Things I haven’t told you about work this year

  • I’m actually on leave this year.  I can’t go anywhere because DC1 is a high school senior, so I’m hanging out in another department.  This is very nice.
  • They screwed up my salary by giving me a full paycheck the first paycheck in October.  Then no paycheck the second paycheck (I still owe them $44).  This has screwed up my retirement because I have a set amount extra taken off and because there was no paycheck last month, I didn’t get it.  I don’t think with my half salary (plus extra fees) that there’s enough money to fill up my accounts even if I try to max them out if I only get the November paycheck.  I’m not sure if the December paycheck counts for 2022 or 2023 (it’s supposed to be disbursed Jan 1, but is always disbursed the last business day before that).  If it counts for 2022 I think I can max out both, but if it doesn’t, I can’t.
  • Despite being on leave, my department head put me on the promotion and tenure committee for the guy who is currently suing the department because he wasn’t promoted the last time he went up, despite not having any new publications since tenure except in teaching journals (the kind where you say here’s a classroom exercise you can use in your classes), and not a whole lot of them earlier.
  • I said no, I will not do this, but I can be on the committee for the junior faculty member I’ve been mentoring (she does work that has a lot of intersections with my areas of expertise) and have read all the papers for.  The chair ignored that email and I got one from the head of the suing guy’s committee trying to set up a meeting.  I replied all and refused because I am fricking on leave.
  • It turns out that the suing guy refuses to work with any department member who denied him full in the past, so he refused to be on the committee of the person I mentored so I ended up being on her committee anyway.  The department head wrote me a kind of jerky email saying that zie had discussed with the dean and provost about whether I was still obligated to do service while on leave and they had said yes, the department head could force me to do service.  But because I had more knowledge of the junior member’s cv, zie was graciously allowing me to be on that committee instead of the suing guy’s (they didn’t replace me).  No mention of the other guy taking himself off the committee (and why was he allowed to do that but I was not?) and needing that slot to be filled.  But the other committee members informed me and were grateful that I was there, especially since I was able to write up the research statement for the committee (everyone gushed about what a great job I did after… which is both nice and makes me cringe because doing a good job is rewarded with more service but not more time or money).
  • I was supposed to get a $2000 additional payment (along with a plaque– currently have a printed paper award that’s supposed to be a place holder) for a small awards thing I was awarded in September and I thought that might fix up the retirement problem, but it has not yet come.  I should probably check on that.
  • Did I mention that I am the only full professor without a fellowship, professorship, or chair?  This includes the woman who is similar to me but does zero service, doesn’t answer student emails, has been here less time than I have, and has a slightly higher google scholar count than I do (she has also been out 3 more years than I have and has gotten a number of sweet deals to not teach).  But she does research in the same area as the chair who likes her more than me even though zie can’t “trust” her on committees or to teach classes.
  • Brainstream:  I think the chair might have a fixed mindset.  It’s weird though because the professor in question used to teach just fine.  It’s just that after starting a field experiment she stopped being able to do anything other than research.  And yet, I did a field experiment before she did (my NSF grant ended just as hers started) and was able to still meet my other commitments.  Still, it seems to me the solution is not to protect her research time at my expense but to get her to go back to doing the minimum for teaching and to start actually doing service.
  • Brainstream:  The department head has trouble about thinking about gestalt fairness.  Zie tends to think in terms of “we have to have everyone teach an undergraduate course and core course” rather than thinking about the entire teaching/service package.  So some people get really lucky in some areas or really unlucky but then get the average load in other areas, which as a whole ends up being extremely unfair.
  • Brainstream:  Zie also takes the wrong message from things.  I got angry about being told to do an additional small service (straw/camel — this was reading over a master’s thesis for an award committee) after dying of service that year and being promised that I would be done for the year after the last thing zie begged me to do (I had said, yes, I will do this but it has to be the LAST thing you ask me to do this year), so instead of taking the lesson not to renege on promises, zie took the lesson that I never wanted to read over masters theses for the award and this master’s thesis committee is so terrible that it should be equivalent to half of the two course reduction that people get for paternity leave (they are supposed to get additional service to make up for the class reduction since we don’t have real parental leave).
  • The other professor does some service external to our university (again, as do I and earlier) so she can’t actually be incompetent.  She just doesn’t care.  And why should she?  She’s getting rewarded for selfishness.  The department head is worried she will leave, but she has been on the market every year since she got here and nobody has hired her yet.
  • I had a fellowship very briefly but I lost it upon becoming a full professor.  This information was not in the letter when I got my fellowship.  Also nobody in admin noticed.  So for a month I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t reimburse a $50 journal submission fee.  I think I may have already complained about this.
  • The one competent person in admin services recently moved to a different state, so she’s not there anymore.
  • I’m very worried that I will never be able to leave because I don’t have a top 5 journal publication.
  • Being on leave is such a contrast to being in the department.  I have a high teaching load compared to other economists (average or low compared to humanities profs– I don’t know how you guys get any work done!)  I have an insane service load compared to even people in my department, including a lot of things that I get zero credit for (I have complained about this in the past).  I was worried that I was becoming stupid and would never have any good ideas or time to get things out again.  But I am thinking deep thoughts!  I am being productive!  I am happy and meeting people and giving keynote talks that go over really well and I’m getting grant proposals out and papers under review.  I’m excited about research and both new and current projects. It’s like I’m back to being me.  My department overload and feeling unappreciated and not being given time or money was seriously hurting me.
  • I went back over to the department yesterday and the people who are competent at service are dying.  They haven’t washed their hair.  They’re frazzled.  They told me about all these stupid directives coming from on high admin that the head isn’t slowing down or pushing back on.  (Hardcore!)  And that’s going to continue into next year except other competent people are going on leave.  I don’t know how I am going to be able to honor the research commitments I’ve made this year in that situation, especially since I’m also supposed to be teaching a new prep.
  • I think I need to have a discussion with the department head before I go back about how this is untenable.  My counterpart in another field who also does outsized service is feeling the same way (but will be on leave next year), so maybe we can approach hir as a united front.  We’re both program coordinators, and the only program coordinators with the full teaching load, even though we’re coordinating the two biggest programs (the other coordinator has a center and does no research anymore, just public outreach).
  • There are a couple of professorships and one chair available, but the dean has decided to take them from our department to distribute across all of the departments in our school (we recently had a re-org).  So I will continue not having a fellowship, professorship, or chair.  These have been open for some time and we were told to apply for them this summer (previously they were just appointed by the department chair) and there would be a committee that would make the decision.  But a couple months after that, we were told in a lengthy email that they would be open to being reassigned to another department, and there would be another committee (headed by someone from the other department), oh, and btw, I no longer have a fellowship and it was going back in the pool too (this was in the email sent to everyone, thanks).  That was almost 2 months ago and still no decisions.  But at least I have a bursary now.
  • IT says that we can’t work from home unless we use a department laptop because we are not allowed to do university business on our own devices.  Except dropbox is still broken on my computer in my home office because when they update it it often (but not always) defaults back to a drive that has no space in it.  I wouldn’t have to download so much stuff, except that the computer in my office is too slow to download on the fly and use stata.  What’s really weird is that the computer in the office I’m using now in the other department has no problem– it’s fast and logging on is fast and dropbox works and is fast.  It just works.  Also we’re not allowed to get reimbursed for software using grant funding.
  • Another irritating thing is that the dean just assumed I had a professorship, which I never did.  We got into an argument about the IT bullet above (which probably wasn’t a great idea on my part since having a dean disliking you isn’t great) and he made a comment about using my professorship funds.  Which I have never had.  Another full professor also thought I had a professorship because she assumed I got one when my colleague who is a substitute for me but does no service got one.  It’s like not getting maternity leave all over again!  Everyone assumes you got the benefit you didn’t get, which is worse than just not getting the benefit.
  • Was this cathartic or did it make things worse?  I don’t know.  I just know I’m dreading going back to work next year and it’s only November.  And if I hadn’t gone in yesterday I could have ignored it.

