Beer Economics at NYU: Go West … towards greener pastures and the job market

24 febbraio 2016 alberto bisin

A few times a year NYU econ graduate students organize a "beer and economics" meeting where they eat (pizza) drink (beer) and listen to a faculty member they invite. A few days ago it was my turn, for the second time (I had written up the first one as well and posted it here). Here's how it went.

This is a nightmare, guys. The pressure around Beer and Econ is mounting, semester after semester …. people stopping me in the elevator, in the bathroom (come on, guys, don’t do that!). Let's be clear, no fundamental reason for all this pressure:

                    It’s a bubble. It’s about time it bursts.

This is my objective today, to burst the bubble. Therefore, you’re not getting David’s inspiring stories, Ariel’s rough nudges into good research, Tom’s deep hard-to-make-sense-of anecdotes (I wanted to say indecipherable, but can’t pronounce this word).  You are even not getting Guillaume and Kevin’s funny show (I wasn’t there but they say it was fun …. well, come to think of this, in fact, I've only heard Guillaume say it was fun). The first Beer and Econ I gave two years ago was ok, I thought, reasonably well-received … but now I am in full “second novel syndrome” (yes, I did not make it up, such a thing exists, with lists of novelist who have it and had it, posted on the web and all). That’s why I’m bursting the bubble. I should have pulled a J.D. Salinger (run somewhere upstate New York, cut trees and shove away snow in the winter and cow shit in the summer). I thought about this, but then it dawned on me – we did not only have David, Ariel, Tom, … whatever I do, I do not think I could ever do as bad as Alessandro .. so I decided to stay here and try.

This is a go-West-young-man-go-West talk (aren’t they all?). But, what’s West, really. Well, West is gold, of course, greener pastures, rivers flowing honey, the Ivory tower overlooking “il sol dell’avvenire” (beautiful socialist visionary image, which does not translate yet in the language of this sorry country, but we’re counting on the next president to set up a Congressional Committee on the Translation of Socialist Imagery”).  Ok, too long Intro (this is a  fundamental signal of a bullshitter: never do this, at least not until you get to West). Let’s get down to business. What do you need to do to go West. What’s the best road? What are the hurdles to get there?

Let’s start general and then go specific – method first and then substance. 

Planning and strategizing. Best advice I can give you tonight:

          Life’s too short and gets too boring if you plan and strategize … the joys of procrastination are severely undervalued … just wing it!

But then nobody agrees with me – behavioral economists/cognitive psychologists/neuroeconomists are getting powerful and I do not want to piss them off with a rational time-consistent model of procrastination (well, actually I do, and I did, .. but this is a different matter).

Pass qualifiers. You think that’s got to be almost West; you think once you are there you are done. Of course you’re dead wrong. I’ve told you (I told first-years, I mean): qualifiers are irrelevant - just work your ass off, and wait – if you do not get through, we made you a favor - if you don’t get through, West is not for you. East is fine too. Of course I’ve never been there (why would I be speaking to you otherwise), but they tell me it is really ok – for you.

Get tenure. Ok now, do not extend yourselves too much. Tenure won’t exist most probably by when you’ll be ready for it. Let me break out the bad news - long time for you to be ready: 6 yrs of graduate school – well, maybe more like 8 – and then 7 of tenure track – well, but you’ll go somewhere for 3 years and then resign and re-start the clock … compute, 8+3+7=18. Even if a nuclear explosion, a terrorist attack, an ecological disaster, a zombie invasion,… do not get you before, a Republican president will certainly have abolished tenure by then – ask the guys at the University of Wisconsin.  

Get a job in the job market. That’s more like it. Mid-way between qualifiers and tenure. This is what you should concentrate on now to get to West, if you do not go winging it. I can talk about this. I’ve been coerced into doing Placement this year, I learned a thing or two. Before I start, however, my lawyers  have recommended that I state clearly that:

          All characters appearing in this talk are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

And since I am at it, let me also state that

         No animals were harmed in the making of this talk.

