Did you know that there are fields in which everybody talks up their favorite faculty job candidates on social media?

Well, there’s at least one field that works this way: economics.

I’ve written in the past about my outsider’s fascination with how the economics faculty job market works. I find it interesting to learn about how different fields operate; it helps me look at my own field’s practices with fresh eyes. So I already knew that the economics faculty job market operates very differently than the ecology faculty job market in various ways (click that last link for background). But I only just learned about one more: in economics, it’s common practice for economics faculty and departments to talk up their favorite faculty job seekers on social media.

For instance, here’s the Yale Economics Department Twitter account officially announcing their faculty job candidates (i.e. their own finishing PhD students), and linking to a web page listing them all. Here’s the Cornell Economics Department doing the same. It’s not just Ivy League departments that do this. As best I can tell, pretty much every department does this; here’s a French economics department doing it. Here’s my own uni’s economics department doing it. And it’s not just departments that do this, it’s also many individual economists. For instance, widely-read economics blogger Tyler Cowen does many posts highlighting and summarizing “job market papers” that he liked (for instance). (Aside: the “job market paper” is the single paper or preprint an economics faculty job seeker writes to demonstrate their ideas and skills to prospective employers.) Jennifer Doleac systemically compiles a comprehensive list of economics job market papers by women and tweets them out. She also urges others to do the same, feeling that it’s your professional duty as an economics prof to read job market papers and publicize the ones you liked best. And it’s not uncommon for economists to use Twitter to talk up not just faculty job seekers’ papers, but the faculty job seekers themselves. Ok I doubt this sort of thing is universal–not every academic economist is on Twitter, and I’m sure many who are don’t tweet about faculty job market candidates. But it’s clearly pretty common.

I’m not sure what I think of all this. I just find it very foreign. But not totally foreign; there certainly are common practices in ecology that aren’t streets away from those just described. Ecology faculty giving research talks, or tweeting about their lab’s latest paper, often will highlight the postdoc or grad student who did most of the actual work. It’s of course common for ecologists to tweet in praise of talks and papers they really liked. Many departments in all fields publicize the work of their grad students and postdocs in various ways. And like many ecologists I’ve been involved in efforts to recognize outstanding junior researchers and their work (e.g.). All of that is fine. And some of it no doubt has some diffuse, indirect, unintended effects on the ecology faculty job market (e.g., by helping to shape ecologists’ collective sense of where the leading edge of the field is and where the field is going next). So what’s foreign to me about economics is that all this talk about junior researchers and their work is specifically and intentionally associated with the faculty job market. It’s individuals and departments implicitly–and often explicitly!–publicly lobbying for certain people to be hired. I honestly don’t know what to think of that.

I mean, one could argue that it’s an improvement on private lobbying. After all, it’s happening right out in the open! No need to worry if, say, Tyler Cowen read and liked your job market paper (or someone else’s!), or wonder who he’s talking to about your job market paper (or someone else’s). Because he tells the whole world which ones he read and liked! Though on the other hand, I can imagine that, for some people on the faculty job market, the only thing more anxiety-inducing than not knowing whether people read and liked your job market paper is knowing whether people read and liked it (“Oh no, nobody’s tweeting about my job market paper! They must not have read it, or else they didn’t like it enough!”).

There’s also a zero sum arms race going on here, or at least there’s the potential for one. It’s a bunch of individuals and departments all trying to be heard on social media, in the hopes that their preferred candidates will be hired. Which would be fine, or at least defensible, if it added some value in the aggregate. But it’s not clear to me how much value all that tweeting adds, whether for any individual faculty search, or for the faculty job market as a whole. When I sat on a faculty search committee recently, the search committee used various methods to bring the position to the attention of as many potential applicants as possible, to make sure we attracted a large and diverse applicant pool (advertising in widely-read venues, consulting the DiversifyEEB list, etc.). I suppose those methods could’ve included “look and see what, if anything, Twitter is saying about junior researchers in this research area, to identify potential applicants to reach out to”, but I don’t feel like that would’ve been very helpful. (But maybe that’s just me? And maybe it would’ve been helpful if it were standard practice for lots of ecologists to tweet about faculty job seekers and their work?) Then once the applications were in, I didn’t find myself thinking, “You know, in addition to all these cv’s, cover letters, research statements, teaching statements, sample publications, and (for the final few candidates) campus interviews and reference letters, I really wish I knew what, if anything, people on Twitter were saying about the applicants and their work.” That’s not a criticism of people on Twitter, individually or collectively. It’s just that I felt like the search committee already had enough information about the applicants to make informed decisions about who to interview and who to hire. Which maybe just illustrates that, for reasons we’ve discussed previously, faculty search committees in economics have less information to go on than faculty search committees in ecology. Maybe some economists do find social media a helpful way to identify and screen job applicants. Especially if the alternative is “interview and hire people who got their PhDs from ‘top’ programs”.

