Thursday, November 29, 2012

You Publish, or I'll Perish

Okay kids, sorry to harsh your mellow.  But I am sick and tired of writing letters of recommendation for promising young scholars who have given me nothing to work with.  I say that I will write the letter, and then I look at the CV and think.....FiretrUCK.  What am I going to do with this?

Academics is a simple business.  If you write every day, three pages or more, you will be successful.  You can be successful other ways, for sure (write one truly brilliant paper every other year, and publish it in Econometrica or AER).  But that's hard.  There is nothing hard about writing three pages per day, every day.  Except that apparently no one, NO ONE does it.

Some facts:

It takes two journal articles per year to get tenure.  Good journals.  Not great journals.  If you can publish in great journals you can get away with fewer publications.  But barring consistent genius, you should assume you need two journal articles per year to rest easy.

To do that, you have to have three papers out at journals at all times.  Four would be better, but never less than three.  Since your articles are going to get turned down 2/3 of the time, that means you need to have only two new papers per year (assuming that your portfolio of "work at journals" turns over once every six months, and each time one of the three gets accepted).  What I mean is that you only have a 1/3 success rate, and you get back two responses each year on your three articles.  Two of them get accepted, and you write two new ones.  You are writing the new ones while the ones out there are being considered by reviewers, for six months.

More after the jump ==>

So, all you have to do is write one paper in the period July-December, and one in the period January-June.  Just one.

Why would you do this?  Because, folks, a journal article publication is "worth" at least $10k, in terms of increment to future expected value of lifetime salary.  A good journal publication, in a top field journal, is worth more than $25k.  Sure, you don't get paid by check, when the thing gets accepted.  But if you add up the differences in salary, over time, for your whole career, when you are very young, small differences in hiring, raises, and promotion make a big difference.  (For example, if a young scholar published a paper, and gets a $1,000 dollar raise, assuming a 10% discount rate, that's $9,427 in present value over a 30 year career.  At a 5% discount rate, that would be more than $15,000).

So, if you want money, publish journal articles.  Your time is worth at least $100 per hour, maybe more, since you can write a journal article in 100 hours of actual work (and 100x$100=$10,000)

The point is, you have to ask yourself, is it worth it to sit here doing nothing, when it's costing me $100 per hour, minimum?  Maybe it is, but you have to have a pretty high value of leisure to think that's true.

Plus, then I could write better letters of recommendation.  Porque ahora mismo estoy muy triste.


UPDATE:  Okay, yes, it's true.  Necessary but not sufficient.  A formulaic approach to this will not get you tenure at a top school.  It might, but the papers would have to be good.  I would certainly NOT have gotten tenure at Duke if I had been hired straight out of grad school.  If you look at my cv (here it is) from 1985-1990, that's not tenure at Duke.  Here is the record I would have come up, six years into academics (I was 31 then):

"Public Choice in Political Science,"(with Jay Dow). PS: Political Science & Politics. 23:604-610.

"Political and Economic Control of the Federal Reserve: A Review of the Literature," (with Brian E. Roberts) in Thomas Mayer (ed.), The Political Economy of Monetary Policy, Cambridge University Press.

"Shirking, Representation, and Congressional Behavior: Voting on the 1983 Amendments to the Social Security Act," (with Lilliard Richardson). Public Choice 67: 11-34.

"Allocation Patterns of PAC Monies: The U.S. Senate," (with Kevin Grier and Gary Torrent). Public Choice 67 : 111-128.

"A Simple Test of the Thesis that Committee Assignments Shape the Pattern of Corporate PAC Contributions," Public Choice 62: 181-186.

"Political Investment, Voter Perceptions, and Candidate Strategy: An Equilibrium Spatial Analysis," (with Melvin J. Hinich) in Peter Ordeshook (ed.) Models of Strategic Choice in Politics, Cambridge University Press, 49-68.

"Declining Electoral Competitiveness in the House of Representatives: the Differential Impact of Improved Transportation Technology." (with Douglas Hart). Public Choice 61: 217-231.

"Contributions, Expenditure, Turnout: The 1982 U.S. House Elections." (with Gary Cox), American Political Science Review 83: 217-231.

"The Rationality of Ideology," (with William R. Dougan) Journal of Law and Economics 32: 213-239.

 "Allocation of Desirable Committee Assignments: Extended Queues vs. Committee Expansion," American Journal of Political Science v. 32, no. 2:317-344.

"On the Political Participation of the Firm in the Electoral Process: An Update," Public Choice v. 56, No. 3: 295-298.


"The Impact of Legislative Attributes on Interest Group Contributions" (with Kevin B. Grier), Journal of Labor Research v. 7: 349-361.

"Legislators and Interest Groups: How Unorganized Interests Get Represented" (with Arthur T. Denzau), American Political Science Review v. 80: 89-106 (Reprinted in Robert M. Alexander, The Classics of Interest Group Behavior. (pp. 338-357). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Higher Ed Publishing, 2006.


 "A Time-series Investigation into Factors Influencing U.S. Auto Assembly Employment," Bureau of Economics Staff Report to the Federal Trade Commission, February.

"The Cost of Protectionism: Estimates of the Hidden Tax of Trade Restraints," in Joseph J. Norton (ed.) World Trade and Trade Finance. New York: Matthew Bender.


David Leblang said...

A (good) page a day = a book a year.

Michelle said...

This is good advice, Munger, and it got me successfully through tenure twice at two schools. (It was so much fun to be hazed once, I wanted to do it again!).

An issue, I think, is that there are several departments out there that are trying to move up in the rankings, and so, stress to all their junior people to publish only in "top" (narrowly defined) journals. So, juniors there reconfigure all their work to try to hit the "big 3," which realistically don't publish all types of work and/or methodologies. And, then, some of those folks end up with thin records.

And, then, there are some people who believe that some articles in a 2nd or 3rd tier journal are worse than no publication at all. And, so people sit on papers that are rejected at the "top" journals, rather than find them a home somewhere they fear their colleagues or letter writers will snigger at.

I think you're right. There are very few of us for whom all our ideas are AER or APSR (or insert your favorite here) worthy. However, there are incredible pressures from some depts and from some in the profession to pretend as if all of our ideas should be, and if they aren't AER/APSR quality, we should hide them from the light of day, lest everyone learn we are not nearly as brilliant as our advisors' letters promised.

Ten Mile Island said...

My academic advisor had a simple rule; write your own letter of recomendation, and he would sign it.

Worked for me.

Tim said...

Agreed in spirit. I hit bumps in applying it literally though. So little of the work behind an article is the actual writing of it. With good data, I can write an article in a few days. But I spend plenty days asking for money, preparing IRB protocols, coding data, analyzing data, and keeping up to date on current research.