Dream job not happening

Everything went great until my last meeting. The dean was late as is his usual, apparently.

Then he made a small amount of small talk about his son going to the school. Then he asked me if I wanted to work there and why. Then he was basically like, you do not currently have an R01, therefore I will veto anybody that wants to hire you.

And I’m like, NIH doesn’t fund the work I do. Does it have to be NIH? I’m between grants right now, but I’ve been getting NSF funding more recently. And he said NSF was fine, but it had to be government funding, foundation funding doesn’t count. But the next two grants I’m scheduled to submit are both foundation (and he’d never HEARD of one of them, which, dear readers, many of you have likely heard of because there are celebrities involved with the larger organization). But he said, no, overhead is important and he wants 67% overhead, not 15%. (My colleague who works there says the majority of her funding comes from this specific foundation so the dean has definitely heard of it.)

Then he said that he’d decided not to do a targeted hire and there would be a job posted with a search committee and I was welcome to apply and the search committee was welcome to do what they wanted, but he was going to veto anybody who was not bringing in government funding with the appropriate overhead rate. It’s an equity issue, he said.

NSF deadline is in January, they say what is being funded sometime in the summer. It usually takes two tries. This is not going to happen.

Also he said, this is probably illegal for me to ask, but what does your husband do? When I was on the job market the first time I told off two guys at Berkeley (for a post-doc that I did not get) who asked me that. He’s not a coal miner, there are jobs for anybody in Silicon Valley.  (And yes, they only asked women with rings that, and they did stop the next year.) This time I answered, but I HATE it when people do that. It’s not a state school, where doing that actually would be illegal in this state, but I’m willing to bet they have guidance that they’re not supposed to ask.

