How to write a power-point discussion (economics-specific)

The goal of a good discussion is to explain to the audience where the paper fits into the general social science/policy framework and to help the paper improve for the future.  The goal is not to destroy a paper but to improve it (see exception below).  Discussants are serving science!

  1. Frame question— why is it important?  (You can mention your own work here if applicable.)
  2. Briefly summarize paper.  If the presenter is great, you will be able to skip the summary or only go over what you see as the most important parts.  If the presenter is terrible, your audience will really appreciate figuring out what they just heard, so it’s good to be thorough on your slides if you don’t know a priori how good the presenter will be.  If applicable, here would be a great place to take the author’s work through a “sniff test”– Bridgette Madrian is one of the best discussants I’ve seen, and one of my favorite discussions of hers was where she took a person’s paper (on whether or not we need 70% of our income after retirement) and applied it to her own life with a spreadsheet and came to the conclusion that the paper’s thesis was plausible.  Sometimes discussants will call up experts in the industry to ask their qualitative opinion.  Really great discussants will sometimes replicate or extend with another dataset.  None of these things are necessary, but if they’re easy for you or an RA to do, they can really push you to be memorable (though being invited to discuss more papers is not necessarily something you want to do!).
  3. Constructively point out problems with the paper and suggest solutions (if any).  Don’t be a dick.  Frame these as questions to think about, how big a problem you think they are etc . Don’t use this part as a place to talk about why your work is awesome and theirs sucks.  If you do mention your work in this spot, use it only as a place to commiserate with standard problems and suggest solutions that could work for them.
  4. Extensions for the future, broader impact.  Here’s a place where you can talk up your own work if it is related and can speak to the paper you’re discussing.

How many slides do you want?  Fewer than the number of minutes you have to present.  It is better to go short than to go long.

Special cases:

  1.  The authors haven’t actually done anything yet:  Spent the majority of your time on why this is an interesting question and suggestions for future work.  (Also ok to use a chunk of your time talking about your own related work.)  Use the word “preliminary” a lot.
  2. The authors clearly haven’t addressed causality but causality needs to be addressed (or any other major elephant in the paper issue):  Spent the majority of your time on why this is an interesting question.  Talk about the problems of getting to causality and (if easy for you to do) what other authors have done and (if easy for you to do) the problems with what they’ve done (or if not problematic, then suggest these authors follow).  Gently mention that causality is something that these authors need to think about.  The audience will understand.  Then suggest future work (which will include really nailing down causality).
  3. You don’t get the paper to discuss until the night before at 3am:  Feel free to spend the entire time talking about your own work, or to come up with something off the cuff while they’re giving the presentation (it is AOK to note that you did not get the paper until the night before, but that should be the extent of your dickishness).
  4. The paper is poorly done and the results, if taken at face value, will do real harm to people, particularly those from marginalized groups:  In this case, it is ok to firmly and politely destroy the paper for shoddy craftsmanship.  You can do so in a professional manner in steps 2 and 3. You’re still not being a dick, but you don’t have to frame things as questions to think about but as real methodological problems.   It’s ok to throw around the terms “dangerous” and “needs stronger proof”.  It’s a shame that there are still guys (and the occasional woman) who write papers with sexist/racist agendas who ignore basic science in order to prove that wealthy white men are superior and deserve their privilege, but there are.  They shouldn’t be allowed to do bad science.

Academic readers– is this about right?  What things are the same or different in your discipline?  Any other tips?

How to do a powerpoint presentation (social sciences, economics)

I LOVE me some powerpoints.

Think about what you want your audience to take away.  Use the rule of 3 to emphasize those points (say what you’re going to say, say it, then tell people that you said it).  Depending on how much time you have you won’t be able to get through every point in the paper, so think about what subset you want to present, what slides you want to keep in case of questions but not actually present, and so on.

Use the powerpoint as a guide to remind you what to talk about, so brief bullets/phrases instead of full sentences.  Do not read off the slides.

Some people will only want to read your slides, some people will only want to listen to what you say.  Make sure that people who do one or the other will still get the gist of your presentation.

Make sure your fontsize is big enough that the people in the back can see it if they’re wearing glasses.   My heuristic is to not go below 28 point Calibri if it’s something I want them to read.  (Table notes can go smaller)

Graphs are often more compelling than regression output.  (But keep the regression output as a backup)

Don’t use fancy wipes/fade-outs/etc.  Anything that distracts without a purpose is useless.

