Love in Academia: Family Connections Abound at Mason

Posted: February 7, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Married couples in academia often seek positions at colleges or universities where both spouses can work, and most institutions are eager to arrange a “package deal” to accommodate them. George Mason University is no exception. There are many couples on the faculty and staff, and in this week leading up to Valentine’s Day, the Gazette profiles some of them.

Love, Italian Style

By Robin Herron

Who: Rebecca Goldin, assistant professor, Mathematical Sciences, and Giorgio Ascoli, associate professor, Psychology, and the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.

How long they’ve been at Mason: Ascoli came to George Mason in 1997; Goldin arrived in 2002.

Giorgio Ascoli
Rebecca Goldin

How they met: Ascoli, who was born in Milan, Italy, was attending the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, where he eventually earned his PhD in biochemistry and neuroscience. Goldin was on a fellowship at the Ecole Normale Superiore in Paris, where she made friends with an Italian woman from the sister school in Pisa. Goldin visited her friend in Pisa after the fellowship was over, and the woman introduced them “on the Ponte Vecchio in Pisa.”

What happened then: Goldin returned to the United States, and Ascoli got a research position with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., in 1994. They started an e-mail correspondence, “which got pretty interesting after a while,” Goldin reports. They decided to meet in New York City, 10 years ago this month.

And then: Love blossomed. Since Goldin was committed to a graduate program in math at MIT, they began a long, long-distance courtship that lasted four years—what they call their “two-body problem.” Every weekend, they took turns traveling to see each other. Ascoli claims, “We caused the price of AT&T and United Airlines stock to soar to an all-time high” as every extra penny went to travel expenses. At the end of that time, Ascoli was working at Mason, and Goldin moved to Washington, D.C., and commuted to Boston for her final semester at MIT. They got married in Milan in a religious ceremony in December 1998, and in an “official U.S. way” in January 1999. Goldin got a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Maryland in College Park. Two years later, she joined Mason.

The advantages of working at the same place: “The gossip,” Goldin says, is at the top of the list. “You just have more sources of gossip. It’s nice that we’re not in the same department. That would be too small a world.” Other advantages include being able to drive to work together occasionally, swap cars because they both have parking stickers, have lunch together (“our goal is once a week, although it’s more often like once every two weeks”), and have the same organizational structure and semester schedule.

The disadvantages of working at the same place: Not many. “But when there’s a crisis, like the salary freeze, we both have the same crisis,” Goldin notes. She adds, “The other thing is, sometimes it’s a little weird if we both have the same students or students know we’re married. You lose a little anonymity.”

What they say about couples in academia: “Academic jobs are not that easy to get, and it’s great for the university to be able to get two faculty at the same time.” Also, while they are in different disciplines, “We both love the sciences and we appreciate rigorous intellectual investigations. We have that as a common base.”

Happily ever after: The couple not only live in the same city, but their commute is only about 15 minutes. Ascoli is “getting very close” on his neuron modeling research, and Goldin recently became director of research for Statistical Assessment Service, in addition to her teaching at Mason and her research in symplectic geometry. They also have two children, Benjamin, 5, and Ruben, 3.

Photos by Mizuki Nishida

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