Unless I move over into health, it would be very difficult for me to keep up a steady stream of government funding and also get publications out. My work is of strong interest to foundations right now and they are much faster to fund. But they don’t allow more than 10-15% overhead. Even though this job is hard money, I just don’t think it is a good fit for me. I can think of a couple of people it would be a good fit for, but they’ve recently just moved to other jobs that are hard money without the additional funding expectations.

So, a nice visit, but I shouldn’t have spent so much time looking at housing and schooling in the area. It’s not going to happen.

How to determine you need an equity increase and how to argue for one at a US state university

Disclaimer:  We are not financial or legal professionals.  Consult with an actual professional who has your interests in mind and/or do your own research before making any important decisions.

If you work at a state university in the US, your salary information is public information.  For many state universities, the data are available online– you can just google the name of your school and “salary” and click on the links.  For schools where the information is not online, and even those for whom it is, you can also get salary information by asking the university librarians.

If you don’t know what the other people in your department are making compared to you, try googling and see what you find.

Note that not all of the places online report data the same way.  Some report 9 month salaries separate from summer money.  Some include summer money in the numbers you get.  If you get summer money you can look and see what they think your salary is, otherwise you may have to ask someone or just or just skip directly to the library.  Some online places report calendar year instead of fiscal year salaries which is annoying.  The university library should report the fiscal year salary and will separate out 9 month from additional earnings even if the online places don’t (and for some states, there are multiple places that report salaries and the different websites sometimes report them differently!).

Once you have an idea what your salary is compared to people in your department… are you underpaid?  How do you compare to people who have worse cvs than you do?  How do you compare to the people making more than you are?  Are you a research active full professor making less than an associate professor?  Comparisons where the other person has not gotten an outside offer are especially compelling, but you shouldn’t let outside offers stop you– if a person has a higher salary from an outside offer and they’re not as productive as you are, you can still make the argument that your salary should be higher.

Who you compare yourself to is important– in my case, there’s a guy who never had an outside offer who was hired the year after I was who has a less impressive cv, fewer citations, fewer papers, equal quality etc. etc. etc. and it was very easy to use him as a comparison.  (The argument being that his best papers hit during years with raises, and my best papers hit during years without raises.  Or maybe they’re sexist.)  But my friend in a sister department has used several comparisons, some with outside offers, some without.  That way she could say, yeah, this person had an outside offer but this person didn’t, this person was hired a different year, but this person wasn’t.  And it made it very clear that her salary was the one out of whack, not a single comparison person.

Then write up your justification for a salary increase using these comparisons.  Put in charts or tables to make it easy to parse and to make your argument obvious.  My friend and I included this with our annual progress reports, but there’s no need to wait until then if you just found out about the equity problem now for the first time.  Your department head or dean may need extra time to figure out how to get equity increases and to lobby on your behalf.

On the other hand, universities, particularly those who have been through NSF ADVANCE, may have a system in place specifically for equity bumps.  Our uni, for example, runs everybody’s statistics in each department (not publications or grant money or anything like that) and sends each department head a graph of a linear regression that makes it clear who the department outliers are.  The department head then can look at the underpaid outliers and decide if they are outliers because of low publications, for example, or if they want to request equity adjustments from the central university.  Department heads like this because they get money from the university, and there’s no system in place for lowering outliers from the other direction, so nobody gets upset at them.  The department head still has to write up a request though– if you write up that memo for them, it will make their life easier and they will be more likely to put forward the equity request.

I’ve also seen people who don’t have good comparisons at their own university (ex. people in interdisciplinary departments/fields) find comparisons at other schools of similar ranks to theirs (you may also want to include any schools your university considers to be “aspirational”).  Here again it’s important to determine if a salary listed is 9 month or 12 month, and you can either email the person in question or you can call up *their* university library– you don’t have to be at the university to have access to the internal salary data.

I’ve gotten 2 equity bumps in my time here, each about 10% (though I was still underpaid after, despite promises– it’s easy here for them to request a 10% bump but more difficult to request a larger one).  My friend just got an ~$50K/year equity bump and will no longer be underpaid.

University peeps at state schools:  Have you googled your salary info?  Are you underpaid compared to your colleagues?

