The Running of the Economists!

by on December 22, 2017 at 7:25 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Education | Permalink

The annual job market scramble at the AEAs is about to begin. To help you through the madness, Marginal Revolution University, Planet Money and MobLab have teamed up to bring you an overview and guide, featuring Al Roth (on a treadmill), Josh Angrist, Betsey Stevenson and much more!

When you have finished the video you can find tips and links to job market advice at the bottom of this page. Good luck!

1 Ray Lopez December 22, 2017 at 7:28 am

Pardon my ignorance, but I was not aware that the AEA was a job fair, I thought they simply recited papers on economics. I am obviously not in the field.


2 alz9794 December 22, 2017 at 11:16 pm

It’s not really a job fair, at least as I understand the definition of job fair. Departments don’t have booths set up and talk to all interested candidates. The bulk of the Assistant Professor market works as follows (some higher ups in the food chain move earlier, some unlikely to land top candidates may move later to see what is left after most of the market clears, and some mid range schools may try to move earlier – as mkt42 describes below – to take someone off the market early):

1. Schools post positions in the Fall, typically with some statement that review of applications begins some time prior to Thanksgiving
2. Applicants send in materials, mostly by the deadline (I’ve been tracking submission dates for the past few years and it is a pretty standard pattern)
3. Search committees review applications and determine the candidates they will interview at the AEA meetings in January; to give Engineer some numbers, in our past 4 searches (since 2011) we have had about 250, 350, 500, and 300 applications, about 75% of whom have been individuals who are graduating in the following Spring (currently ABDs)
4. Typically, schools contact applicants in the two weeks following Thanksgiving to set up 30 minute (maybe 45 minute) interviews at AEA meetings; probably somewhere between 20-35 candidates are interviewed by a school (department) at the meetings; a top candidate might have 30ish interviews (I can’t see doing more than that physically – maybe 40); most candidates don’t have anywhere near that many; if someone gets 20ish coming from a lower ranked school that is pretty good
5. Then we get to the video, where candidates are running around Philly (or wherever the meetings are) trying to get to interviews; hilarity sometimes ensues (the stuff you see across the street with the curtains opened in San Fran is amazing); sometimes people (interviewers and interviewees) get tired, and things don’t go well, or an interviewee doesn’t mesh with the interviewers (it happens – that’s why we do this stuff), and things don’t go well
6. Soon after meetings, the campus fly outs begin; from those 30ish interviewees, 3 or 4 will be flown to campus, and one will get an offer; you really want to nail that down by early February if possible; if one of those candidates who was flown out isn’t hired, then you do another round of fly outs and try to nail it down by March

I think I’ve hit most of the major parts of the market.

The Associate and Full Professor markets generally work a little differently (timing of fly outs differs), though some may follow the same general process as the Assistant Professor market.

By the way, it seems odd that Alex uses the phrase “job market scramble,” which is a very specific part of the job search process that typically happens after most of the market has cleared:


3 Vox clamantis in deserto December 22, 2017 at 7:34 am

So that is what it has come to: a death march/ running of the bulls. A totalitarian system designed to beat and destroy people’s souls and inner dignity.


4 Another Truth Seeker December 22, 2017 at 8:50 am

Viva Braziu! Land of no crime, prosperity, freedom and beauty.


5 Vox clamantis in deserto December 22, 2017 at 9:17 am
6 clamence December 22, 2017 at 11:43 am

Video makes it sound more like the Trail of Tears


7 Vox clamantis in deserto December 22, 2017 at 11:53 am

Or The Charge of the Light Brigade. It is the oppression inherent in the system.


8 Hadur December 22, 2017 at 8:45 am

Is it like the NFL Combine, with time trials and such? Competitions to see who’s the fastest at using stata?


9 Dick the Butcher December 22, 2017 at 8:51 am

It appears you misspelled the word “Ruining.”


10 David December 22, 2017 at 9:43 am

That characterization of the job market is like covering the NBA draft and only talking to the lottery picks.


11 Engineer December 22, 2017 at 10:41 am

How does the production of PhD economists compare to the market demand – material over production, about matched, material under production?

Generally, what happens to those who don’t find academic slots? Work in industry, work outside the field, teach high school?

Do the PhD programs in aggregate make any attempt to match supply to demand?


12 Joy December 22, 2017 at 10:47 am

Industry and government can absorb some of those who don’t find academic slots. There is also an after market and part-time academic positions. Teaching high school would be rare.

Not sure if your question is serious. Many more PhDs are produced than there are tenure track jobs available.


13 Engineer December 22, 2017 at 10:58 am

Yes, serious question. I’d be interested in some numbers.

I recall reading a comments some years ago in another field (anthropology IIRC) where a tenured prof pointed out to his tenured colleagues that they were producing WAY more PhDs that could be expected to find jobs in the field, and raised the question as to whether this was a good idea. In the end, that discussion ended with a “we don’t care, we need them to for grunt work and to teach the intro course we don’t want to teach”, and he gave it up as a bad job.

My underlying curiosity was whether, and to what extent, that is the case in econ.


14 Anon December 22, 2017 at 11:35 am

In general the job market prospects for new Econ PhD’s are very good. Below re a couple of cites. In addition to academic jobs, there are a lot of jobs in government, think tanks, consulting firms and industry. I work in a consulting firm and we have to work hard to get new PhD’s . Starting salaries appear comparable to top law and bus school grads ($150K+). An econ PhD takes longer than law school or grad school, but you are getting paid instead of paying.


15 Thor December 22, 2017 at 11:42 am

Minor correction: An Econ PhD IS grad school.

