I’m also a doctoral candidate. We got married on June 23, and on July 31, I went to China to do my dissertation fieldwork while my husband is now in Boston. We are right now on opposite sides of the world, getting ready for our nightly skype date, and we will be until April. I guess I’ll offer our gameplan, and then any advice I can offer.
My husband is a doctor, but is going to school now to get his MPH, which he only wanted to get in Boston (that makes perfect sense). No matter what, I would have had to do my fieldwork in China this year, and I was offered a prestigious grant to leave in July, so I decided to get my fieldwork done quickly and get it out of the way (rather than chill for a few months in the states with him before leaving).
After that, I think I am going to have to put my own career preferences on the back burner for awhile. DH will start his residency next year, and while it would be an advantage for me to stay at my home university, I can actually write my dissertation anywhere. I would be giving up opportunities, but not requirements to graduate. We decided this because he does not get much choice in where he is placed for a medical residency, especially as a foreign medical school graduate, and I decided that being with him was more important than getting to write my dissertation at my university rather than by satellite. I will be giving up workshops, teaching opportunities, etc., but I decided that it was worth it.
Even more so, once he is done with his residency, he will most likely have to find a job wherever I do. Jobs for Ph.D.s in the humanities are few and far between, and I will have to go wherever I am offered a tenure track position (most in my program get offered a job, but usually not more than one in the US). He, on the other hand, can be a doctor just about anywhere.
I went through all this to say that, when you have two high-powered people in a relationship, you either end up making major sacrifices or spending time apart, or a combination of both. We both decided that this last 8 months apart would be the end of our time apart; we had done long distance for YEARS and we were sick and tired of it. He decided not to stay in China while I did my fieldwork because he was tired of waiting for his career to start, sort of wasting time in Hong Kong until he could get to the US and begin his career path there, which I supported (even though it’s ironic we switched places). Yet I am ok with writing my dissertation away from my home university, and he is ok with perhaps not taking the best job in order to be wherever I can find a tenure-track position (or heaven forbid living in a small town, something a dude from HK has trouble with).
I think you need to have a serious talk with your DH about how long you guys can handle being apart. How was the 6 months in Sudan? Could you handle that type of distance? That’s how DH and I really had a sense of how long we could handle our distance, and it’s how I planned my fieldwork (we decided 8-10 months was about our limit this time around). You also need to have a longer gameplan. How will you guys decide, once you finish your Ph.D., whose career would come first? That’s a REALLY hard decision to make, but it’s something I think is best to discuss. DH and I both have bottom lines in what sorts of jobs we will accept, and what sorts of sacrifices we are willing to make, and we BOTH realized we would need to lower our expectations in the kinds of career we would be ok accepting if we want to make sure we are never apart for a long period of time again. We’ve done it, and honestly, we’re over it.
BTW, preaching to the choir on not considering Ph.D. a real job. It’s taken a LOT to make DH realize what my job entails. The fact that he went back to school to do a masters is helping the case a little. Also, he was around when I was studying for quals and when I was teaching a college class, that helped too.