Finally got my promotion salary info

  • My raise was 13%.  I think that’s the 10% regular bump and a 3% merit increase (I got a lot of pubs and killed myself on service last year).
  • That means that for a brief time, I will be making slightly more than DH (he was making slightly more than I was before this raise).
  • DH’s company is supposed to be doing raises soon.  I hope he out-earns me again, because that means we both will be bringing in more money.
  • I never thought I’d be the type to just have completely shared finances, but it works with DH.  He says he likes it because he doesn’t have to think about money stuff and can just let me take care of it.  I also find it easier to manage.  This is all possible because DH gives himself an allowance and we’re making enough that we don’t have to sweat the small money stuff anymore.  Also it means that his larger salary is also my larger income.  :D  He likes it when I get raises too, though it doesn’t actually affect him much these days (see allowance and not sweating the small stuff already).  But it makes me happy.  #bagladysyndrome
  • I am now making more than 2x what my starting salary was.
  • If DH were making what I’m making, he would be making more than 3x his starting salary #trailingspouse
  • My house is also worth a little more than 2x what it was when we bought it, according to our property taxes that are updated every year.
  • According to an inflation calculator, total inflation has been 47% during that time.  So I guess we’re beating inflation, which is good.
  • We’re supposed to have annual merit increases, but that’s kind of broken because we’ve had so many years with no pay raise.  Sensible departments do raises on a 3-5 year scale, but ours only has a one year look-back period, so it’s easy to get bad luck with publication timing.
  • The crazy thing is, I’m still underpaid for an economist with my record.  I guess that’s what happens when you don’t get outside offers.
  • The good thing about having a lower than expected salary is that I am more movable in the eyes of other departments.  The bad thing is that it might lead to lower salaries even if I’m movable because they figure they don’t have to bump me up as much to get me.
  • When I was talking with people this summer about, “My salary is X, will my salary be a problem/would I have to take a paycut if I moved” nobody blinked an eye.  One person was like, yeah, we pay our untenured research faculty (which you could be) more than that, even prorated to 9 months.
  • This was the last big bump I was eligible for.  I’m hoping so hard that my salary won’t matter that much because I will be going someplace else next year.
  • My bursary seems to have completely disappeared.  I got denied a $50 reimbursement (Desk rejection means half price submission fees) because of insufficient funds.  Nobody seems to be able to tell me what is going on– they won’t even respond to my emails to acknowledge that they have gotten the question.  I have another fund to draw from, but it is going to run out in a year and I kind of have all that money ear-marked for research purposes.  (It also hasn’t refilled for this year, but I have some of last year’s money left because I did so little travel.)
  • More digging and more emails– they have confirmed that I have zero bursary this year.  Which is bad because I have made travel and RA and research commitments that involve having a bursary.  Seems like they could have told me something about it before I started getting payments denied.
  • More emails.  Apparently my bursary was tied to being an associate professor and when I became a full professor I lost it.  And like, nobody noticed I had no bursary.  Well, technically the people denying my reimbursement requests noticed, but they didn’t flag it as being unusual even though *everyone* has some kind of bursary.  (This loss was not the case for anybody else in this history of our department or our closest sister department– every single other person who has gone up for full has had an endowed chair.  I’m the only one without.  This is not because my research record is worse or because I have less service, because neither of those are true.)  They are in the process of restoring my bursary with unmarked funds, but it may take a while.  At some point it’s going to be too late for me to not request travel permissions, so hopefully it will be figured out before then.  In the mean time I guess I float reimbursements.
  • I applied for a job in the midwest that’s close to DH’s family.  Even though there’s a supercreep on the faculty.  (He preys on female freshmen and was fired from another institution for doing so.  He will tell you this proudly if you ever meet him.  He likes to say that they’re legal and he won his wrongful termination lawsuit.)

Big work plans for the year

Let’s see if they pan out!

  • Deep dive into my second focus area that I’m getting known for and asked to do keynotes for, but am not really a member of the community of (even though I do have training and publications)
  • Catch up on all the working paper and published journal abstracts I didn’t read since the pandemic started (>350 unread emails, each one a page full of abstracts)
  • Get out the Second Stage paper (September depending on coauthor)
  • Finish the systematic literature review and get it out (September depending on coauthor)
  • Keynote (October)
  • Three conferences (October)
  • ASSA panels (January)
  • Write the grant proposal I said I would write (January)
  • NSF main paper
  • HR paper
  • HA Name paper (RA-led)
  • Start two new projects
  • Prep new class I was supposed to create last year but didn’t
  • Stop getting so irritated with incompetence and willful making things harder for me on the part of administrative units (ex. IT).  (This seems to be easier with the idea that I am definitely going to leave as soon as I can.)
  • Apply for new jobs!

Do you have any big professional pie in the sky plans for this year?

Co-Pilot update

The first month of co-pilot (not sponsored– if you want a discount, wheezy waiter is sponsored) seems to be going fine. I’m doing exercise exercises for 15 minutes 3 days a week and stretching for 15 minutes 3 days a week and I take Sundays off.

