Saturday, February 24, 2007

Advice for New Junior Faculty

A reader emails me:

I've read your "Advice for..." blog posts with interest. They're truly helpful. But now I've finished the job market and I have a tenure-track position at a research university. Can you post an "Advice for Junior Faculty" next?
Okay, here goes:

  • Your focus should be on getting papers published in refereed journals. Everything else is secondary.
  • Do not be a perfectionist. It is tempting to keep revising your dissertation chapters until you are completely satisfied with them before sending them off to a journal. The problem is that you may never be completely satisfied. Meanwhile, the editorial review process is unconscionably long, and your tenure review is approaching. So don't delay. If you just got a job as an assistant professor at Bigshot University, aim to send your dissertation research to journals before you arrive at Bigshot to start teaching.
  • It pays to be a good teacher and a good citizen in your department: Your senior colleagues will be more likely to want to keep you around. But don't deceive yourself into thinking that great teaching or citizenship will make up for a paucity of published research.
  • For women and minorities: Be especially wary of invitations to sit on university committees. I have noticed that deans and other university administrators like to promote diversity on their committees. They never seem to figure out that, as a result of this "tax" on women and minorities, we white males are left alone with more time to pursue our research.
  • Attend conferences and give seminars at schools to publicize your work and yourself. The people in the audience may one day be in a position to hire you or write letters of evaluation about you.
  • Tenure review committees give a lot of attention to where papers are published (perhaps too much, in light of this work by Andrew Oswald). Give each of your papers a shot or two at the top journals, such as the AER, JPE, or QJE. Even if you are not confident in the paper, it is worth a try for two reasons. First, as author, you are not in the best position to judge its quality; some people are too fond of their own work, and some are too hard on it. Let the editors decide. Second, the editorial process is highly imperfect. (Again, see Oswald.) The bad news is that some of your best articles may end up getting rejected from the top journals. The good news that you may get lucky, and some of your so-so articles may end up published in top journals simply because they hit the editor's desk when he is in a good mood.
  • Do not get discouraged by rejection. It is part of the process. Learn what you can from the editors and referees and then take your paper to another journal.
  • Be on the lookout for good coauthors among your colleagues and students. See My Rules of Thumb for more discussion of this topic.
  • Avoid activities that will distract you from research. Whatever you do, do not start a blog. That will only establish your lack of seriousness as a scholar.
  • Remember that you got into academics in part for the intellectual freedom it allows. So pursue your passions. Do not be too strategic. Be wary of advice from old fogies like me.