, a Polish social worker and accompanying spouse of a researcher at the University of Copenhagen, explains how she benefitted from being part of the Dual Career – Spouse Network: “The team heading dual career services at University of Copenhagen took turns in supporting me while gently challenging and pushing me forward. They wear many hats: therapists, coaches, motivational speakers, managers, teachers and they use them interchangeably. I felt that they both understood practically and not just theoretically what it means to move from one country to another.”

She said their sessions were personal and they “saw me as a unique individual and not just part of the course they run. Their input really made me regain my confidence and find a job!”

Dual career is without doubt an important human resource service. It may not immediately change the gender balance so that more male researchers follow their female partners abroad, but it definitely helps the accompanying partner to have more chances to explore and pursue a career in a new country.

Therefore, it is crucial that dual career and integration services become an accepted and standard offer for university employees and that accompanying partners get intensive and personalised career guidance. Dual career could also offer new opportunities to more male researchers so they can join their female partners and continue their research career in another country.

* Spouse is defined as a person who is accompanying a foreign researcher working at the University of Copenhagen, whether married or not.

Mark de Vos is senior international mobility consultant at the University of Copenhagen. He is speaking on the findings of the EURAXESS projects and University of Copenhagen work on the benefits of dual career services for women working in academia or beyond at the Society for Research into Higher Education event on "Gendering Academic Mobility: International perspectives" at the University of Warwick, United Kingdom, on 8 March.
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