AEA Registry of RCTs mini-review

It’s hard to read a paper these days related to development economics or health interventions without an RCT. Ideas for RCTs pop into my head on at least a daily basis. The focus on causal identification and answerable questions in the field means that RCTs are all the rage, and the American Economics Association wants you to know that they’re all in support of it. To do their part, the AEA sent out an email last night about a new registry for RCTs, which is likely overdue. Clinical trial registries are common in other fields, in fact, the US government hosts its own, and it seems to work much better than other government websites that have been getting attention lately.

I searched both registries for “domestic violence”. gave me 84 trials in various stages of recruiting, in progress, and completed, most of which seemed relevant to my search, although not all will have easily testable social science implications. The great thing about registering social science RCTs is that you know they’re designed with social science questions in mind. My search of the same terms on found me three studies, of which only one was relevant, but I’ll cut them some slack for inviting AEA members to contribute only recently (I also happen to know that not many RCTs addressing domestic violence have been done). A similar search on intimate partner violence brought up a lot of studies referring to research partners. So, the search function is a little slow and very clunky, which will only get worse as more studies are added, but I do think it’s a good idea, overall.


Random thoughts on gender and professorships

I was recently privy to a discussion among some new faculty about what to have students call you, where “you” is a young, relatively freshly minted Ph.D. and new professor. There were lots of varying viewpoints, many of which I’ve heard before, ranging from “women just can’t have their students call them by first names and maintain distance and respect” to “I felt so much more comfortable when my professors let me call them by their first name and I went to office hours, so I let my students call me by my first name,” to “I like the ego trip that comes with being called professor so-and-so.” The gender issue is one that is particularly sticky and I’ve discussed it with many female colleagues at every stage of their careers. I come down on the side of staying Professor Fletcher until a student graduates. Having been subject to lovely gender- and age-based attacks such as “my male professor in another course says everything you’re teaching is crap,” and “you’re unprofessional” has only heightened this resolve.

During this discussion, one colleague framed the answer to this question in a way that I thought was incredibly insightful and a great use of his privilege, as a male in the classroom, to even the playing field. He said that a female member of his doctoral dissertation committee had told him under no circumstances to allow students to use his first name. The reason, she said, was that she couldn’t, and so he shouldn’t.

It seems rather simple, but I’d honestly never thought of it. Given the differential treatment women often face in academia, male professors exercising the privilege of letting students use their first names and subsequently seeming “more accessible” is actually a detriment to women’s careers. Another female colleague, who is up for tenure this year, told me that she felt that being hard on her students early in her career had hurt her student evaluations, and thus her chances for tenure. Though she doesn’t like to make such distinctions and would never say it, that’s a conversation I’ve never had with a man.

I do think it’s getting better, but until it’s actually better, we should all do our part. And having everyone be addressed the same way is a good way to level the playing field.

As a side note, the New Faculty Program through the Center for the Integration of Learning, Teaching and Scholarship at Lafayette College is pretty great.

Job Listing of the Month

Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit simple minded, but I never fail to be amazed by globalization. My favorite job listing from the November JOE is for openings, three to be precise, at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. The best part is that it’s so matter-of-fact. There’s no need for qualifiers, just “competitive pay” and an “annual research grant”. Wouldn’t it be so simple?

On the Wisdom of a Job Market Candidate Wiki

I wrote last year about EJMR’s foray into the world of journals and article publications and thought the idea was pretty neat. Having a repository for information on journal publishing times, response times, decisions and more, all crowd-sourced, could provide a useful set of information for would-be submitters to certain journals. In theory, if the information were correct, it could even prompt users to avoid journals with slow response times, which would in turn encourage those journals to step it up.

Transparency’s kind of cool.

I was less enthusiastic about EJMR’s Candidate wiki but EJMR keeps surprising me. One of the things that Economics prides itself on as a discipline is our centralized (read: “we’re so efficient”) job market. Ads come out in the JOE the first every month. In January, we hold our national conference and search committees hold interviews with candidate who made their shortlist. Flyouts happen in January, February and into March, hiring completed by early Spring.

In reality, it doesn’t happen this way for many candidates. There are other sources of job advertisements for one. But more than this, the last few years have seen a lot of bottlenecking at the top of the candidate pool. “Star” candidates get tens of flyouts and offers for jobs they don’t intend to take, but keep those schools waiting and thus the market clears very slowly. In addition, the uptake in web-based application systems has proliferated, making applying both relatively easy–once you’ve done the work of setting up an account and uploading–and extremely annoying–as you’re setting up your fifteen millionth account. It’s this really weird mix of efficient and entirely the opposite and likely skews the number of jobs people apply to.

Given our obsession with efficiency, I’m not surprised to see EJMR get into the job candidate wiki game. One poster took the entirely predictable economicky defense: “I’m pretty sure a reduction is search costs is welfare-enhancing in virtually all matching models, from micro theory to macro-labor,” but plenty of others were worried about the potential for sabotage. EJMR doesn’t have the greatest reputation, but I wonder if this is part of trying to make itself a little more legit. I can definitely see the appeal from the demand side of having a number of top candidates in place. Since it’s a wiki, it’s never going to capture anyone, but a lot of the top schools seem to have candidates posted and it will likely grow. I’m interested to see where it goes.