I started out with two weeks of calisthenics because I was traveling the first week and I needed another week to get used to the new program (also my person likes doing two week sets).  These were two days of cardio and full body strength and one day that I would term “leg day.”  The first two workouts were about the right level– I was left sweaty and breathless but didn’t feel like dying.  My first time I did leg day it was too easy, I guess because my legs are in better shape (from walking) than the rest of me, so I let her know.  She calibrated a bit too much in the other direction to fix it the next week but it was still doable.  Each task is ~30 seconds (a few are longer if they’re based on number of reps, and some of my stretches are a full minute) with a 20-30 second break in between.  It keeps things interesting and doable.  (Note:  YMMV– DH does things longer for longer because he started out in better shape!)

Then I had two weeks with weights.  This time I had a full body day, an arm day, and a leg day.  These were a bit harder than the calisthenics were, but still doable.  My arms definitely felt much weaker after doing these exercises, but by the end of the two week set, the exercises had gotten easier and my arms had gotten stronger.  But it wasn’t like I was feeling stronger right away– I definitely was feeling weaker and more tired with the exercise, even on days I didn’t exercise.  I assume this is the whole muscles tearing and rebuilding thing going on.  For all of these, I would do some warmup (always including arm circles for some reason), then a set of exercises, then I would repeat that set, and then I would end with stretches.

I currently have a 4 week set going where she’s breaking up things a bit differently.  I have a day of upper body then lower body, then full body, then the next week it’s a different upper body, lower body, and full body.  These also don’t have the thing where I do a set of exercises followed by a repeat– instead it’s a longer single set in the middle of warmup and stretching.  The first arm day was a little too hard so she adjusted one of the exercises to make it doable for me.

DH’s trainer and my trainer have different personalities.  DH’s is very business-y and pushes him.  Everything is very matter-of-fact.  Mine is more chit-chatty and doesn’t want me to ever feel bad exercising.  She came late to exercising and understands that I don’t know what I’m doing.  Any pushes for me are gentle.

I have not yet gotten any magical increases to willpower.  Exercising is not a real habit yet even though it’s the first thing I do in the morning, and it does seem to take some of my willpower away from other things I would normally do in the morning.  Infinite things cannot be added to my day.  If something goes in, something else goes out.  That may change as it becomes an actual habit and I start doing it without thinking, but for now it becoming a priority has displaced other things that had been priorities.

One thing that does seem to be magically working better– she asked if I had any stretches that I wanted to do on alternating days, and I was like, what do you have for people who spend their days sitting at the computer?  And she was like, I’ve got you covered.  So now I’m doing a set of really great stretches, including this leg thing where I roll my knees to one side and then the other that “loosens my hips” — I did not know my hips were tight until said exercise.  DH also told me to suggest that she add another back exercise where you alternate toe touches while lying on your back, which she did because that’s supposed to be really good for strengthening your back for people who sit at the computer a lot.  And I do seem to be able to sit at the computer without my back hurting.  I think my posture is a little better too, though I don’t know if that’s a side effect or just coincidence.

If you’re wondering if I’ve had any weight-loss, the answer is no.  I am currently weighing more than I did any time in my life except when 9 months pregnant.  Fortunately weight-loss isn’t a very good measure of health, and as they say, muscle weighs more than fat but takes up less space.  I don’t know that I’ve done anything spectacular in the muscle area (unlike DH whose 40 min 3x/week for over a year has given him lovely definition from his shoulders to his calves), but it’s a good reminder that health and weight are not equivalent.

How’s your exercise routine going (or not going)?

