University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Of 26 spouses, only two were men. He was one of them

Ricardo Mota now has a job as an engineer after following his wife to Copenhagen for her academic career.

He was one of two men at a meeting for spouses at the International Dual Career Network in Copenhagen.

Now Ricardo Mota (39), originally from Portugal, has just landed a job in his own specialty field. He is an engineer in the field of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning – an ‘HVAC’ engineer’ for those in the know – at a company that works on ships, based in Copenhagen.

Partner to an academic

What is it like being a partner to an international academic that moves to Copenhagen? In this series of articles, the University Post looks at how spouses and couples manage a career with, or without, their global scientist partners.

Other articles in this series include:

‘New country, new identity for partners of academics’
Second time in Copenhagen after hardship and compromise
Difficult conversation coming up for long distance couple
Careers split apart, but marriage held
Career abroad or family, that was the question

He has been in Copenhagen for over a year now, as man-at-home for his wife Ana and their two kids. Ana is doing her postdoctoral work as a microbiologist at the University of Copenhagen.

READ ALSO: New country, new identity for partners of academics

Ricardo Mota has been spending his year in Copenhagen looking for a job, but with only limited success until a few weeks ago:

»I sent 42 applications,« he says, smiling and joking as we sit down at the café to talk about his story. »I got to a total of three interviews. And one ‘coffee meeting’« he says.

»But then I ended up getting a job without even having to send a cover letter«.

More about that later.

Never considered an academic career

Ricardo Mota and Ana’s story goes way back, and they knew each other as teenagers. They started dating when were both 27 years old in their native city of Lisbon.

I am almost at PhD level in my knowledge of microbiology, just from listening to my wife … and as for Ana, she knows an awful lot about heating!

Ricardo Mota

They were not your typical couple: He had always wanted to put his engineering knowledge and skills to practical use, while she focused on her academic career as a microbiologist.

Ricardo Mota sums it up: »I like to build things and see them working, « he says, contrasting it with academia: »and I like to be able to say ‘we built this. And now it is finished!’«

»I have never considered an academic career. You have to love your subject, and you don’t choose to be a researcher as a job to support yourself. Academics are always looking for fellowships and grants, and the researcher lifestyle is not my thing,« he says.

READ ALSO: Second time in Copenhagen after hardship and compromise

Ricardo Mota started working to support himself when he was 18, and he never looked back, working his way through university and getting his first engineering-related job as soon as he had the degree for it.

Now, he says, their differing career trajectories make for interesting conversations at home.

»I am almost at PhD level in my knowledge of microbiology, just from listening to my wife,« he laughs, »and as for Ana, she knows an awful lot about heating!«

42 applications, three interviews

It was he that pushed the idea that they should go abroad.

»In Portugal you don’t get recognized for your skills as a researcher. So when Ana got a Marie Curie fellowship, we moved to Copenhagen. I thought it would be easy for me to find a job, as I had always heard that there were a lot of jobs for engineers. Now I know it is not easy. And it is not easy for Danes either.«

I think it had more to do with the competition. I was just applying to jobs where the number of applicants was very high.

Ricardo Mota

Ricardo Mota almost landed a job in Jutland. His employer even told him he was perfect for the job. But the long commute from Copenhagen would not be sustainable, and the employer knew it.

READ ALSO: Career abroad or family, that was the question 

»At one point Ana and I decided we would put an endpoint on my job search. I should try for one more year. If I didn’t have a job then, we would return to Portugal,« he says.

Ricardo Mota has a network back home in Portugal, and before they moved to Copenhagen he had been offered engineering opportunities in Mozambique, Angola and the United Arab Emirates. But these were opportunities that neither fit Ana’s academic career, nor where they wanted to go to bring up their kids.

It has been a tough year, he admits.

Of the 42 applications, he reckons that he should have got to an interview for at least half of them. As it happens, he only got to three job interviews.

»I don’t think it had anything to do with discrimination against me as a foreigner. I think it had more to do with the competition. I was just applying to jobs where the number of applicants was very high.«

Not a gender thing

There have been upsides to having all this free time for Ricardo Mota . The two children, who are 5 and 7 and in kindergarten, see more of him.

»I have been able to spend time with my kids, which is great. But when we discussed it, Ana knows that I didn’t come to Copenhagen just to be a husband and a father, even though I try to be positive and understanding. For the first time since I was 18, I have been supported by another person. This is not a gender thing, but it was a challenge for me. It has been difficult to see myself in that position.«

READ ALSO: Careers split apart, but marriage held

The breakthrough came a few weeks ago. He was offered a job. No cover letter required, just a long process of interviews. The fact that he had studied Danish during the last year was the game changer, he says. And he can now call himself ‘project engineer’ on his business card, and can help support himself and his family again.

»It has been a tough year, but I now have a job, and I am happy.«