Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Economist's Job Market

I have been a bit lax in posting lately and for that I apologize. One look at the department's seminars list will explain my absence from the blog-o-sphere. The ones in 2008 are all the department's job market candidates that we invited to visit the OSU campus after an initial interview in New Orleans. It is very hard to predict, when you are a job candidate, which institutions are particularly interested in you and way. Each department is made up of a group of faculty members each with idiosyncratic preferences and the department (especially smaller ones like ours) may have particular needs that the new hire is supposed to address. Thus you never really know as a candidate what is going on behind the scenes. The single most important thing a job candidate does is their "job talk," the presentation of the main research paper from their dissertation. This has to go well - a bad job talk can sink a candidate. Amazing, eh, perhaps a lifetime employment opportunity can me made or broken with a 90 minute presentation. The pressure is, therefore, enormous.

[A note: Economics dissertations in the US have almost completely become a bundle of 3-4 separate research papers sometimes having little relation to each other. Mine was exactly like this. This is in response to the incentives of the academic market and publication lags in economics. In economics the name of the game is journal publications and a publishable paper is usually about 30 pages long. Books, book chapters, etc. are almost worthless for getting tenure. So students start trying to write papers for journals from the outset. Also, publication lags in economics are becoming so bad (you often have to wait over a year just to get an initial response from a journal to a submission and it is quite common for a paper to take 3-4 years to 'stick' somewhere) that to get enough research published for tenure in a typical 6 year tenure clock, you have to get papers out even before you leave grad school. Thus the new style dissertations. A friend who is finishing up his dissertation at an august British institution is being forced to do an 'old style' dissertation (in the UK old is often thought of as necessarily better) and this really hurts him - he has to write an entire dissertation on a single subject with parts that are not suitable for journals.]

Anyway, imagine now that a candidate has a fly-out and does well at a place she has never seen in a part of the US she has never been. If she is lucky, she may have been given a quick stroll around the campus, perhaps driven quickly around a few parts of town, but in 24 hours really hasn't had a chance to see much of anything. Then the job offer comes through and it is common to have only about a week to respond (in my earlier post I mentioned how fast the market clears, so departments can't wait for a candidate to decide for fear of losing any chance to hire anyone at all). So here she is back at home, perhaps with a significant other and maybe even kids and she has to decide about coming to an institution and a town she may know nothing about but may end up being her home for the rest of her life in a week. The significant other usually does not get to see anything. Fortunately, the stress is reduced a tiny bit by the fact that the economics job market is pretty robust so movement from position to position is quite common, but you can't count on that. So now you see the plight of the poor graduate student in economics. That said, I am keenly aware that what I am describing probably sounds like nirvana to people in other disciplines where jobs are so scarce that a tenure track faculty position seems like an impossible dream, so I don't complain too much.

If you are interested in how the sausage gets made, the job candidate's seminars are open to the public, so come join us ... and introduce yourself.

1 comment:

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