Development economists, behavioral economists, psychologists, antrhopologists, etc. use a lot of photos/pictures/drawings and occasionally movies.  Do that if it is common in your field.  If it isn’t, then only sex it up like that if it helps improve understanding.

DO NOT USE PREZI.  Or if you do, use it like you would Powerpoint or Beemer.  You do not want to give members of your audience migraines.

I have often found it helpful to have different versions of the same information in the powerpoint that I can skip over depending on how pressed for time I am.  So I will have a pretty chart, regression output, and summary bullets (or two out of the three) and I will use combinations of one or two of these depending on how much time I have left.  It is also helpful to know which sections can be skipped without losing the main themes of the presentation.

Practice your talk.  Know how the talk is going to differ if questions are allowed vs. no questions being allowed.

It is better to go a little under than a little over.  It is better to skip parts than to talk so quickly nobody can understand you.

Join us next Tuesday for:  How to write a powerpoint discussion(!)

Academic readers– is this about right?  What things are the same or different in your discipline?  Any other tips?

How misogyny keeps women down

I just wandered onto econjobrumors because a prominent female economist who I like a lot was quoted on a blog post with school designation different from the one I last knew her to be at and I wondered about it.  So I googled.  Big mistake.  Now I feel really really dirty.  It reminds me how horrid and misogynistic most of economics is, at least when people are allowed to post anonymously.  Jeez.

The thoughts through my mind as I first read through the thread about her tenure denial and everybody bashing her were, gee, I’m glad this mob doesn’t know I even exist.  I’m glad I wasn’t working at a top 5 school.  I’m glad I didn’t write that popular press book that she wrote (that I could have written, but probably could not have published, and was very glad that I didn’t based on the backlash I read just on the Amazon reviews).

I don’t want to stick my neck out because I don’t want the mob to find me.  I’m happy being less than the top because I see what happens to outspoken women at the top.  I’m glad I’m not at a top 15 school where I would have been punished for having a baby before tenure.  (The things I hear from my friends at those schools always make me glad to be someplace more supportive.)

But as happy as I am with my non-star status, I wish it weren’t that way too.  I wish I could be more like her… I mean, I’d rather be more like Amy Finklestein, who I hope that nobody says anything bad about ever, but my true self is a bit more like this other woman.  If I hadn’t had self-confidence beaten out of me or had that extremely scary brush with infamy in middle school and if I’d had more privilege (and if I were a little smarter and more organized and a little less careful), I might also have the opportunity to stick my neck out and have internet mobs come after me because they didn’t like my opinions or attitude or my success.  I would be even more brash and more self-confident and more willing to tell people what’s right or wrong than I am now.  Things we aren’t allowed as women, when men with those characteristics get early tenure at Harvard.

If I were less weak.  If the world were a better place.  If I were male.  Then I would be less scared of true success.  Less scared of being a big fish in a big pond.  My ambition would have no limits.

But given my constraints and the way the world is… I’m pretty happy where I am now.  Valued by my colleagues and administration.  Making a small name for myself in my area of study.  Answering interesting questions.  Reading the occasional romance novel.  Having time for an anonymous blog that isn’t usually about economics (except that it sort of always is).

But wouldn’t it be nice if men and women had the same opportunities for success and balancing life?  And women didn’t have to be thankful that their mediocrity protects them from the mob?

Ask the grumpies: Recommendations for post-maternity leave

Slightly Anonymous asks:

My department is writing a policy for what they do to support new parents post-parental leave.  I’m on the committee that is supposed to come up with this.  I think this is great:  if somebody misses a year or a semester with a new baby, then it makes sense that they might need some time or extra support to come back up to speed.  But what should our committee recommend?

I’m wondering if you or any of your readers have ideas?

I’m at a UK university, which means that academic staff at my university are either on short-term temporary contracts — think postdoc — or have permanent positions.  In most UK universities “lecturer” is the equivalent of “assistant professor with tenure.”  At my university there is a 1 year probationary period before your job is officially permanent, but passing probation is pretty much a formality.  There is still stress about being promoted, but much less than what comes with trying to get tenure in a US university.

