May 20, 2004

Post-Graduation Advice

What does one say to a newly-minted Ph.D. in Economics immediately after graduation? One says this: "Congratulations. You've done it. Take a deep breath and be proud of yourself. You've not only done it, you've landed a tenure-track job. You've not only landed a tenure-track job, but the fact that you had more than one offer means that over the next several years you'll not only be much better paid but you'll also teach less than you have in the years just past.

"But don't think your life will be easy. In six years your university will send out for letters, asking outsiders whether you should be given tenure. What the letter-writers will say about you in year six depends on the articles of yours that they have read in year five. Since nobody reads the journals cover to cover anymore, they will read in year five only those articles published in year four that others have told them are worth reading. To get an article published in year four, you must submit the final draft to the journal after year two.

Thus you need, for the next two years, to work harder than you have ever worked in your life: what you produce in the next two years plays an extraordinarily large role in making your long-run academic reputation."


"I was going to wait until tomorrow before saying that to him," says one Berkeley professor. "You're the second professor to have told me that today," says one newly-minted Berkeley Ph.D.

Posted by DeLong at May 20, 2004 05:16 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Awww man. Why bother finishing ;)

It's like I told my advisor when (initially) I didn't get an offer. He wanted to know how I felt and I said "No matter what had happened, I'd have the same dominant strategy, to write like mad. If I had a great job, I'd have to write like mad. If I had a crummy job, I'd have to write like mad. If I had no job, I'd have to write like mad."

The problem is that backwards induction in your life isn't quite as easy as backwards induction in your papers ...

Posted by: Ennis on May 20, 2004 06:48 PM

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And hopefully, globalization and Indians will drive down your wages or take your job, for the good of the rest of us of course. You know, higher standard of living and ..........

Posted by: me on May 20, 2004 06:54 PM

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[Thus you need, for the next two years, to work harder than you have ever worked in your life: what you produce in the next two years plays an extraordinarily large role in making your long-run academic reputation." ]

all this while learning a new job. after all, department of economics pay assistant professors to teach. a friend of mine on tenure track at Harvard, told me that even up there he was suprised by how much attention pay to teaching evals, ceteris paribus.

[And hopefully, globalization and Indians will drive down your wages or take your job, for the good of the rest of us of course. You know, higher standard of living and ..........]

nah, if it ever gets close to that, we'll just change what we preach in our int'l trade classes and textbook. :-]

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on May 20, 2004 08:25 PM

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Brad, don't discourage me. I'm only in the first year of grad school so we haven't even begun doing economics yet. What kinds of things do you think I should be thinking about now, or at least after I finish regurgitating useless theorems for my qualifying exams?

Posted by: Chris on May 20, 2004 10:00 PM

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True tale of two prostgrads. One stays on to do a post-doc and try to get a tenure track position.

The other goes into industry. He gets a research position at a dotcom, makes something on the stock options but the company starts to downsize when the bubble burst.

Who is in the better position? Well the guy who went into industry contributed to several Internet standards and he has a lot of contacts in industry that offer him consulting gigs. He also got offered a tenured teaching position by the university.

Posted by: Phill on May 20, 2004 10:20 PM

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Chris, you said that you haven't begun to do economics yet. What exactly are you doing? If I had to guess, I'd say it's something heavy on the math. I think I'd like to teach economics at the college level, so I'm interested in this sort of thing.

Posted by: Brian on May 20, 2004 11:37 PM

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Nothing in the sage advice to a newly minted PhD about being a decent teacher? No surprise in this, but kinda sad nonetheless.

Posted by: Jim Harris on May 21, 2004 05:58 AM

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When I got my phud at the graduate school between Central and Porter squares, I showed up at a university ceremony, ignoring all ceremony, wearing no gowns just jeans, a colored shirt and a non-matching tie. That was toward the end Cambodia spring. All I remember from that boring event was a Dean walking up to me and saying "Nice tie". Of course the tie was deliberately awful.

That started a journey in my life which to me back to Latin America. Of course I learned more about other things, technical, historical and even things about life itself. Less about academic excellence. That's OK. I've done well-enough for myself. The problem is convincing anybody else that I actually know something. That's not OK. So I share what I know with those who listen. My son, for one, who does pay attention. Sometimes.

How's your tie DeLong?

Posted by: CSTAR on May 21, 2004 07:49 AM

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I hope that's pessimistic! Most of the current research I read is in the form of working papers, and those get disseminated pretty quickly. Plus I believe many departments look for one's input on who at lease some the people who provide evaluation letters should be.

