Wednesday, April 11, 2007

On Academic Success

A student emails me from Greece to ask:
I wish to follow an academic career and I would like to teach at famous universities (like Harvard, MIT, Stanford and so forth). Do you think that this is possible?
Yes, absolutely. Academia is very much a meritocracy. Success at getting goods academic jobs is determined by research productivity, measured by such things as publications in top academic journals (such as the AER, JPE, and QJE) and citations by others in academic journals (recorded in the Social Science Citation Index and Google Scholar). One can argue with that too much emphasis is put on research relative to teaching and public service, and one can argue that some research in academic journals is excessively arcane and pedantic. I believe that myself. But there is little doubt that a person who achieves research success as conventionally judged will be rewarded with job offers at top universities.

The main value of being trained at a top university is that it gives you access to faculty who have achieved such research success. They can bring you up to date on the latest research, give you advice about your work, and get you involved in their own research projects. But so much information is now available over the Internet that it should be easier today than in the past for someone at a lower-ranked school to reach and contribute to the research frontier if he or she is equipped with intelligence and a work ethic.