Being in the US and not having been at coastal or ultra-prestigious schools, our own experience is pretty pathetic.  That whole “missing a year or a semester with a new baby” thing … not something we’re used to.  In my department we’re still trying to get something consistent in place that doesn’t involve begging other people in the department to cover your classes for a couple of weeks after the baby is born.

Off the top of my head, all I can think of is adding a year to the tenure clock for those without tenure, but that is mostly irrelevant in the UK context.  Surely someone out there has a better idea of what best practices are?  #2 has only seen terrible practices.  My poor poor colleagues.

Grumpy Nation, please weigh in with your suggestions!

would you choose your education/career path again?

The shu box asked a really interesting question to her MD peeps– if they had to do it all over again, would they?  We thought we’d extend that to higher education more generally, not just MDs but other post-bachelor credentials.

Do you wish you’d gotten higher education (earlier, given that you could always get some now)?  Would you choose to get higher education again?  Would you have done things differently?

#2:  I’m very happy with my education.  My PhD program treated me a lot better than #1’s program treated her, and I still talk to my dissertation advisor.  I still collaborate with fellow students in my program and we have published together frequently.  I am facebook friends with some of my former professors (and one or two, with whom I’m not friends, I’m glad I never have to encounter them again).  I probably should have published more in grad school, but I did some, and that was fine.

I am reasonably happy with my career choices, even though I’m now a career-changer.  I did what I set out to do: got a tenure-track job and then got tenure.  I’m glad I did that; if I hadn’t, I would always have wondered if I could.  I wish the job had been somewhere less soul-sucking.  But it’s turned out ok, and I can’t say I have regrets.

#1:  Man, if I could go back and redo the phd program now I would be so badass.  They would think I’m a genius.  I kind of wish I’d taken a year off and gotten some maturity and knowledge before starting, but if I’d done that I probably wouldn’t have gotten into the program that I did.  And, realistically, I probably wouldn’t have ended up getting a PhD at all if I hadn’t stayed directly on the academic path because as ambitious and amazing as I am, I tend to get interested in things the more I know about them so whatever path I started on was most likely going to be one I took to the end.  But who knows!

I do seem to have gotten over most, if not all, of the PhD trauma and I like my current job and current socioeconomic status a lot.  So I think I’m happy with the path life has taken me on.  DH is pretty happy with his current job now too, so I (mostly) no longer feel guilty about the years he spent in a job he didn’t like so much (and by extension, the PhD program he went to so I could go to my #1 choice program).  (He, btw, has no regrets, so it’s irrational for me to feel the least bit guilty.)

There’s an alternate world me out there that is probably deliriously happy moving to SF right after college with DH and the two of us making bank during the dot com boom (DH moreso than me– I probably ended up without stock options).  We’ve bought a house when the market was at a low and are happily living the good life.

But I suspect there are many alternate world mes out there in various states of happiness.  Even though it might not have seemed like it from middle school (where I was bullied) and graduate school (where I suspect birth control pills and poor eating habits added to my anxiety), I’m essentially a happy person who tends to bloom where planted.

What about you?

Ask the grumpies: Dissertation Student from Hades

Stacie asks:

I have this student. She is a PhD student and she gets under my skin! Several months ago I could tell things were not right between us as she was very combative and defensive in class. I tried various ways to figure this issue out in class to no avail. I finally asked for a meeting and honestly felt blind-sided and rail-roaded by her response. When I tried to discuss her behavior, she was quick to retort how she wasn’t the problem, it was me and began to recount my failings [update:  failings were that Stacie is “cold and distant”]. It honestly caught me off guard and I didn’t know how to respond. I ultimately tried to diffuse the situation and talk about how we would work together in the future. I did find out that other students definitely see problems in her behavior in various classes, but have yet to find another professor who will vouch for this. I’ve asked and they say they have no problems with her, but then I hear other students talk about how much this student is being difficult in their classes… (this also drives me crazy!) I talked to my Chair whose overall response to most things seems to be “oh well” so that didn’t really help.

I am really having a hard time keeping my cool around this student who continues to be defensive in class. I am definitely having trouble “teaching others how to treat me” – probably because I don’t like conflict, try to be “nice”, and don’t have great one-liners at the ready to respond to student behaviors.

