Mathis Lohaus writes to me:
Thanks for doing the Conversations. I greatly enjoyed Acemoglu, Duflo, and Banerjee in short succession after the Christmas break. Your question about “top-5 journals” and the bits about graduate training reminded of something I’ve had on my mind for a while now:
For the average PhD student, how hard is it to become a tenured economist — compared to 10, 20, 30, 40 … years ago? (And how about someone in the top 10% of talent/grit?)
Publication requirements have clearly become tougher in absolute terms. But how difficult is it to write a few “very good” papers in the first place? On twitter, people will sometimes say things like “oh, it must have been nice to get tenure back in 1997 based on 1 top article, which in turn was based on a simple regression with n = 60”. I wonder if that criticism is fair, because I imagine the learning curve for quantitative methods must have been challenging. And what about the formal models etc.? Surely those were always hard. (I vaguely remember a photo showing difficult comp exam questions…)
More broadly, early career scholars now have tons of data and inspiring research at their fingertips all the time. Also, nepotism and discrimination might be less powerful than in earlier decades…? On the other hand, you have to take into account that many more PhDs are awarded than ever before. I suspect that alone is a huge factor, but perhaps less acute if we focus only on people who “really, really want to stay in academia”.
A different way to ask the question: When would have been the best point in time to try to become an econ professor (in the USA)?
I would love to hear about your thoughts, and/or input from MR readers.
I always enjoy questions that somewhat answer themselves. I would add these points:
1. The skills of networking and finding new data sets are increasingly important, all-important you might say, at least for those in the top tier of ability/effort.
2. Fundraising matters more too, because the project might cost a lot, RCTs being the extreme case here.
3. Managing your research team matters much more, and the average size of research team for influential work is much larger. Once upon a time, three authors on a paper was considered slightly weird (the claim was one of them virtually always did nothing), now four is quite normal and the background research support is much higher as well.
Recently I was speaking to someone on the job market, wondering if he should be an academic. I said: “In the old days you spent a higher percentage of your time doing economics. Nowadays, you spend a higher percentage of your time managing a research team doing economics. You hardly do economics at all. So if you are mainly going to be a manager, why not manage for the higher rather than the lower salary?”
That was tongue in cheek of course.
On the bright side, learning today through the internet is so much easier. For instance, I find YouTube a good way to learn/refresh on new ideas in econometrics, easier than just trying to crack the final published paper.