Advice before tenure is some variation around a cliché: Publish or Perish!  Some universities may assess impact or make their own subjective evaluation of your work, believing that they have the taste and scientific expertise to do so.  Others may have a more quantitative approach, counting papers, ranking journals and adding up citations.  But if you haven’t published, basically you are going to perish.

Suppose you get tenure.  You overcome your feeling of ennui and the “Is this all there is?” existential crisis.  You accept the fact that you are probably going to be stuck with the same people for another 30-35 years. You publish the stuff that was in the pipeline when you came up for tenure.  What do you do next?

When I have personal dilemmas of this sort, I try to find some wise women to help me out.  For the post-tenure dilemma, I turned to the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP).  Their Winter 2009 issue has lots of useful articles.  This is several years after my tenure but it turns out I was instinctively following much of the advice anyway.  For example, Bob Hall says in his article:

“Now that you have tenure, the number of papers you produce is amazingly irrelevant. One good paper a year
would put you at the very top of productivity. Consequently, you should generally spend your research time on the most
promising of the projects you are working on. A related principle is that you should try to maintain a lot of slack in
your time allocation, so that if a great research idea pops into your head or a great opportunity comes along in another
way—an offer of collaboration or access to a data set—you can exploit it quickly.”

He adds:

Research shows that good ideas are more likely to spring into your head when it is fuzzy and relaxed, not when you
are focused and concentrating, with caffeine at its maximum dose. Another principle is that if you get away from
a problem for a bit—say by taking a vacation or spending a weekend with your family—the answer may come to you
easily when you return to work on the problem.

Finally, Hall becomes quite practical:

To sum up, the big danger for an economist at your career stage is to get involved in so many seemingly meritorious
activities on campus, at journals, in Washington, at conferences, writing textbooks, serving clients, and the like, that
your life becomes crowded and you feel hassled. Worst of all, you find yourself starved of time for creative research. When
this happens, take out a piece of paper and write down all of the activities that fill your work day and decide which ones
to cross off. This sounds like trite self-help book advice, but it works.

His whole article is here and is definitely worth a  read.  One thing I would say he misses:  Hall is at Stanford, a top research university.  Perhaps, universities below that hallowed standard are still quantity oriented as they cannot judge quality – journalism or the endless re-labeling of the same idea again and again might be mistaken for fundamental research and lead to a pay rise or internal status.  You might still just ignore that and go with Hall’s advice.

The blog is definitely helping both Jeff and me stay fuzzy and relaxed, as you can tell from our posts.  But I have to sign off now, go make a list and cross some other things off….

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