IWPR, Janet Yellen, and the next Fed Chair

All signs lately point to Larry Summers being named as the next Chairman of the Federal Reserve. I have to say I’m rather disappointed. I’m sure he’s very intelligent and qualified, but for someone with those qualities, he’s certainly made a few public blunders that seem to indicate he wouldn’t be an effective leader. There have been several articles written about this over the past two months and so I will not attempt to either link to them, summarize them, or even provide novel arguments. I will however, encourage professional economists to read (and sign if you are so moved) this open letter to President Obama in support of Janet Yellen for that same position.

The letter is being supported by IWPR, an organization that tends to focus on issues pertaining to gender, but what is so wonderful about this letter, and about Yellen, is that her gender is irrelevant. The letter doesn’t even mention it. I kind of feel like this is one of those experiments where we sent identical resumes, just changing the names and apparent genders of the applicants to show discrimination. Not because we’re trying to identify discrimination, but rather because she’s that good. Her experience and qualifications put her at the top of the bunch, regardless of gender or other demographic consideration.

Job listing of the month

It’s August. Well, almost August. And in Econoland, that means that Job Openings for Economists has come out again after taking its July break. This means the start of the job-hunting season for many, and sure enough, there are already a few positions to be had, or at least applied for. We all know none of these people are making decisions until January or February. Such a long process.

At any rate, I thought this position at Colgate was notable. Mostly, it’s interesting to me because it’s pretty applicable to my field and research interests–gender and economics, but I’m also intrigued to see an economics position posted as really, truly interdisciplinary. My PhD institution has a strong interdisciplinary component, with students melding history and economics, environment and economics, and many professors holding joint appointments with the somewhat unfortunately named Institute for Behavioral Science, but I don’t think that’s the norm. Maybe we’re working our way there.

Zimbabwe bleg

I’m headed to Zimbabwe tomorrow! I’m super excited to see this beautiful country about which I’ve heard so much and meet with a number of government and UNICEF officials. We’ll be working on getting the ball rolling on a project to implement and cost victim services and prevention programs for child victims of sexual and interpersonal violence.

I’d also love to talk to some scholars in Zim while I’m there. I have a few local contacts, but if anyone knows any economists or political scientists or statisticians or sociologists or anthropologists, particularly those with knowledge of Zimbabwean data sources, send them my way. I’ll buy the Zambezi (does anyone actually drink that?).

On being careful

Early on in my graduate career, a professor hired me to do some data cleaning on a set of historical data she and a coauthor had collected. Eventually, my data analysis and stata skills became more useful than my data cleaning skills and at some point, she asked me to perform some sort of regression or matching analysis. I did it sort of slap-dash and sent it out, returning later to find at least one big mistake. Though I presented the corrected version to her in a meeting later, she had already seen the incorrect version and begun to make changes to the paper to fall in line with it. What followed was a 30 minute lecture on how I needed to be careful, how she couldn’t write me a good recommendation if I wasn’t careful, how specific employers wouldn’t want me if I wasn’t careful.

It is a conversation I’ve relived several times throughout my still very new career as a PhD economist, admonishing myself to be careful and diligent in all my work, but more than ever in the past week or two as the Reinhart-Rogoff Excel error uncovered by a UMass-Amherst grad student has come to light. It hasn’t gone well for them and according to some, may even be changing the debate on austerity in politics.

While I understand the excitement of finding something big, it seems that the bigger a deal this paper was to be, the more careful they would have been. I once asked Robert Barro whether he thought people went easy on him because he held so much sway. Not at all, he told me, if anything, they’re harder on me.

And we should be, hard on each other that is. We should demand transparency and replication, and not just by chance in some random graduate classroom. If evidenced by nothing else than the number of “you’re an economist, aren’t you used to being wrong?” jokes I heard this weekend, we need to be more careful.

Mental labor of the always connected

Amanda Marcotte has an excellent piece out on the mental labor that falls more heavily upon women in the household. While chores may be more evenly split, women are still the ones exerting the effort to split the work, to nag when it doesn’t get done, and finally, likely to do it if really doesn’t get done.

Though perhaps unrelated to gender, the piece prompted me to think about how my workload has changed over the course of my short teaching career. In particular, I find myself spending a lot more time with my students than I did when I first started, and more time fretting about them getting their work done. This is my invisible work, keeping track of student assignments, making sure they’re on track to finish their research papers, worrying about their sick grandmothers, and more. It reminds me of my college roommate, who since we’ve aged and mellowed a bit, has reminded me several times how stressed out I made her through my procrastination while students at Duke. As the years have gone by, students seem to want more of my email time, and at all hours of the day, even as the face time has not changed much. Like many professors, I try to limit my time on email. There are many activities and conversations that can be more efficiently performed in person. For instance, if you email me asking how to calculate Adjusted R squared and ask why it’s different from R squared, I’m going to ask you to come talk to me instead of typing out those equations. I promise you’ll learn it better and it will take both of us less time.