RBOC

  • DC2 has forgotten how to swim since the pandemic started.  Zie can still float and stuff, but zie had gotten to a pretty decent ability level with strokes previously.  DC1 doesn’t seem to have been affected.
  • I am concerned about monkeypox once colleges start. I think it is insane that the US isn’t moving heaven and earth to get more vaccine doses ready.  And it’s ridiculous that they haven’t learned from the Aids epidemic about branding things “gay diseases.”  If something isn’t done, college campuses are going to be hit really hard.
  • Talked to a former admissions officer from a top (but not top 10) SLAC and she said that yes, they are less likely to accept 16 year olds, but they do accept them if they’re good enough otherwise, or at least that was the case when she was working (admittedly before she got a PhD!).  I’m starting to be convinced that ED (early decision) to HMC (Harvey Mudd) is DC1’s best option (not that I have any say in the matter, and I’m trying to keep out of hir decision-making processes, but for my own peace of mind).
  • Told everybody I met at a recent conference that I want to move and that DC1 is graduating from high school.  One of them said, hey, I’d been thinking about you for this dream job because my dean wants more economists.  And everything about the job sounds perfect for me– lower teaching load, in one of my favorite cities, hard money but encourages grants, kicks back a large percentage of overhead as unrestricted research funds for the next year, lots of classes directly in my specialty (I haven’t been able to teach any classes in my specialty), tons of people working in my area across the entire university.  And it’s a private school.  I can’t get my hopes up though– I’m not sure I’m amazing enough for it.  But I sent in my cv and my grants chart.
  • Retire By 40 mentioned that he tells his kids that minor setbacks build character.  My mom used to say that a lot too.  DH and I really don’t say that much if at all.  I’m not sure why.  We both do a lot of solutions oriented stuff (though if it’s something like a cut finger, there’s sympathy, and an offer to kiss it and make it better which is invariably refused these days) and possibly some gentle teasing/reminders on how to avoid the situation next time.
  • In the end, the admissions office at our local university were awful and after giving us faulty or missing information several times, decided that DC1’s application was not complete (there was a waiver not in the instructions that needed to be on official outside letterhead rather than the form they gave us, so we would think the application was complete when it wasn’t and we got a lot of conflicting information from them), so DC1 will not be taking Calc 3 this coming semester.
  • The research teacher also basically said it was too late to do the research class, plus DC1 would need to find a lab and all the other students had started looking for a lab back Spring semester.  The email was kind of mean, so we’re thinking maybe a good idea to not get a rec letter from that particular teacher.  After some prodding DC1, zie revealed that this particular teacher also strongly suggested that DC1 not do the research class when zie asked her about it last Spring.  DC1 did get an A in her physics class, but the last six weeks grades were lower than the previous weeks.  I’m not sure what happened.
  • So DC1 is taking a study hall.  I can’t say I’m not relieved.  A little extra time will be helpful both with college apps and with DC1 being able to devote time to 5 AP classes, varsity orchestra, and who knows what else.
  • Hopefully DC1 can wow either the calc-based physics teacher or the AP chemistry teacher.  People say great things about AP Chemistry.  [Update:  Calc-based physics is the same teacher… hopefully DC1 can redeem hirself in her eyes.]
  • If you run out of scheduled posts on wordpress, it no longer shows the “scheduled” menu option.

Data and bias

This tweet recently made the rounds of twitter:

Justin Wolfers has since deleted his defense.

But… here’s my 2 cents as someone who isn’t bringing in over half a million per year in salary from the University of Michigan (Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson’s salary info is available online as state employees):

1.  100K is a lot, and if you don’t think it’s a lot, there’s a problem.  To speak in terms that the top 2% can understand, that’s a whole new personal assistant.

2.  The motivation of 100K is not really as big a deal as getting stunning data. Just the data by themselves are incentive to not bite the hand that feeds the researcher (in this case Uber).  And the Uber data are stunning.  They’ve helped us learn a lot about human behavior and contingent labor markets, and probably lots of other stuff that’s more industrial organization.

Does that mean that you can’t trust anything that comes out of the Uber data, or any other study where the company has generously provided data?

No.

But it does mean that you need to think really hard about the studies that do come out of the data (and the studies that don’t come out as well).

Ask yourself:

Does the company (or in some cases, government agency) benefit from the study results?  If not, then it’s probably ok.

There are plenty of amazing studies using the Uber data that tell us about the type of employee who uses the contingent labor market and what their preferences are.  Uber has no reason to benefit from or to suppress this information.  The studies are orthogonal to influences that Uber might be giving (purposefully or not) to grateful researchers.  These results are probably trustworthy, that is, they can be evaluated on the merits of their own internal validity.

If the company would have cause to benefit from the results– then you might be more cautious.  Not that a good economist would purposefully fudge data or results.  They don’t need to.  With any research project there are a lot of decisions that need to be made about specifications and samples and data cleaning.  Researchers just have to unconsciously feel grateful to the company to bias themselves with these choices, particularly if they don’t have a pre-analysis plan.  (And even if they do have a pre-analysis plan, they might still choose what they unconsciously think will benefit, or at least not hurt, the company).

On top of that, there’s selection bias in the choice of research question.  Even excellent economists will choose to just not go places that might make the company look bad when said company has provided data.

Similarly, negative results can be suppressed by the data provider.  I know of a case where the US government suppressed one of my colleague’s research findings that made their agency look bad after providing him with data (though they did allow someone else to publish the same negative findings later under a new, less fascist, government regime).  Any time that clearance is required to share results, that can be a problem.

To sum:

Just data provision is enough to bias research results.  If a company provides data, then results that show the company in a positive light will be shown and results that show the company in a negative light will not be shown to the public.  Results that don’t affect the company one way or the other are probably fine and can be evaluated on their own merits.

There’s a lot to be said for data that come from legal requirements (ex. FOIA), are available from third parties, or from internet leaks.

It is important to know who provided the data, not just who provided the funding, when doing disclosures.

Ask the grumpies: Student research assistants

Steph asks:

How do you decide to take on a research student, especially an undergraduate? What qualities do you look for, especially if you only have 1-2 meetings and a CV to make a decision?