Ok. Now that I’m legally covered we can go.  What gets you a job in the market?

i) A topic. Can’t choose a topic for you. Can’t make specific suggestions. But I can say that the topic you had in mind when you got here, the one you spoke to us about when you came in during the Admission Open House, the one you wrote about in your Statement of Purpose … that topic is real crap. Let me let you in on a secret. We spend years of training to learn not to laugh at you in the Open House. And I have never heard of a Statement of Purpose which was actually read, … Really, following your first love only leads to disaster (as it often does). If after the first year you still want to do what you came here to do, you’re just better off repeating the first year. A year wasted. This is true for those of you who have done a lot of math and came here to continue doing some even more abstruse math, for those who have run regressions on big data and want to do it on bigger data, for those of you who choose Economics to save the world (or at least your own country), to end poverty …. well actually, let me take this back, if you are one of those, please just let us know right away because there must have been a mistake in the Admission process. These things happen - Arielle will have a list of missions and Ngo's we recommend.

ii) An advisor. This is tricky. I have to be careful. Your advisors are my colleagues. I did say that

          All characters appearing in this talk are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental,

 right? Ok, let me go then, Adelante Pedro, con juicio. Choose well: Advisors matter. They matter for many reasons, some even not that obvious. Advisors (matter first of all because they) help you in research. Here’s some suggestions on how to identify good advisors. Good ones tell you that all of your 14 first ideas suck, they are not viable, they’re simple exercises, they’re way too ambitious, they do not have a well-defined question, they’re on a topic that people have stopped working on 10 years ago, they’ve already been done a million times, … one way or another, they suck. They always do. Sometimes they tell you nicely, but good ones always tell you.  Good advisors (are identifiable also by the fact that they) read your work carefully enough that they find mistakes (because there are mistakes, always). Good ones do not stop at reading the core of your paper, though, but ravage your introduction as well. Good ones are often decent human beings, but there are many exceptions. Advisors  (also matter because they)  place you in the market. Good ones are well-connected, well-respected, well-versed in the use of words (they have to write the letter) and of the phone (sometimes a phone call is worth a hundred letters). Good ones know rather precisely what you are worth (though they might not tell you too explicitly – depends on whether they are decent human beings or not).  Advisors (matter because they)  are forever, like diamonds. Good ones help you choose offers (if you have any) and help you scramble one at the last minute (if you don’t). Good ones help you with publishing (they suggest where to send your papers, they have editor-friends, they run special issues, …); they help you with tenure (getting it; or scrambling a job if you do not get it). Indeed, good advisors do a lot of scrambling. And finally, they help you generally with life – well, only the really good ones do this.

iii) A coauthor (or more than one).  A co-author is typically a student or a junior faculty. You might want to ask about co-authoring your dissertation with your main advisor, but I take the Fifth on this! So, let’s say a student. How to identify a good one … This one is easy. A good coauthor is  fun, not too dumb and not too smart. The best one is somebody who looks worse than you but is actually better – but these are hard to find.

iv) A Placement director. You do not pick this. Just have to work with him (let’s assume he’s a man; sorry, that’s what adaptive expectations suggest, …. Efe, Guillaume, myself). Be nice: remember he did not want to do this, he does not like you, he’s not your advisor, not your friend, not your boy/girlfriend, not your father/mother; remember he’s being coerced into doing this job – most probably because he is otherwise completely useless in the department – do not expect anything from him, but still suck up to him a little bit.  Most of all, a good Placement director has a back door to your phone – do not lie to him.

v) A spouse (sometimes).  Ok, ok, I do not want to get into anybody’s personal life. Your spouse (or partner or whatever the appropriate term applying to you) is yours and nobody’s to touch (hopefully). But I have been voted the most politically incorrect guy in the department (or at least so says Guillaume …. as you see Guillaume says a lot of things) and I am proud of this. Need to keep this up (though you will notice how much I am striving for gender-equality here). So, let me go at this. Spouses matter. Good ones support you when nobody else does. Good ones define the constraints of your job market search in reasonable well-motivated (e.g.,  by his/her career) manner. For the other ones, the ones imposing arbitrary constraints just because they can, I will report what my advisor told me when I went on the market: 

                 It’s not that you can’t have a spouse; maybe just not this one.

(He was talking in abstract terms, he did not have in mind my own personal situation – or at least so I hope).

Now, you might think I’ve exaggerated, you might think back at what I told you in this talk and decide it’s not been very useful, which it probably has not been …. well, in this case, you can always go with Ariel’s suggestion about how to make it in the job market, in a Beer and Economics talk here a couple of years ago (this is not one of Guillaume’s stories, I was there): 

                       Join the army – and not just any army, mind you, the Israeli army.

