Presentation on theme: "Things I wish I knew then that I know now A talk for PhD students and young colleagues Nick Powdthavee Things I was lucky to have been told early in my."— Presentation transcript:
Things I wish I knew then that I know now A talk for PhD students and young colleagues Nick Powdthavee Things I was lucky to have been told early in my PhD years
Disclaimer The following talk comes from my own personal experiences in academia, both good and bad. If you choose to follow some of the “advice” given in this talk, it does not necessarily guarantee that it will work out in the exact same way that it did for me. So please don’t hold me accountable for any heartaches or disappointments which may arise out of your use of the advice given in this talk
Also, I just want to apologize to all of you beforehand if you feel at any point during the talk that this talk is mostly about me (as in me, Nick) and me only… Because it is.
Hopefully, by the end of my talk, you will be able to take home the following points from my personal experiences… How to survive your PhD almost unhurt How to prepare yourself for an academic career (if you want one, that is…) How to publish well enough (and stay sane from doing so…)
The following image summarizes the first four months of my PhD...
The Curse of Status Quo Bias I started my PhD in October 2001 not knowing where I was heading in life So I chose to do a research on Computable General Equilibrium (CGE) simply because that’s what I did for my Masters thesis project And in case you don’t know what CGE looks like, it looks something like this...
So the first four months… …was nothing short of a living hell The CGE approach was as old as the hills and consequently it was extremely difficult to try and come up with any interesting research questions to address And so I spent the first four months of my PhD reading hundreds of papers and in near depression
Just a bit of background about AO (since he’ll be playing a large role in my talk in general) Professor of Economics (and Behavioral Sciences) at Warwick Specializes in labour economics and health economics One of the early researchers on the economics of happiness Very well published and highly cited (over 29,000 citations on Google scholar) Has two daughters, loves to play badminton and adores Japanese food
Taking a big leap After having met AO in one of the seminars, I’ve decided to go against the traditions and asked him whether I could switch supervisors and to have him supervise me instead At that time there was a big stigma attached to switching supervisors and research topics for PhD students But luckily for me (and, in a way, for him), he accepted
The Silver-lining from Switching Even though I had to restart everything again after having spent four months doing something else, the benefits of switching to a new research topic were immeasurable… For a start, from when I had no questions to ask (about CGE), there were endless questions I wanted to know the answers to about what makes people happy And so the first piece of advice I could give you at this point is…
1. Forget the sunk cost! We are normally primed to ‘stick’ to the first choices we make even when they have turned out very badly for us. Don’t be fooled by this urge to stick! You’ll be forgiven to back out of things that do not suit you…
What about happiness as a PhD research topic? Ten years ago, happiness research is “frowned upon” by mainstream economists The fashionable thing to do (back in 2001) was to do a research on international monetary economics To do a research on happiness for an economist, if you’re not already established in other fields, was pretty laughable…
But I believed in AO… His advice to me was… “If everyone likes your work, you can be certain that you haven’t done anything important” Although the reverse (“If everybody hates your work, you can be certain that you have done something important”) is probably not true!
The pressure on PhD students and young researchers are predominantly to conform, to fit in, to accept fashionable ways of analyzing problems, and above all to please senior professors and their own postgraduate peers Unfortunately this is very bad for scientific progress
So my 2 nd piece of advice is… 2. What may seem fashionable today may not continue to be so when you finish your PhD The best idea is to work on important, timeless, deep questions that most people have not thought of or think are too hard If people say to you “but nobody works on Z”, then you have a chance to be able to do something of lasting value
But I think my 3 rd piece of advice almost always overrules the 2 nd 3. To be able to finish your PhD almost unhurt, make sure that you work on something you believe in, something that you are passionate about, it will help make the pain less painful
2) How to Prepare for Your Academic Career (If You Want One)
My ‘Happiness’ Years After finishing the first paper (or rather, the first chapter of my thesis), AO told me to submit it straightaway to an econ journal That lucky journal was the Review of Economics & Statistics Back then, there were no online submissions Only hardcopies…
It took 3 months for the rejection letter to arrive Back then, I had no idea how difficult it is to get yourself published anywhere
The Key to Success is… …sheer resilience AO once told me in not so many words that my best quality was not my intellect nor my analytical ability (…thanks, Andrew…) But it’s the fact that I have pretty thick skin, so much so that I can withstand rejections quite well
An illustration My paper “I Can’t Smile Without You: Spousal Correlation in Life Satisfaction” went through the following journey… Review of Economic Studies (rejected) -> American Economic Review (rejected) -> Journal of Political Economy (rejected) -> Quarterly Journal of Economics (rejected) -> Journal of Human Resources (rejected) -> Journal of Marriage & Family (R&R: 1 st time) -> Journal of Marriage & Family (R&R: 2 nd time) -> Journal of Marriage & Family (rejected 3 rd time) -> Journal of Family Psychology (rejected) -> Psychological Science (rejected) - > Journal of Royal Statistical Society: Series A (R&R: 1 st time) -> Journal of Royal Statistical Society: Series A (R&R: 2 nd time) -> Journal of Royal Statistical Society: Series A (rejected 3 rd time) ->Journal of Human Resources (rejected…again) -> Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization (rejected) -> Journal of Economic Psychology (R&R before getting accepted)
Since then I have been rejected 60+ times from journals in the past 6 years That’s about 10 rejections a year
One of AO’s advice was… “The main difference between world-class researchers and sound researchers is not intellect; it is energy, single-mindedness, more energy, and the ability to withstand what will sometimes feel like never-ending disappointment, tiredness, and psychological pain. Tenacity is almost everything.”
