Writing about my job: Economics Professor

post by Kevin Kuruc · 2021-07-28T19:41:29.448Z · EA · GW · 9 comments

Contents

  Summary of Current Role
  My Background and Path to Applying
  Getting my Current Job
  Details of Current Role
    
    
    I've Built
  Contact me!
None
9 comments

I am following the advice of Aaron Gertler [EA · GW] and writing a post about my job. 80000 hours has independent career path pages dedicated to getting an economics PhD and doing academic research, but the specifics of my personal experience may be of interest. Plus, it was fun to recount! 

Summary of Current Role

My Background and Path to Applying

Getting my Current Job

There is plenty of advice on navigating the PhD economics job market, so I won't recount my general strategy here. 

Personally, I would have been happy at an academic job or a policy making organization (preferably something like IMF or World Bank). I ended up with offers from (i) my current academic institution and (ii) the Reserve Bank of India in their research department. 

The stark difference in these offers fairly represents the tightrope I was trying to walk between (i) showing I could do academic-style research (ii) working on applied policy questions and (iii) starting to get interested in GPR-style topics.

Details of Current Role

I teach 2 courses and advise ~4 grad students per semester; the rest of my time is academic research.

Overall, I love my job. I find all of the supposed perks of academia to be better than I anticipated and all of the drawbacks to be overblown or non-applicable in my job (with one exception detailed below). 

Pros

Cons

Skills I've Built  

Contact me!

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any follow-up questions, or if you think I could provide you specific advice. 

9 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Madhav Malhotra (madhav-malhotra) · 2021-07-28T20:05:55.037Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What life events happened between when you started and stopped having the feeling you mentioned? 'Walking the tight rope between lots of disciplines, but never fitting into any one'

 

I often feel like I have my interests fluctuate a lot and value learning many different skills (design, writing, speaking, math, ...). But I'm just 18 and I've never had a real job. So I feel like I'm doing the wrong things and not pursuing anything deep enough. But I hope that the light at the end of the tunnel is that I become good at doing MY niche of things and be good enough at it to create value for others.

Replies from: Kevin Kuruc
comment by Kevin Kuruc · 2021-07-28T20:58:58.369Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi Madhav, 

That feeling has never completely left me -- I still have varied interests and share your fear that I'm not digging into any single topic deep enough. The thing I've learned is that even if you pick something that feels narrow at the time (economics, for me) there are infinitely many interesting subtopics within that field to keep you interested, excited, and learning. Maybe that helps take some fear out of difficult-to-reverse decisions - like fields of study - if you're worried you may get bored with it. This may not be true for all fields, but there are plenty where it is the case if that's a concern of yours.

Figuring out the most useful skills to build is beyond my expertise, but you should certainly retain the belief that eventually you can and will build skills to create value! (And of course, check out 80000 hours if you haven't).

Replies from: madhav-malhotra
comment by Madhav Malhotra (madhav-malhotra) · 2021-07-29T12:54:11.147Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Could you tell me more about the 'switching subtopics' part? Do you notice that the subtopics are often at a 'similar' sublevel? 

For example, I'm interested in learning about the environment, but I can get bored researching just one area. Ex: Plastic pollution. But switching to another area (ex: energy storage) is enough to get me excited again. 

But I don't get similar excitement when switching from one sub-aspect of plastic pollution (ex: marine plastic pollution) to another sub-aspect (ex: waste infrastructure in developing countries). It's like moving between nodes one layer deep into environmental issues excites me, but two layers deep doesn't. Has that been similar or different for you with your greater years of experience? :-)

Replies from: Kevin Kuruc
comment by Kevin Kuruc · 2021-07-29T18:04:56.360Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree there is something more exciting about diving into a whole new field, since the fruit become low-hanging again and progress is faster. I guess what I meant is specific to economics, or other fields that give you 'thinking tools';  I underestimated how narrowing in on specific questions/fields teaches you how to learn, such that you can bounce to new disciplines and learn a lot much faster. Maybe another way to say that is that my focusing in on very particular subtopics was more temporary than I forecasted, but necessary for skill building.

Replies from: madhav-malhotra
comment by Madhav Malhotra (madhav-malhotra) · 2021-07-31T13:50:50.634Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like you still had to slog through the drudgery at times, but the drudgery didn't last very long after you'd mastered the skills? And that's because mastering the skills let you quickly iterate and hop to new ideas?

Replies from: Kevin Kuruc
comment by Kevin Kuruc · 2021-08-02T19:03:12.848Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think I've experience drudgery on the end of projects, when I feel like I've learned what I would like to about a sub-topic, but I still need to formalize everything in exacting detail for something like an academic publication. Hopping between and/or  starting new projects -- even within the same sub-discipline -- is not boring for me. 

However, things are probably different when you're near the frontier of a sub-discipline and the research you're working on is generating new knowledge, rather than reading lots of what others have done. It's definitely more exciting. Admittedly, it takes a lot of hard work to get to that point in any field, but I've found it very worthwhile. 

Replies from: madhav-malhotra
comment by Madhav Malhotra (madhav-malhotra) · 2021-08-03T12:25:52.082Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the context :-) I really appreciate you taking the time to share your perspective here!

comment by rgb · 2021-07-29T15:14:26.680Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"I've learned to motivate myself, create mini-deadlines, etc. This is a constant work in progress - I still have entire days where I don't focus on what I should be doing - but I've gotten way better."

What do you think has led to this improvement, aside from just time and practice? Favorite tips / tricks / resources?

Replies from: Kevin Kuruc
comment by Kevin Kuruc · 2021-07-29T18:16:26.961Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I have much to add aside from things I saw in your post (e.g., morning working, and other Cal Newport-ish tricks). I've found these to be really great.

One thing I experimented with pre-pandemic, and am about to re-up, is canceling my WiFi. Obviously during the depth of the pandemic when I had to work full time from home I needed it, but I'm actually calling up my provider tomorrow to drop back off. I still had some data on my phone for a quick email and/or internet check , but this entirely eliminated useless scrolling, streaming, etc., at home that don't bring me joy. 

I think more people should try this  -- maybe I'll write a short post making the case for it.   

EDIT: I did write that short post up [EA · GW], if anyone's interested.