I like having research assistants for two main reasons:  1.  There are a lot of drudgery things that need being done that an undergrad can learn from (lists of works cited, repetitive programming tasks) that are easier to do if you know you’re getting paid by the hour and 2. I like watching people grow.  I often take completely untrained students and turn them into somewhat trained students who can go on to work with more prominent people.  I have former undergraduate research assistants who are now themselves professors at top 10 universities, and others who have gotten law degrees from top 3 law schools.

But I’ve also ended up with flaky research assistants and it seems like the ability to pattern match or to show attention to detail has been declining in the population of students I’ve been interviewing.  I can no longer assume basic excel skills or even knowing where to find a file they downloaded.  For a while it seemed like reading comprehension was also completely shot– like they could not follow written instructions, though that seems to hopefully be on the wane now.  A bad RA is more work than they are worth.

It is really hard to pick good RAs, especially if you’re not teaching an obvious feeder class.  I often try to have at least two RAs at the same time, under the assumption that one will end up flaking.  In fact, this summer one has flaked already– he wanted to work 20hrs/week and start before classes got out, but then didn’t get his I9 in for a month at which point he said his other job (that he said he didn’t have at the interview) wanted him to work 40hrs/week so he wasn’t going to start after all.  But… I didn’t ever have to pay for him since he never completed his paperwork, which is better than someone who just makes more work than they’re worth.

So, I can’t really say what makes a *good* research assistant, but I can tell you some things I’ve learned by making bad choices.

You know that story about the rock star requiring a bowl full of green mnms on tour, not because they actually wanted them, but to make sure the venue was reading the fine print?  That’s for real– make the application process just a little more complicated than it needs to be.  For example, I make them send a letter of interest and a resume directly to my email rather than through the university jobs system, not because I really need that but because I want to make sure they can follow directions.  Anybody who can’t do that gets automatically put in the no bin.

Anybody who shows up for the interview late is an automatic no.  (Slight exception– if they are obviously flustered and apologetic and have an actual real reason above and beyond traffic was unexpectedly heavy, it might be ok.  You have to use your judgement here.)  People who are late for an interview aren’t generally reliable for other things.

They need to be able to answer the “Why do you want this job?” question with something other than “I need the money.”  It may be honest, but people who are just there for the money don’t tend to do a great job– I rarely have to fire anyone, but I did have to fire one of these.  You want someone who says they are genuinely interested in the project or wants to know if research is right for them or has a good career or interest reason to be invested in your work beyond the paycheck.  It may be cheap talk, but anybody who hasn’t thought about this question and come up with a good answer is not someone you want to hire.

Getting someone from your classes who is a hard worker– turns in homework, comes to office hours as needed, etc. and has shown attention to detail in your own class is the best bet.  Failing that, strong endorsements from a colleague over the same are fantastic.  But of course, that’s not always possible.

GPA isn’t a perfect predictor, but I’ve started requiring it in my applications.  I didn’t used to.  I know I’m missing out on good people and I’ve had people with higher GPAs who aren’t the best RAs, but screening is hard and it is a helpful piece of information.

For me, the ideal RA is someone who is a little bit OCD in the colloquial sense– someone who has a bit of a perfectionist streak and is ok with taking time to get things right.  If someone has attention to detail and is responsible, I can train them up in everything else.  I also like it when I ask if they’re willing to ask questions the candidate emphasizes that they feel more comfortable doing that.  And people with good pattern matching skills are usually great.

Grumpy Nation:  How do you search and screen for student RAs (if applicable)?  How do you screen new hires more generally?

Software for project management/RA management/etc. in the Social Sciences?

Some of this post may be out of date– I started it something like 4 years ago(!)  UPDATE:  6 years ago (!)  All of the cost numbers below are at least two years out of date.

Spoiler:  What I’m currently using is Trello for project-based assignments in conjunction with Gmail for weekly assignments.  I also have one project on Github, but Github is not great for social scientists and it’s slow and clunky compared to Trello.  It has additional features, but they’re just not optimized for what we need.

When I was on leave, I thought it would be nice to figure out a program management methodology that was better than my gmail assignment method, which worked well when I had 1-2 very good RAs who could follow instructions, but not so well if I got more RAs or they were incapable of replying directly to the assignment email despite multiple reminders and a pop quiz during training (to be fair, these folks generally weren’t great at actually doing the tasks assigned either).

So I asked famous economists what they used and I asked grad students and new assistant professors what they used and just generally listened to people discussing this topic.  The idea would be to use whatever everyone else was using which would make collaboration easier going forward.  Economists tend to use dropbox instead of drive or OneDrive any other program (though some of my interdisciplinary collaborators are completely on Drive and not dropbox…) and we tend to use Stata instead of R or SPSS (though some people use R and some people use SAS), and just using those choices makes life a lot easier.

PivotalTracker?  MavenLink?  MS BaseCamp?  Jira? Trello?  Slack?  Google Tasks?