Be my guest. So, let me conclude. Briefly (because Conclusions are also a space where bullshitters thrive, like Introductions). What the hell is West? Is West a place? Enough with the metaphors. We have only talked about the process to go West. But if this is the process, what is the West, really.

Well, as anybody thinking clearly about things has always known,

      The process is not a means to an end, it is the end.


6 commenti (espandi tutti)

Judging by the content, the only useful purpose of this seems to be free beer. :-)

Phd prospects: make sure the department of choice has a good free beer allowance for students. Well timed breaks from study will contribute to your sanity. 

Alberto, secondo me David Laibson nel suo statenent of purpose ha scritto esattamente quello che ha poi fatto nei capitoli della sua tesi. 

prof ma sei cattivissimo! :)

"the joys of procrastination are severely undervalued"... "a rational time-consistent model of procrastination"... mi suggestiona molto. se ne può sapere di più? ci hai davvero arzigogolato sopra o è solo una battuta? 

Well done

giuliana allen 27/2/2016 - 09:22

I am very Please To read your article Alberto Bisin.

One of the most liberating aspect of American University and USA academia is the approciability

of its professors. I do not care for stale pizza or beer so much, but I treasure the respect to the students you get inside every campus in America. I started out as a hopeful medical student in Padova in 1980. Il mio primo Anno a medicina eravamo  1,700 matricole. Di essere solo un numero Fra migliaia non era il problema. Ricordo con ansia ed orrore la supponenza dei Baroni Che mi insegnavano anatomia.


Per ragioni Di cuore il medico non l'ho Mai fatto e l'unico fallimento della Mia vita e' stato abbandonare la facolta' Di medicina a meta' preferendo il matrimonio e l'emigrazione.

in USA ho conseguito undergraduate from Uof Maryland and Master from NDMU . But as you so satirically state in this article the students talk as equal with the professor in American university. heck, if you can get wasted on beer with your teacher you for sure can discutere dei massimi sistemi!

i am looking forward to this summer Noisefromamerica week in Italy since I now moved back to Vicenza. I want to shake your hand because I admire and value your mind

dodges (or stratagems). This is a real nightmare, 'Folks'. Just have a look at the following:

The 'reference' is to Dante, more than A.Manzoni (ou bien,  Léonard d'Amboise.(il se prononce expatriation, en français...)

I do apologize undeservedly for wanderig off the subject, but...

Fuor di gusto per la sprezzatura, ma tra cuneo fiscale (due volte lo stipendio netto contro un rapporto pari a 1,7 per la media dell’area euro e a circa 1,5 per la media dei Paesi Ocse), un total tax rate sulla % commercial profits >70% (cfr. World Bank)...l'idea di verdi pascoli e' piu' che evocativa...)
Tagliare il cuneo fiscale= almeno 2,5 punti percentuali (avrebbe impatto impatto aggregato di un certo un lavoratore con stipendio medio intorno ai 30mila euro porterebbe 250 euro all’anno in più in busta paga, oltre a far risparmiare 500 euro al datore di lavoro.) O e' forse meglio comprare voti dei 18nni? (l'evidenza empirica lo conferma...non occorrono formule latinae.. oremusque delivered.. from on high)

ho dato l'occhiata, con linkiesta spesso vale la pena. stavolta però non sono sicuro, ame sembra che la possibilità di estinguere il debito rendendo l'immobile sia vantaggiosa per il debitore, se l' l'immobile ormai vale meno del debito residuo.

con le regole attuali, se alla fine dell'alienazione in asta pubblica del bene ipotecato non si salda completamente il debito più spese etc, il residuo rimane in capo al debitore, che ci può rimettere il quinto dello stipendio, magari per tutta la vita.

prima di aggiungere mie stupidaggini sulla ratio del divieto del patto commissorio (è per pareggiare i creditori, credo) e sulle differenze col patto marciano, invito quelli che sanno a spiegare al popolo affamato di conoscenza. chi non ha voglia di aspettarli e si fida del proprio naso, dopo aver letto Pippo Civati, come spesso accade, non può che pensare l'opposto.

Inizia una nuova discussione

Login o registrati per inviare commenti