Following up on my recent post noting that in some social science fields, including economics, faculty hiring places heavy (though far from exclusive) weight on one “job market” paper, here are some other aspects of how faculty hiring works in economics. Tweets from @LauraEllenDee were part of my inspiration, and comments on that previous post were a big help too (have I mentioned lately how much I love our commenters?)
I find it interesting to think about which if any of these formal and informal practices could or should be adopted in ecology and other scientific fields (even though I think current practices in ecology are mostly reasonable). Learning about how things work in other fields stops you from taking things for granted* and helps you imagine how things could work in your own field. It also gives you a more realistic sense of what any reforms in your own field might achieve. Learning about how things work in other fields both helps you dream and keeps you grounded.
One challenge in thinking about this is that to some extent these alternative clusters of practices may be “package deals”. You can’t always pick and choose, at least not very easily, because any one practice might well be undesirable or unworkable in isolation from other practices.
So here are some other hiring practices in economics (follow that link for the post from which I’ve gotten much of my information. See also.) This is obviously a broad-brush picture and I’m sure I haven’t gotten all the details right; comments welcome. If all you know about is hiring practices in ecology, get ready to enter the Twilight Zone. A world like ours in many respects, but weirdly different in others… 🙂
- The job market in economics is centralized. Everyone posts their “job market papers” (which often aren’t yet published) in a centralized repository that’s used by pretty much every university that hires economists. All faculty jobs are centrally posted too, on a website run by the American Economics Association, the econ equivalent of the ESA.
- Your department helps you prepare and submit your applications. Which aren’t tailored to the job, at least not very much.
- I’m guessing a lot of you probably like the sound of a centralized, standardized job market, to which your department will help you apply. Convenient, right? But remember: when something becomes easier to do, people do more of it. It’s typical for economists to apply for >100 faculty jobs, and for strong candidates to get a dozen or more first-round interviews.
- The first round of interviews is not via phone or skype. Rather, they’re held in a hotel room at the econ equivalent of the ESA meeting. The search committee just sits in a hotel room all day while one candidate after another files in to meet with them for 20 minutes or so at a time. I’ve seen economists advised to wear something distinctive to these interviews (say, a funky tie if you’re a guy) to help the search committee remember who you were. And candidates with lots of interviews presumably spend all day going from one to another.
- The second round interviews are on campus, and are only granted to the top 3-5 candidates for the position, just like in ecology.
- Where you got your Ph.D. matters to a much greater extent than it does in ecology, or at least matters more directly and explicitly. There’s a widely-agreed hierarchy of economics departments, and if you didn’t get your Ph.D. from one of the top departments your odds of being hired by one of the top departments are low. This is at least in part because postdocs barely exist in economics, and in part because the lag from submission to journal publication is measured in years. So faculty job candidates are almost all finishing grad students, most of whom have yet to publish anything. In the absence of much direct information about applicants’ abilities and accomplishments, search committees rely on what little direct information they have (especially job market papers), plus indirect information such as where applicants got their degrees.
- Because of the hierarchical nature of the field, and because several candidates from any given department often will be applying for any given job, departments and their faculty members often do a lot of work behind the scenes informally pushing their “top” candidates for the “top” jobs.
- Participating in the econ job market is a stressful experience for candidates, at least as much if not more than in other fields as best I can tell. As one of the posts I linked earlier notes, the highly-organized and hierarchical nature of the process has a way of reinforcing the unfortunate feeling that an academic job is the only job worth having, and that you’re somehow failing or settling if you don’t get a “good” one. Which is part of why Econ Job Market Rumors exists and is so popular. If you don’t want to click the link (and honestly, I don’t recommend it), imagine the “venting” section of the ecology jobs spreadsheet on steroids. With a lot of other stuff besides venting mixed in, much of it quite nasty. (aside: this is not a criticism of the “venting” section of the ecology jobs spreadsheet or the folks who vent there. Everybody needs to vent sometimes, me very much included.) (second aside: the existence and popularity of EJMR probably also reflects other factors besides the organization of the econ job market, such as that economics is much more male-dominated than, say, ecology.)
- Note that the econ job market stress described in the previous bullet is mostly not stress about whether you’ll get an academic job at all, and to the extent it is it probably shouldn’t be. Because most everybody who participates in the centralized job market gets a good job that makes heavy use of his or her degree (certainly if it’s a degree from a mid- to high-ranking program, and probably even if it’s from a low-ranking program). Not so much because of the centralized organization of the academic economics job market, but because of other forces that ensure that the supply of academic jobs in economics is pretty well-matched to the supply of grad students who want one. Basically, economics Ph.D.s have many good-paying and otherwise-desirable options outside of academia (e.g., consulting, finance, state & federal government agencies), which reduces the number of economics Ph.D.s who want to go on to academia. And the supply of Ph.D. economists is limited, especially from mid- and high-ranking programs. In part because a non-trivial fraction of people who are admitted to top programs (anecdotally, as many as 25%) flunk out at the prelim exam stage.
Again, I’m not recommending all or even any of this as a model for ecology. Just throwing it out there as food for thought.
*I like to imagine that somewhere there’s an economist learning how faculty hiring works in science, scrunching up his face and going “Wait, what? Scientists have to send in a separate application for every position? With no departmental support? That’s crazy!”:-)