Posted by: David on May 21, 2004 08:28 AM

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of course it is all luck

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Posted by: anonymous on May 21, 2004 10:08 AM

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Do you have a poofy hat or a mortarboard?

Dartmouth's robe is a chaste pine green, with pine trees (!) embroidered on the velvet lapels.

Posted by: jonquil on May 21, 2004 10:56 AM

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Chris, the best piece of advice at the end of your first year is:

*** Get really good at using LaTeX.

Trust me on this one.

Posted by: Ennis on May 21, 2004 10:05 PM

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"Congratulations ... you'll not only be much better paid but you'll also teach less than you have in the years just past."

And we wouldn't want our best people teaching at universities where students now pay upwards of 30 grand tuition. Getting out of it is a reward.

"... they will read in year five only those articles published in year four that others have told them are worth reading. To get an article published in year four, you must submit the final draft to the journal after year two..."

It doesn't seem like productivity has increased a whole lot since Adam Smith made his rather baleful comments about the university system in WoN.

Posted by: Jim Glass on May 22, 2004 08:51 AM

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Hmmmm ... I am not sure that I agree with this.
As one other commenter said, most stuff gets
read as working papers these days; formal
publication often comes years after the main
impact of a paper on the literature.

Plus those guys who write letters get sent all
of your papers - published and just in working
paper form. In my experience, they often read
many of them, if not all. They don't just
comment on the ones they have already read
when writing their letters.

But I will add some other advice:

1) Present your papers a lot, especially if you
are heavily identified with your advisor.
That will help with the identification
problem.

2) Be nice to people in the profession,
including (maybe even especially) in
departments lower ranked than your own.
They will account for most of your
citations and they can do you many
favors.

3) Try to get to know likely letter-writers.
It is harder to dump on someone you know
and think is a nice guy or gal.

Oh, and Word + Mathtype (www.mathtype.com)
beats LaTex anytime. LaTex is not program,
it is a separate career.

Jeff

Posted by: Jeff Smith on May 22, 2004 03:11 PM

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Posted by: Botolph on May 23, 2004 10:12 AM

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Although my PhD is not in Economics, this is exactly why I did not go into academia after graduating. I just looked at the next few years, and it looked so joyless, I just said to myself, "If I'm going to go through hell as bad or worse compared to getting the PhD in the first place, I going to get paid real money for it." Sure I gave up my academic freedom, but in truth it didn't appear to be freedom. Just a different color collar and leash.

Plus teaching had become a chore, not a perk. It was time to get out.

Posted by: defib on May 24, 2004 04:06 AM

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What I don't understand, is if the system is illogical and multiple faculty members at Berkeley agree it doesn't make sense, why don't
they try to change it at Berkeley? Why are the first two years weighted to such a large degree? If sending letters to faculty at other schools is such a biased indicator of work quality, why is it weighted so highly?

If the tenured faculty at Berkeley econ spent some time devising a logical way to award tenure that is based on 6 years instead of 2 years of work, I wouldn't be surprised if that system would spread to many other schools.

I'm aware that it's hard to change things that have been around for so long, but if the system is so skewed, it's in everyone's best interest
to fix it.

Posted by: anonymous on May 24, 2004 12:11 PM

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Tell the Phud to *run*, not walk to the real world and get away from academia! Well, it won't really matter anyway, because evil demographics will start a giant sucking sound towards academia shortly (Hey Brad, what is the average age in your econ dept at Berkeley?_....unless every course under 400 is taught by the dreaded *non-tenure track, johnny on the spot, just filling in while I get to a real job with my masters* or a graduate slave.

Posted by: Allen M on May 24, 2004 03:12 PM

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Posted by: dzwonki on May 25, 2004 01:51 AM

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What a depressing thread!

Like Chris, I'm a first-year grad student. Probably unlike Chris, I'm 50 and doing this because I got interested personally in a bunch of questions about the economics of an aging society, was in a position to take at least part of my retirement now, and seemed to be getting tired of the applied research work in the telecom and cable industries that I'd done for 25 years.

I'm probably not going to be looking for a tenure-track position at a major research university when I finish. OTOH, could a 55-year-old with a newly-minted Ph.D. even get an interview for such a position? If the answer to many of the questions raised by the aging of the baby boomers is that the boomers must remain in the workforce longer, it raises the quesion (not entirely economics) of whether the workplace in the US is prepared to provide that answer. If I have to spend 50 years at work, it is not surprising (at least to me) that at some point I want to make a MAJOR change. Where are the entry-level positions for a 55-year-old?

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