Have journal referees be your 2 nd ‘supervisors’ AO was my only supervisor at Warwick But I have many other anonymous journal referees to thank for in my thesis acknowledgement Most of my PhD friends back then refused to submit their work anywhere It’s good to be perfectionist but only in moderation
Our roles as a social scientist In my 2 nd year as a PhD student, AO told me that one of the important roles of a social scientist that people tend to ignore is that of translating what we find in our research to the general public And so, in my 2 nd year as a PhD student, I had my first radio interview experience with perhaps one of the most well-known radio stations in the globe Yes, you guessed it, it’s Radio Coventry
Dealing with the Media Obviously this is hardly a requirement, especially from a PhD student But if you want to become an academic, one that is well- known in the future, it’s considered a plus Universities tend to have press officers who deal with this sort of things It’s also good practice – build up your confidence for future presentations of your work, i.e. if you can’t explain your complicated models to a layman’s person, then your life in academic will not be as ‘successful’ as it has the potentials to be But it may also have a downside. For example, consider my first newspaper appearance…
And without the accumulated stock of media experience and early exposure to it, there wouldn’t have been this So any kind of publicity is good publicity, I guess…
So for the 4 th piece of advice 4. We tend to put off ‘trainings’ which we believe are not directly relevant to us now – dealing with the media is one example – but the payoff of having participated in this kind of trainings can have a huge payoff for us both now and in the future
The dreaded job market… At the end of my PhD in 2005, I was lucky to have one paper forthcoming in Economica Unbeknownst to me then, this had a huge impact on my prospects of getting job interviews Out of 7 PhD students at Warwick, I was the only person in the first 4 months of us all finishing to have had job interviews Not because I was way ahead of my peers (quite the opposite, I think) but it was because of that one publication which was something that distinguished me from the other 100 applications put forward for each position I applied to…
But even then… Almost 100 applications sent 7 interviews 1 acceptance
We like things sugarcoated …but knowing the reality will help us form better expectations about the future as well as what would be expected from us today
3) How to publish well enough (and stay sane from doing so…)
Some facts about publishing… For economics, the average time that it takes from submitting a paper to a journal to seeing it in print is 2 years And that’s when the paper is accepted straightaway or gone through just one R&R Normally, each paper is rejected at least once before getting accepted This means that it may take 4 years since your first submission to seeing it in print (most romantic relationships don’t even last that long!)
What does this mean then? Well, for a start, write, write, write… For PhD students (and young colleagues), the opportunity cost of not currently writing and not having things under-reviewed is incommensurable Like catching fish, it’s always much better to have more than one net at a time
When you’re done with a paper, send it out to close friends or colleagues (or even people you don’t know but prominent in your field), you might be surprised when some respond! Get a professional reader to check your prose – invest a little. It will really help! Then…off to a journal! My philosophy is to treat each finished paper like a hot plate, which is something I can’t hold on for too long Once it’s off to a journal, forget about it. It’s time to start on a new topic! What does this mean then?
Some tips on how to write less badly* Set a goal based on output, not input – “I will work for 3 hours” is a delusion; “I will write three lines of my thesis today” is a goal Find a voice; not just get published – Most of us focus too much on “getting published” as if it had nothing to do with writing about ideas and arguments. “How would my work affect somebody reading it 10 years from now?” should be used as a benchmark for the way we write. Paradoxically, if all you are doing is trying to “get published”, you may not publish very much. – Remember, it’s easier to write when you are interested in what you are writing about. *These tips come from Michael C. Munger, a Political Science Professor at Duke University
Accept early that not all your work is profound – Many people get frustrated because they can’t get an analytical purchase on the big questions that interest them. Then they don’t write at all. – So start small. It is hard to refine your questions, define your term precisely, or know just how your argument will work until you have actually written them down Some tips on how to write less badly
Organize your paper (as well as workshop presentations) in a “newspaper” and not in a “joke” style – Notice how newspapers start with the most important part, then fill in background later for the readers who kept going and want more details – A good joke, on the other hand, has a long windup to the final punchline – Don’t write papers (or present papers) like that – always put the punchline right up front and slowly explain the joke. Remember, readers don’t stick around to find the punchline on Table 12.