Yes, I am the newest faculty member, one of the only young females in a mostly senior, male faculty, and have been told I’m the most “human” of any professor we have. (I used to think this was a good thing, but now am not so sure.)

I was wondering if you could help me with how to think about this issue or some phrases I could use regularly with this kind of thing with students or other things I can do to survive this kind of issue. I have a feeling this won’t be my last student who challenges me like this, but I don’t want to always worry or over-think these things. I honestly have some great students, but this one student is the only one I can think about! It drives me crazy!

Well, we don’t have any great advice on this particular student.  Avoiding her completely would be awesome, but it sounds like that might not be an option. Mostly, it sounds like you need a mentor who has handled PhD students at your school for a while and has tenure. They can give you suggestions for the circumstances.  It also sounds like you’ve tried in vain to find such a mentor, and that really sucks.  We’re sorry you’re not getting more support on this.  :(

However, you can also look outside of your department.  Seek out the following resources: 1) talk to the head of the teaching development center at your school, whatever that’s called. (Or teaching & learning, or teaching & Faculty development, etc.) They exist for things like this! 2) talk to your faculty ombudsperson, as they may know more resources and probably have seen similar situations in the past. 3) attempt to get mentoring informally from senior colleagues — if not in your own department then in other departments. You could talk to other people who supervise PhD students, members of the student’s dissertation committee, the Director of Graduate Studies for your department, or the Dean of the Graduate School (or someone in their office). Take them to coffee and ask for advice. It’s good for the future to be friendly with these sorts of people anyway. 4) Outlast the student. Unfortunately this also takes time.

In terms of how to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future with other students, Teach like a champion is an invaluable resource with tactics that really do work. It isn’t quite as much help for what to do after a problem has started, but it’s great for setting up a professional environment where problems won’t start. We have some posts on teaching tactics from it that you might find helpful if you want to get a taste while waiting to get it from the library.  Maintain control of the classroom, and very strong personal boundaries. Don’t let the turkeys get you down.

Update:  That is an incredibly gendered complaint.  Professors are allowed to be cold and distant and setting boundaries and having a personal bubble helps immensely when you’re a young woman professor.  If you didn’t have such a bubble, students would be complaining about something else because they would perceive you as unprofessional.  There’s no way to win.  Allowing space and distance is the way to go because it isn’t so time intensive or emotionally challenging, even if you get punished for it.

Getting grey hair is also good for reducing student challenges. And experience is great for not letting obnoxious students get to you so much. But those strategies take time.

In the mean time, hopefully the academic part of the Grumpy Nation will chime in with additional suggestions.  We’ll also try to get a signal boost from Historiann to get her always helpful readers.

Two years after leaving academia: DH is flourishing

DH just got back from his second business week-long trip this month.  It was an important trip and really clarified some things for both of us.  I was considering turning this into my annual anniversary post, but I’ve already written one with a little bit more me-centered-ness.


When he was trying to figure out what he wanted in a job, he realized he wanted to work in teams.  He wanted regular feedback.  He wanted to feel as if he was doing something productive and valuable that would really help people.  He wants to feel valued.  He wanted to do programming but not just programming.

With his new job that he’s been working at for well over a year, he works on teams.  He gets regular (weekly) feedback.  He’s producing something valuable that will be literally saving lives within the next two years, should all go well.  (Engineering ROCKS.)  He’s doing computer programming, but not just programming, and he’s managing a project and a programmer.  He’s written as many successful grants in the past year than he did during his entire time as a professor.  Telecommuting and a bigger salary also haven’t hurt.

DH is happier than he has ever been before.  And I’m so very proud of him.  He is truly amazing.  Talking to him on the phone after a particularly successful meeting I felt my uterus twinge and had to remind it that I have already reproduced (twice) with this amazing man.

I feel a little bit guilty that he wasted all those years teaching undergraduates who didn’t realize the value they were squandering by not paying attention to their studies.  Truly we should have been less risk-averse and maybe he should have left academia earlier.  But things have worked out.  Being able to live together has definitely been a bonus and it isn’t clear that he would have been able to find such a great job 10 years ago.  Spouses of some of my colleagues haven’t been so lucky and either house-husband or live apart.  It’s hard to say what the counterfactual would have been.

Academia is still working well for me, but leaving academia is working extremely well for DH.  We are truly blessed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 306 other followers