One of my colleagues likes Basecamp.  He thought Jira was too involved. He preferred TortoiseSVN to Github, which are both good at file management, but not great for project management.

I have not looked into kanbanflow.  Recently I’ve been getting a lot of ads for Asana, but haven’t looked into that either.

Pivotal tracker is free for academic use.

Github is different, it is more for storing text files and is really focused on computer programs.  You can set it up like a kanban board but it is slow and clunky.

The following is from 2+ years ago, so prices etc. may have changed:

I went through the different project management software options. Below I listed the prices, pros, and cons of them. Overall, I don’t think it would be necessary to pay for anything. The ones that require a subscription usually include a lot of features that are not necessary, like help budgeting or performance data.

Trello seems pretty easy to use, is free, and lets you organize and assign tasks fairly simply. You can also attach documents through Trello.

Another option that might be worth looking into is Dropbox Paper. It lets you use your Dropbox account to make task lists easily and is more customizable than other options. That might be a good option because it would not require a new account and would allow you to move things around and keep things in a central location. You can also obviously share documents through Dropbox and Dropbox Paper lets you link in Dropbox documents easily.

I think switching to either of those systems would not require a huge amount of setup since they both seem fairly straightforward and customizable. The advantages would be that it would be easier to keep track of tasks over time and across multiple RAs. Tasks would be stored in the same place, clearly assigned to different people, and you can check them off when they are done.

PivotalTracker

Probably free as they offer a free, sponsored version for academic institutions if you request it. Otherwise, $12.50/month gets you 5 people and up to 5 projects
Pros: It is designed to be collaborative so you can see what people are working on.
Cons: It is designed for software development. It appears harder to learn and not very flexible. Mostly it looks like a way to boost productivity, or “velocity” as PivotalTracker calls it, by tracking software developers as they complete tasks. People earn “points” when they complete “stories”, but it doesn’t look like things can be prioritized or that you can make notes for partial completion or other things. This is very much geared toward software development.

MavenLink

$19/mo for up to five users
Pros: This is designed specifically to be collaborative and to allow for you to assign tasks and see everything you have assigned and what has been completed.
Cons: This does a lot that is not needed. It is designed to manage tasks but also manage budgets so it can be used to record billable hours and send invoices. It likely will require a bit of a learning curve to start.

MS BaseCamp

$99/month for as many users as you want
Pros: Allows for projects to have multiple to do lists under them, fairly simple to use. It is easy to assign tasks to specific people and allows for other ways to share things such as a message board and a place to share documents.
Cons: Mainly, this is very expensive because it does way more than manage two student workers.

https://kanbanflow.com/

Free
Pros: Straightforward for arranging tasks. Multiple people can use a board for tasks and you can assign tasks to certain people in the board. You can add due dates and change columns depending on what you want. The standard columns are To Do, In Progress, Done.
Cons: You cannot use this to send attachments, so it can only be used to arrange tasks.

Trello

Free (options to upgrade, but the free version seems sufficient)
Pros: Very customizable, you just create lists with tasks in them. You could create a list for each RA, or a list for each project, or just a to, in progress, and completed list. Tasks can be assigned to individual people. It can be used to send documents.
Cons: Likely has a small learning curve.

Slack

There is a free version that is probably enough. Otherwise, $8 per month + $6.67 per user per month
Pros: It works very similarly to email but in message format. You have the option of sending messages in a public forum or privately to team members. It is easily searchable. You can organize messages into channels based on the project or based on who you want in the conversation. You can include attachments the same way you would with email,
Cons: It seems like it is mostly just a chatroom for businesses. It seems like it has a lot of hype and users, but I am not convinced it is very different from email except it has a more “instantaneous” feel to it because it is messaging.

Google Tasks

Free
Pros: It is synced with your existing Google account so it will be easy to set up. You can send other people a task list and people can put emails into their task list.
Cons: It is not a terribly collaborative feature. You can send people a task list and put emails into your to do list, but you cannot really have two people editing a single to do list it seems. I am not even sure if you would be able to see other people’s tasks, so once it is sent is is essentially no different from emails, although possibly easier for the receiver to keep track of each task.

Dropbox Paper

Free
Pros: Relies on existing Dropbox accounts, so you can send links to documents that way. It is essentially a document that you can add task lists and other notes to as needed. You can assign tasks to people and rearrange them as necessary. There is a lot of flexibility in what is put in and you can do things like tasks and subtasks.
Cons: This is essentially self-organized so it is not that different from any Word Document that you wanted to make a To Do list on, except it it a little easier to set up and more collaborative.

The bottom line seems to be that any system will work if you put enough effort into it and no system will work if you don’t put effort into it.  Very few people felt that the start-up costs were worth it.

Do you use any project management software?  How do you organize your projects?