Some tips on selecting where to publish There is a lot of pressure now to publish in the top-5 (AER, JPE, QJE, RESTUD, ECONOMETRICA) My opinion is to have those as a guideline, but don’t use them as the rule Identify your field and know your top field journals (as they will be more realistic to aim for) Have a mixed strategy, especially when you’re just starting out in academic – For example, if you have three papers from your PhD thesis, identify the best one. Then send the weakest one to at least a middle-tier journal. The 2 nd strongest to a top field. And the best to the top-5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!
Some tips on finding the right motivations Finding the ‘right’ motivation to publish is probably the hardest task for many but easy to some Many PhD students I met in the past (especially from Thailand) did their PhD because: – I didn’t want to start working yet – I had no idea what I was getting myself into – I thought having a Dr in front of my name would be cool – My parents wanted me to do it – It has become a norm now to have a PhD – Having an academic career seems very relaxing, so I wanted one – I don’t know. Don’t ask me. Leave me alone!
Finding intrinsic and sustainable motivations I’m not saying that those motivations aren’t okay All I’m saying is that they are not sustainable and lack intrinsic values As a result, people with those kinds of motivations tend to suffer quite a bit in their PhDs and in their academic career
My motivations (which you can feel free to adopt) My main motivation, ever since I started doing my PhD, was to see my family name (as well as my name) in print This includes journal articles as well as newspapers I even wanted to see my family name on a book cover and on a book shelf I get a lot of joy from seeing that I am able to promote my family name far and wide across the globe Pretty silly, I know, but in order for my name to be in print, what I do in my research has to be interesting enough in the first place This makes my motivation both intrinsic and sustainable…
Last but not least, some tips on how to cope with rejections
Rejection always hurts Unfortunately that’s the truth, no matter how long you are in the business The cold comfort is that almost everybody you know goes through similar experiences (like I said earlier, I get on average 10 rejections a year) Don’t take things personally. When you get a rejection letter, put it aside for a few days before start reading it. If there are messages that you can take stock to improve your paper, use them Send it off again to another journal. Don’t give up until you have at least 14 rejections (or that you feel it would only end up in only “indecent” journals that could prove negative on your CV)
Some examples about famous rejections John Grisham’s first novel was rejected 25 times Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Chicken Soup for the Soul) received 134 rejections Richard Easterlin’s paper on happiness and economic growth was rejected by so many journals it eventually published as a book chapter (to date, it has been cited more than 2,000 times) JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by a dozen of publishers. Bloomsbury, a small London publisher, only took it on at the behest of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter, who begged her father to print the book.
More Sources What I have been talking about today is only a fraction of what you and I need to know in order to survive in this profession, so for more sources of advice: “How to publish in top journals” by Kwan Choi (extremely useful!) http://www.bus.lsu.edu/hill/writing/choi.pdf http://www.bus.lsu.edu/hill/writing/choi.pdf “PhD thesis research: Where do I start?” by Donald Davis (primarily for PhD students) http://www.columbia.edu/~drd28/Thesis%20Research.pdfhttp://www.columbia.edu/~drd28/Thesis%20Research.pdf “Writing tips for PhD students” by John Cochrane http://www.bus.lsu.edu/hill/writing/cochrane.pdf http://www.bus.lsu.edu/hill/writing/cochrane.pdf “How to build an economic model in your spare time” by Hal Varian (very useful if you are planning on becoming a theorist) http://www.bus.lsu.edu/hill/writing/varian.pdf http://www.bus.lsu.edu/hill/writing/varian.pdf
Journal Rankings It’s also useful to know the international rankings of journals in economics The ones I normally use come from this list: – Ranking of Econ Journals and Institutions (http://www.bm.ust.hk/econ/JEEA.Ranking.pdf)http://www.bm.ust.hk/econ/JEEA.Ranking.pdf – Keel ranking of econ journals (http://www.keele.ac.uk/cer/K442.htm)http://www.keele.ac.uk/cer/K442.htm – Econ Society of Australia (http://www.ecosoc.org.au/files/File/CC/Publications/ESA%20Rankings%20of%20Econo micsJournals%2020081.pdf)http://www.ecosoc.org.au/files/File/CC/Publications/ESA%20Rankings%20of%20Econo micsJournals%2020081.pdf – ABS journal rankings (http://www.associationofbusinessschools.org/sites/default/files/Combined%20Journal %20Guide.pdf)http://www.associationofbusinessschools.org/sites/default/files/Combined%20Journal %20Guide.pdf – Ranking of Econ and Social Sci Journals (http://www.vcharite.univ- mrs.fr/pp/combes/CL_Ranking_with_econ_correction.pdf)http://www.vcharite.univ- mrs.fr/pp/combes/CL_Ranking_with_econ_correction.pdf