More and more of these emails seem to come in the middle of the night, before exams, before homework assignments are due, etc. I tend not to answer those late night emails and I don’t accept them as excuses for not doing work. I have a policy about late work; It’s in the syllabus. I’m not going to remind you of it a million times either. It’s your job to keep track of your work.

I do this partly for my own sanity (avoiding mental labor at least a few hours of the day), but also because I believe that as an educator, I should be preparing my students for the real world. They need to learn to produce timely work—even if it’s not perfect—to manage their time, to realize that help is not available at all hours. That’s the real world, right?

More and more of what I hear though, is that it’s not. One serious problem that professors have is that they don’t live in the real world they’re trying to prepare students for. The only jobs I’ve worked outside of academia since 2006 have been consulting, hardly indicative of day-to-day office jobs that are commonplace for recent grads (when they’re getting jobs, that is). While some friends assure me I don’t want to be there among the unwashed masses, it’s a real liability for professors, especially if a whole new economy has popped up around being constantly available and connected and cheap, as some are claiming.

In response, some universities are advertising for positions to be just that for students: constantly available, connected, and (likely) cheap. This Western Governors University position wants a PhD economist to be available essentially 24/7 to tutor students who are struggling. I admire them being honest about the hours and expectations, but is that really the most efficient use of a PhD’s time? Answering the same email over and over again at 3am about opportunity costs? And they have similar positions open in almost every field. Is it really in students’ best interests to reinforce that work should be round-the-clock? That someone will be there to answer questions all the time?

Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo!, was recently lambasted by any number of individuals and groups for telling telecommuting employees that their flexible work schedule days are over and that employees can’t work from home anymore. While I disagree with the fundamentals of the decision for reasons that have to do with supporting working parents and caregivers, I’m sure she has internal reasons for her actions and the point about separation is important. It’s ridiculous how many of us check our email at the bar, respond to a client in the middle of dinner with another client, interrupt play time to read another message from our bosses. The WGU positions mentioned above actually erase all of those boundaries between work and home, keeping us constantly connected, constantly answering emails. There is no office, no in-real-life contact with students. It’s not teaching, but “mentoring,” and it reinforces the idea that someone should be working constantly. If you’re a student, it’s you and your professors. If you’re in the workforce, it’s you and your boss. If you’re the boss, it’s you and your employees.

College is kind of a special time. If you’re not up all night writing a paper, you’re up all night debating philosophy, or driving to the nearest Krispy Kreme, or or doing all manner of legal, illegal, silly, and serious things. There’s a reason that we don’t continue that madness (or at least some of us don’t) into our 20s and 30s, and especially not into our work.

And if work is really now 24/7, how the heck do we get it to not be? Certainly not by hiring people specifically for that purpose.

Thanks to @katinalynn for comments on a first draft of this post.

Academia and the Public

Over the past year and eight months or so, I’ve spent a lot more time on twitter than I ever thought I would. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about economics, academia, teaching, women, families, violence, children, marriage, and history than I could have ever imagined as a first-year Ph.D. student. I think that’s why they call this thing called academia a choice to “live the life of the mind,” though I’m not sure that’s entirely an accurate representation at all. With such a defined, rigid path ahead of us, it’s often difficult to imagine anything outside of the trajectory: get a tenure-track job, publish, get pre-tenure, publish, get tenure, publish, get to full professor.

Perhaps it’s the tenuous nature of my position, or perhaps it’s the myriad articles passed my way that decry the future of education, but getting off that path, deviating from it, or expanding it in some way are things I think about often. The public role of academics, sharing their research or influencing policy, or stepping outside the tower, is a constant subject of conversation and visible form of work supported by an online community I have had the pleasure of diving into over the last year or so. It is full of so many amazing individuals, I know I haven’t even begun to explore its depths. Some are academic, some are not. Some are recovering academics, some got a Ph.D., but never took the teaching route, and some remain blissfully ensconced in anonymity. Some are women, most are not. Some are in my field, many are not. All of them, however, make me think every day about the public role of an academic. In the face of increasing education costs, “free” alternatives, attacks on the value of a well-rounded education, and the nagging thought that somehow this house is going to all fall down around us, they make me think and write more deeply about what I do and why it’s important.

All of this is my roundabout way of saying that I’m grateful to be at an institution where there are professors and administrators willing to engage the public about the future of education and about their own research. Gettysburg’s president, in particular, is very vocal, often writing for the Huffington Post and the Chronicle of Higher Education. This week, a Gettysburg College history professor has a piece in the New York Times. It’s sponsored, and partially with the goal of maximizing exposure for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, but at least they’re reaching out. I don’t always agree with them, but I think it’s great. I’m finding myself more and more invested in the role of academics as public intellectuals, especially women.

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