16 Engineer December 22, 2017 at 3:13 pm

Thanks Anon. Links were exactly on point.

17 Thor December 22, 2017 at 11:48 am

Engineer, it’s worse than that. Grad schools fill their programs with students even if they know some of the students don’t have much of a hope. They fill their programs because they are allotted funding not to mention status depending on how many students are enrolled.


18 mkt42 December 22, 2017 at 4:12 pm

Most fields produce more PhDs than there are tenure track jobs for. Some are worse than others, but I think the even bigger factor is what are the non-academic job opportunities.

For econ PhDs, they’re very good, perhaps the best of any field’s. Think tanks, government, and corporations all hire econ PhDs.

I do not know what the outcomes are for people with PhDs from lower-ranked programs, but a person with an econ PhD from a top program will pretty much never be unemployed. They might not be able to find a job at the city much less the university that’s their first choice, but there will be some sort of job somewhere that they can get.

The only econ PhD who I’ve personally known who was (briefly) unemployed was from a program towards the bottom of the top 25, and was limiting his search to teaching positions in the city that he and his wife were currently living in.

People who get PhDs in other fields though need to be more wary. I know a couple of engineering PhDs from MIT who finally turned to consulting after being repeatedly laid off or having their companies go out of business, and a physics PhD who left physics to help run his father-in-law’s manufacturing company. So they found successful non-academic careers eventually, but after a somewhat fraught process.


19 Engineer December 22, 2017 at 7:59 pm

I’ve done campus interviews with PhD job seekers (STEM fields) whose English was so poor that I’d consider them essentially unemployable, and I hired quite a few non-native speakers. Some years ago.

20 Vox clamantis in deserto December 22, 2017 at 11:21 am
21 wiki December 22, 2017 at 3:46 pm

In general, these issues are most severe for the humanities and the hard sciences. Econ tends to do much better. If we add up academia plus consulting, think tanks and work for research and government agencies, there are many spots for economists doing work related to their discipline and research. In addition, tech firms are increasingly hiring econs who can do data analysis.

It is quite relevant that in the 1980s and early 1990s, Brad de Long noted that the top deparments consciously limited admissions in anticipation of a supply demand problem. This is less possible today given the rise of international departments also pushing out Ph.Ds. But in general, economists are more aware of supply/demand matching and less overoptimistic than those in other fields. Even third tier departments have reasonable hopes of finding teaching placements for their students. Top dozen are near certainties.


22 clamence December 22, 2017 at 11:47 am

Interesting David Autor didn’t know Greek letters. Econ majors aren’t required to take a year of physics?


23 clockwork_prior December 22, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Economists tend not to be fond of anything that can be considered science based, apparently.


24 mkt42 December 22, 2017 at 3:47 pm

I believe it was in _Freakonomics_ that Steve Levitt famously told the story of how he didn’t recognize the symbol for a partial derivative and asked a classmate what the curvy “d” meant. IIRC the reply was something like “Dude, you’re in so much trouble”. I think every econ graduate program has a sort of remedial math class, sometimes as a summer bridge program or will have a Math For Economists class often as an optional class during the fall.

I would expect that every econ undergrad program has some sort of math requirement and they often have an econometrics requirement as well.

Not sure why anyone would think an econ program should have a physics requirement beyond the usual liberal arts broad-based educational benefits. If anything I think biology especially evolutionary biology and ecological systems would be of more use to a future economist; the math/physics stuff can be picked up in those math for economists classes.


25 fisher December 22, 2017 at 11:52 am

Just give them an essay question and two hours: define a toy model that shows the wealthy deserve more wealth. Doesn’t have to make sense, nobody cares – hell, keep it away from Krugman and the math doesn’t even have to work. You’re just looking for something that will make an already-cowed editor think, “seems legit”.

And since anyone can do that and the point is just to find the ones who will sell their reputations for table scraps, toss the exercise and pick either your friend/relative or the the who will reliably support you in departmental food-fights.


26 TMC December 23, 2017 at 1:01 pm

“keep it away from Krugman and the math doesn’t even have to work.”

Crap. How old are you that you remember Krugman when he could do math?


27 mkt42 December 22, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Innovative video for a number of reasons. It’s the first one on this topic that I’ve seen, and the collaboration between Planet Money and MRU is a pairing of two groups that I wouldn’t have expected to see paired up. I don’t know who the third partner, MobLab is.

At my college a couple of candidates came to campus *this November*. I asked one of the profs why (and how) so early, the explanation is that there are more and more candidates for entry level jobs who already have teaching experience, even if only as a visiting prof or adjunct, or as a post-doc. As opposed to the stereotypical person about to finish or who has just finished their dissertation, and who is still in grad school, and has to go to the meetings for the economies of scale (many interviews all at once in a single trip).

The Dean also said that it seems that more and more job searches (in other fields not just econ) are happening earlier and earlier; there might be an arms race about to start in which both schools and candidates try to get through the process earlier and earlier. The econ meetings are a solid fixture in the schedule, which seemingly would limit how early an econ search can go. But other disciplines are less reliant on their annual meetings for the initial interviews, and as my college’s experience shows there are some candidates and schools that can jump ahead of the meetings.

When I went through the process, most people in my department had maybe a dozen interviews at the meeting. Being a candidate of non-descript quality I thought I’d better have a lot of interviews to increase the probability of getting second interviews so I did 18 or 20.

Several years later one of my former students did something like 40 or 60, and had something like 20 on-campus interviews, which strikes me as way overkill — but are candidates doing more interviews than ever at the meetings these days?


28 Ricardo December 26, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Calgary makes an appearance at 00:17-00:20, a propos of nothing…


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