I know I should have a point here, but I don’t really. Sorry. As I hope is obvious, I don’t actually know all that much about why the economics faculty job market operates as it does. And I know even less about how economics profs and faculty job seekers feel about how their job market operates. I just find it striking, in anthropological kind of way, to know that there’s so much among-discipline variation in how the faculty job market (and everything else!) operates.

10 thoughts on “Did you know that there are fields in which everybody talks up their favorite faculty job candidates on social media?

  1. A question: I wonder if some economists who highlight job market papers on blogs or social media don’t see themselves as lobbying for particular job candidates to be hired. Rather, maybe they see themselves as making the faculty job market more efficient, by adding information?

  2. This reminds a lot of a piece I read recently (I forget where) about US schools that build websites and social media campaigns to promote their Heisman trophy (award for best college football player) candidates. Like you describe for the econ job search, this is a zero sum game, and it also just seems a little odd from an outsider’s perspective. The piece I read suggested that it’s in a school’s best interests to make their player the trophy winner because it promotes the school as a place for subsequent players to want to come to. I’m guessing the same applies to the econ job search.

    • Yes, that’s more or less why econ departments promote their job candidates (both publicly, and behind the scenes): to maintain or raise the department’s stature. Economics is a very hierarchical field. There’s fairly wide agreement as to the “top” graduate programs, and the vast majority of faculty got their PhDs from programs of equal or higher rank than the institutions that hired them. As in any status hierarchy, everybody’s constantly trying to move up in the rankings.

      My outsider’s impression is that this hierarchy exists for some good (or at least understandable) reasons, and for some bad reasons. (The bad reasons probably loom larger than the good ones, in my view, but it’s some of both). And there do seem to be moves afoot to change things For instance, in that Tyler Cowen piece I linked to, he highlights a job market paper from a candidate from Gothenberg (not an internationally top-ranked econ dept) and says something like “don’t just hire people from the same old places”.

      Unrelated aside: ecology is *not* hierarchical in the way economics is: https://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/where-did-recently-hired-n-american-tenure-track-asst-professors-of-ecology-get-their-phds/. I mention this because faculty job seekers sometimes overgeneralize from other fields and assume, falsely, that all fields are as hierarchical as economics. Some fields are–but others aren’t, such as ecology and many other life science fields.

  3. I shared this post with a family member who is an agricultural economist. They are a senior faculty member in an ag econ department (which may have a different culture from econ departments), and have been involved in a lot of job searches. They said it is typical for econ and ag econ departments to list their job market candidates on the department’s website. Some departments also e-mail other departments with a list of all their job market candidates. This family member doesn’t use social media much, but also hasn’t heard colleagues mention that they heard about a specific candidate via social media.

  4. Fascinating. I could see how it might be useful in a field where a department may not have anyone with the expertise required to thoroughly evaluate a candidate’s work. (E.g. if the top person in category theory or algebraic geometry recommends a paper by someone they don’t have an obvious personal/professional connection with and your department has no people in those fields, I can see how that would be an extremely valuable piece of info). These are branches of pure mathematics, where it is not uncommon for the vast majority of a job talk to be total gibberish to the entire department, even when the work is very important in these big broad fields of mathematics. I doubt economics is like this though, but maybe it is. I don’t think departments doing this for all of their graduating students is very useful though, especially if everyone is doing it. I can see someone tweeting out great job market papers from candidates from underrepresented groups being useful though.

    • “These are branches of pure mathematics, where it is not uncommon for the vast majority of a job talk to be total gibberish to the entire department, even when the work is very important in these big broad fields of mathematics. I doubt economics is like this though, but maybe it is.”

      Yeah, I don’t think economics is like that.

      “I don’t think departments doing this for all of their graduating students is very useful though, especially if everyone is doing it. I can see someone tweeting out great job market papers from candidates from underrepresented groups being useful though.”

      I’d be curious to see data on whether there’s an a positive correlation between graduate program rank, and social media attention to job market papers. I bet there is (I could be wrong!). Much like how papers published in top journals get more attention on social media than papers published in less widely-read journals.

      I’d also be curious to see data on the shape of the distribution of social media attention paid to job market papers. I assume it’s highly skewed, as most distributions of most measures of collective attention are (movie box office receipts, book sales, website visits…). That is, I suspect that a small fraction of the job market papers probably garner a large fraction of economists’ collective attention on social media. But again, I don’t have the data so maybe I’m wrong!

      • That would be interesting. Twitter data (unlike FB) is all open source (as long as you are only interested in very recent tweets [e.g. about 1 weeks worth] ), so someone could write a script to access Twitter API each day during job market season to answer these questions. I’m surprised an economist hasn’t done this yet.

      • My general thought though is that presumably, folks are already paying attention to the top schools outside of twitter, so I’m not sure what’s the added value of twitter here beyond a list on the department website. But this is probably just my naive understanding of how this all works.

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