Tips for new tenure-track professors in R1 economics departments

Never stray from what is essential: publishing research in the best possible journals

If you want to get tenure and be promoted to associate, you have to publish and create a robust future research pipeline. Publishing standards differ by department — and you should make sure you understand what your department’s standards are. Different departments reward quantity and quality differently. But one thing is clear: if you want tenure, you will need multiple publications and a productive future outlook. As one senior economist once told me, “promotion (to associate professor) is backward-looking, but tenure is forward-looking.”

Find good coauthors

Working with the best possible coauthors is the easiest way to ensure that you will publish well. Why is coauthorship valuable? Because everyone has a different skill set, so there are gains to comparative advantage. Knowing your comparative advantage will help you immensely in finding coauthors. Coauthorship also can be a useful mechanism for pooling against publication risk. This brings me to my next point.

Know what your strengths and weaknesses are

What skills are required to publish a scientific paper? According to William Shockley, a Nobel laureate who figured out how to use semiconductors to create electronic transistors, scientific research requires proficiency in no fewer than eight different dimensions:

  1. ability to think of a good problem
  2. ability to work on it
  3. ability to recognize a worthwhile result
  4. ability to make a decision as to when to stop and write up the results
  5. ability to write adequately
  6. ability to profit constructively from criticism
  7. determination to submit the paper to a journal
  8. persistence in making changes (if necessary as a result of journal action)
  1. ability to procure good data
  2. ability to code

Enlist the help of senior mentors

Every young AP needs someone to help them navigate the TT. Each of us has weaknesses in at least one of Shockley’s eight categories, so enlisting the help of a senior colleague (either in your department or elsewhere in the profession) is critical. In many cases, multiple senior mentors are necessary.

Get serious about managing your time

There are many competing philosophies about coauthorship and mentoring, but one thing is certain: an expanded time endowment will help you publish more frequently and/or in better outlets.

Make the most out of conferences by networking and meeting new people

Conferences are a part of academic life that may cause you to lose focus. However, they can also be highly productive. You want to actively attend enough conferences so you can meet potential coauthors, get exposure to your research, and learn new things. On the other hand, at some point the value of attending an additional conference diminishes.

Make processes for each of your routine tasks and then optimize them

Because publication is so crucial — yet there is much to the AP job that is not research — it is helpful to optimize the execution of routine non-research tasks so that they take up as little of your time as possible.

  • Creating lecture notes and problem sets for a course you’re teaching for the first time
  • Writing and grading exams or term papers
  • Creating and updating course syllabi
  • Preparing slides for a research presentation
  • Onboarding an RA to a research project
  • Reviewing a manuscript for a journal
  • Keeping track of your research/teaching/service accomplishments (for performance evaluations)
  • Filing required paperwork (IRB forms, data agreements, expense reimbursements, performance evaluations, etc.)

Minimize the amount of time you spend in your email inbox

These days it’s easy to spend multiple hours per day on email without a second thought. I’m here to tell you that if that’s what you’re doing, then you’re not setting yourself up for success.

  • Use a virtual task board to divorce task tracking from your email inbox. Many such services (e.g. Trello) allow you to easily create a task card from an email by forwarding it to their server. This is a handy way of cleaning out your inbox.
  • Use Calendly or YouCanBookMe to automate appointment scheduling, rather than sending 5 emails back and forth. The appointment automatically shows up on my calendar.
  • Try not to correspond with others via long emails. If you find yourself writing a long email, consider holding a meeting instead.
  • If you must write long emails, write them in a text editor or elsewhere, not in your email inbox. This will reduce distraction from other emails arriving while you’re writing the email at hand.
  • Add filters to route unimportant messages from your inbox.
  • You should always be near “inbox zero” because you should be capturing obligations outside of your email inbox.
  • Remove email apps from your phone

Specific tools I use

The points I’ve discussed above are (and should be) “tool agnostic.” This is because the real key to success is intentionality about goals and execution, not a particular tool. That said, if you are looking for recommendations or want to know what an example setup looks like, here is a summary of the tools I use.

  • GitHub
  • Command Line Interface (CLI)
  • Trello
  • GitHub issues
  • RescueTime
  • Remove social media and email apps from mobile devices
  • YouCanBookMe
  • Time Block Planner
  • RescueTime
  • HoursTracker mobile app
  • Regularly listening to the Deep Questions podcast

Questions?

I’d be happy to answer any follow-up questions you might have about how to implement these ideas or how to grapple with a particularly challenging situation. You can email me at the address on my website.

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