What resources are available to help student-partners find employment?

Date: December 2019


Hi Grad School Deans,

I am about halfway through my Ph.D. and my partner recently moved across the country to be with me. He has been here for four months and has not been able to find a job. I have tried to leverage any personal connections I have here at Cornell to help him get a job, but I don’t have many. His unemployment is really beginning to weigh on his mental health which also weighs on me. It is making it harder for me to focus on my Ph.D. and I fear that if this continues much longer we may have to consider the possibility of me leaving with my master’s so we can move somewhere where he can find a job and be happier so we can both be happier.

I don’t think I am the only person in such a situation. The “two body problem” as it is called has a huge impact on mental health and on employee/graduate student retention and I really hope Cornell is doing something to address this that I am currently unaware of.

My question is: What resources are available for partners of graduate students to find employment?

Thank you,

Concerned Student-Partner Looking for Employment


Dear Concerned Student-Partner Looking for Employment,

Thank you so much for writing! While I am happy to hear that your partner has joined you here in Ithaca, I am sorry to learn that finding employment for your partner has proved to be difficult over the past four months. As the Students with Families Advisory Committee Chair, I talk with many graduate student couples who share the same concern you bring up – the need to have a partner find some engagement in the Ithaca or surrounding communities that is meaningful (often in the form of employment). The “two-body problem” is common, especially in a small community like Ithaca. The reasons you named (mental health, retention issues) are why the Students with Families Advisory Committee tackled this very issue as we hear that finding a job is number one concern for spouses/partners of our graduate students. I want to highlight what we have available and to encourage you and your partner to participate in these resources/events.

The Students with Families website is a good place to visit to answer your questions. Developed by the Students with Families Advisory Committee, the website consolidates information and resources for spouses, partners, and families of Cornell students. Here are the items listed under employment that your partner should check out. 

  • Tompkins Workforce New York provides a convenient, one-stop shopping approach for accessing employment-related services for businesses, workers, and jobseekers in Tompkins County. The full-service Workforce New York Career Center is located in downtown Ithaca in Center Ithaca on The Commons. The center provides an open, friendly, and professional atmosphere with trained staff ready to assist jobseekers. Our student partners frequently meet with the Tompkins Workforce staff to:
    • identify goals and objectives for work,
    • gain self-knowledge,
    • review cover letters and resumes,
    • practice interviewing,
    • learn about professional development opportunities,
    • take part in networking events, and
    • gain understanding about the local landscape of employment possibilities in Tompkins County and the surrounding area.
    • Our partnership with Tompkins Workforce is strong, with repeated positive feedback from our spouses and partners. At any time, you can reach out to Tompkins Workforce by contacting (607) 272-7570 or visiting their website. (I would be happy to link you with my colleague there if that is helpful).
  • Cornell University is one of the major employers in the area and many spouses and partners find employment here. Job postings for Cornell can be found on the Cornell HR careers page.Our newest initiative that we have successfully piloted over the past three years is what we call the “Information and Network Session with Cornell Human Resources.” In essence this is a job fair for Cornell HR hiring units to meet with spouses/partners of the Cornell community who are interested in employment. We bring Tompkins Workforce to this event as well. It tends to be well-received. The session was on Thursday, October 17 and we do this every Fall semester. I do hope that your partner attended the event. If not, I am happy to provide you with more information about the session.
  • Sign up for the Student Spouse/Partner Employment E-List. This e-list is designed for student spouse/partners seeking employment in the Ithaca area.  As positions become available, job announcements are emailed to e-list members. In addition, any employment workshops/services open to student spouses and partners are shared through this list.
  • Facebook: Provides up-to-date information with students spouses/partners about employment opportunities in the area (along with events/activities for kids).

Finally, know that I would be happy to meet with you (or your partner) and discuss this further. We recognize this can be a challenging situation, but hope that these resources can provide some additional structure and direction as he continues to find his own path. I’ll also offer that we can meet to talk about creative ways for you to continue with your Cornell scholarship, even if you decide to leave the Ithaca area. While it is really dependent on your research, mentor, funding, etc., I have seen some creative strategies to keep couples together through graduate school.

All the best,


Janna Lamey
Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life