Saturday, January 5, 2008

The ASSA Meetings: Notes from the new PhD job market

So somehow I found myself on the macroeconomics search committee and have spend the last two days in a hotel room for 11 hours both days interviewing job seekers. I am tired. But not as tired when I was on the other side of the room as a new PhD myself, running from hotel to hotel, interview to interview not knowing anything about my future (would I get any job offers at all, will I have any choice, will I WANT to live in any place I am offered a job?). These were huge worries and huge implications for the rest of my life - all from a series of 30 minute interviews that barely scratch the surface of who I am. Anyway, I am glad that is all over.

So now I have to sit in judgement of others, come to quick conclusions about them and most particularly how well they fit the specific needs of the department. This is what is so frustrating for job seekers, in my opinion, because you have no control over that and generally have little specific knowledge of what these needs are. So how do you know if you did a poor job impressing of if you did a good job but are just not quite as good a fit as the next one? You don't. I have already seen many very impressive new PhDs but quite a few I already know we won't go after because of fit. I wish I had ten jobs to offer.

But I digress. What strikes me the most after two days is that macro, which is divided into a number of different 'camps' based on different specific topics in terms of research, seems to have this division now in the graduate core theory classes. I am surprised how little these students know about the other areas of macro. I think this is reflective of the incentives of the academic economics profession: it pays to start working in a specific niche and now this has reached the training itself. Why? Well I think it may have a lot to do with the increasing publication lags in economics. These days in economics it can easily take over a year to hear back from a journal after you submit a paper. If lucky you may get an opportunity to revise the paper and resubmit it which may take another year until acceptance (or eventual rejection). More commonly it takes 2 or 3 rounds of submission to get a revise and resubmit offer. So if you have a paper it may take easily 3 to 5 years to publish it. Considering the fact that most tenure clocks are 6 years in length (meaning you have to go up for tenure in your 6th year on the job), and tenure expectations are often at least 5 or 6 publications, it is becoming more and more important to start this process while still a graduate student. These publication lags are much, much worse than 20 years ago apparently. So you can see why now, graduate students specialize earlier - because specialization means you can 'master' the material easier, you can make a name for yourself easier, and you can become known to the community of researchers that will end up 'refereeing' your papers. But I think in macro it has gone too far. Many students just don't know the 'field' and are thus very constrained by this and have a hard time commenting about other lines of research. I can't imagine what it will be like in 10 years when all of these people are leading the macro profession.

Other notes: there are a TON of football fans here now all decked out in purple and red. And they are all very, very drunk. Generally the interaction is quite friendly (much to the amazement of my English friend who is used to a bit more partisanship found in English football). But I find this all very amusing: hordes of straight laced economists (many in suits and sporting name tags) and hordes of drunken football fans comingling in the streets. The economists are definitely the ones out of place. Sigh. We are so uncool - Freakonomics or not.

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