Monday, May 18, 2009

What Should I Be When I Grow Up?

I'm guessing these thoughts will sound better in my head than in print, but regardless, here they are.

I stumbled across a mildly amusing commencement speech this weekend, and among it's more maudlin pieces of advice: get somebody to pay you to do what you love. So what do I love? Being sarcastic in front of an audience, hiking long distances, running long distances, and getting well-identified estimates of causal effects through randomized controlled trials, regression discontinuity, or valid instrumental variables and two-stage least squares techniques. So who out there is going to pay me to be roughly 25% teacher economist, 35% fast long-distance backpacker, 15% ultra-runner, and 25% research economist?

I don't actually want anyone to pay me to hike or run, so mostly I just want someone who will pay me to be an economist. Except I pretty much need to go hiking all summer every three years or I'll go crazy. It takes six years to get tenure, so is there a school out there that actually encourages its faculty to go do other weird cool stuff? I've long pretended that Evergreen (which according to Wikipedia is the alma mater of "Burke Kenny, winner of the Full Beard with Styled Moustache category at the 2007 World Beard and Moustache Championships. Also believed to be the youngest ever World Facial Hair Champion at age 22") is such a place, but I don't actually know. Professors don't usually don't get paid for the summer, but they're still expected to be there, mentoring students if at a liberal arts college, or doing research if at a research school. Sabbatical every 5 or 6 years sounds awesome, but it's so you can go do research at some other school, not go hiking. The security of tenure is positively dreamy, but then again, I'm pretty happy with my current state of affairs: I earn $15,000 a year and can't imagine what I'd do with more, I have health insurance, and I'm only really required to be at work 4 hours a week for about 8 or 9 months of the year.

Why am I all worried about this now? Because my feedback at orals was better than I expected. I was thinking I'd get "You pass, but we don't like this idea, so start over," but I sort of got "You pass, and it's unfortunate that you got a zero as your result because that's not sexy and you can't publish it, but you know what you're doing and all the possible extensions you mentioned are good, so maybe try and go on the job market this fall." That would almost certainly mean no hiking this summer, which for one, is lame, and two, if I really intend to convince a good liberal arts college (Reed?) that I care about teaching, I should definitely do the Summer Institute for Preparing Future Faculty next summer (I didn't apply for this year because I hadn't passed orals yet, now it's too late) and possibly teach my own course--either Econ 1 here and try and get better reviews than my favorite ones from that other place, or maybe an intro course in Development Economics to Masters students at USF. Except I can't think of a single person that's taken 7 years to finish my program and gotten an academic job. Except the job market will probably suck this coming year thanks to the recession. Except who knows, it might still suck in two years.

So yeh, basically my problem is that I was already planning on going hiking for 65 days starting in a few weeks, and now I'm thinking I maybe shouldn't. If I did graduate this coming year, I'd finish in 6 years, and having taken a year and a half off that means I win. But what are the chances I'd really be ready to go in October? (That's the deadline.) I'd say pretty low, and then I'm going to fucking hate myself all next year for sitting in my windowless office all summer instead of hiking. Maybe you're thinking I should suck it up and try and graduate. But my wanderlust is not going away. If I'm not going to be able to do what I want when I get a job, I probably won't end up keeping the job for very long, so why fake it?

So is there a school out there that will be OK with my taking 7 years to finish (or call it 5.5 since I was out for a while), expect me to teach two courses every semester, be a decent teacher, do a medium amount of research, and in exchange let me disappear for five consecutive months after working hard for 31 months without terminating my health insurance and only expect me to come back with some rad photos and entertaining stories about wolves, bears, and the kindness of strangers with which to enliven your chi-chi wine and cheese parties? Also, mountains should be visible from campus and single-track trails no further than two miles. I'd do it for $40,000 a year. If you're aware of such a place, please let me know.


  1. G-
    Your job-market assumptions are overly pessimistic. Academic jobs w/ 7 year degrees are possible. On the other hand, I think your quality/flexibility-of-life assumptions are right on for the long term, but overly optimistic for the short term. Tradeoffs happen.

  2. I think your best bet is to find a sugar momma. that way you could be a volunteer tutor and help people who need help with econ, not need the money and take off and go hiking have no responsibility because you aren't tied to a job with money. Yeah, that's my advice. It's only slightly more optimistic than your original plan.

  3. Kermit Livingston7:29 PM

    Have you heard of the black swan?

  4. Kermit--heard of it, never read it. Is it in some odd way particularly relevant to my current situation, or just interesting in general?

  5. kermit6:35 PM

    I am 70 years old. The best layed plans of mice and men go ari. because of the black swan. Forget your life plans, and just Walk Walk and walk...

  6. I was in your position back in 2003. I ended up at Indiana on a research gig for a couple years after the PhD. Dropped it, came out west, and went to work for a community college. Pay is fine, summers are off (truly off, no hidden duties), and there is tenure after 3 years. No research. And you can pick where you work pretty easily, rather than ending up at South East Missouri State.