What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

What’s the worst that can happen if you make a five-year plan? That everything goes according to plan. While this seems counter-intuitive, thinking about what it means for your future to look exactly like you expect it to can shed some light on the values and dangers of planning.

If your life or business is exactly “on track” in a few years with what you expect it to be today, that means at least one of the following is true. Either you gained no new information during that time, which means you aren’t learning, or you took no significant risks, which means you aren’t trying. You may say, “I played it safe and stuck to the plan,” but that only means that you minimized downside risk–and therefore minimized upside risk as well.

I have been thinking about this recently based on Ben Thompson’s comments in Exponent #38 (45:41):

My favorite way to think about life and career is [that] the problem with having a
five-year or ten your plan is that you succeed. You look up and realize you’re way off from where you should be because the world has changed under your feet. You were so dedicated to following through on something that you miss what’s happening.

These thoughts were elaborated on more eloquently in the most recent episode, Exponent #53 (29:39):

If you think about the future and always make plans for the future, the worst thing about having a super-explicit five year plan is that you’ll achieve your plan perfectly and then you get there and you realize that the world has changed while you’ve been focused on your plan. You realize that, yeah, you got to the destination you wanted to get to but it’s nowhere near the place you’re supposed to be. There’s so much about the world that we don’t control–basically everything–and the only thing I can control is me. And the only thing I can control about me is my actions and responses to whatever is happening right now.

The comments are in the context of education and career decisions, but are applicable more broadly. Both episodes–and the whole podcast, really–are well worth your time.

Grad Student Gift Ideas

My sister is starting a graduate program this fall, so I wanted to put together a “grad school survival kit” gift basket for her. When I was looking, though, most search results for things like that were put together by gift basket companies and a large number of them include junk food as filler. While junk food can be a great stress reliever, I would not recommend making that the bulk of your gift to a grad student. Instead, consider some of the following gifts that range from practical to fun:


How Much is a Publication Worth?

Rembrandt, Scholar at a Table by Candle-light

Rembrandt, Scholar at a Table by Candle-light

How much is a publication worth? If you are a professor of economics at the University of California, this study says that each article published in your field’s top journals (American Economic ReviewEconometrica, and Review of Economics and Statistics) increases your annual salary by 1.5 percent or about $2,053. Here’s the abstract, which details a few other factors:

We study salaries of economics faculty at the University of California to determine how publications affect salary. We find that each publication in a top 10 journal has a positive and significant effect on annual base salary of 1.5%, or $2,053. Unlike previous research, our analysis specifies the impact of publications in specific journals. Publications in American Economic ReviewEconometrica, and Review of Economics and Statistics have an independent positive effect on salary. Compensation is also affected by faculty rank, seniority, university of employment, and teaching awards. Base salary does not significantly differ by gender, however, gross salary is about 9% lower for women. After controlling for migration and faculty rank, seniority has a negative impact on salary.

Let’s plug this in to the calculation that Mike Munger used in a post late last year.

[A] journal article publication is “worth” at least $10k, in terms of increment to future expected value of lifetime salary.  A good journal publication, in a top field journal, is worth more than $25k.  Sure, you don’t get paid by check, when the thing gets accepted.  But if you add up the differences in salary, over time, for your whole career, when you are very young, small differences in hiring, raises, and promotion make a big difference.  (For example, if a young scholar published a paper, and gets a $1,000 dollar raise, assuming a 10% discount rate, that’s $9,427 in present value over a 30 year career.  At a 5% discount rate, that would be more than $15,000).

So, if you want money, publish journal articles.  Your time is worth at least $100 per hour, maybe more, since you can write a journal article in 100 hours of actual work (and 100x$100=$10,000)

The present value of a $2,503 salary bump over thirty years with 10 percent discounting is $23,596. If the 100 hour figure is still accurate for the top journals listed above, that is $235/hour. Even it takes twice as long to write a top journal article it is still more profitable than publishing in the “average” $1,000/year/article journal. But if you have no chance of making it into the top journals you should aim your sights a bit lower and make up for it by increasing your output. Either way, these calculations show that time spent writing is valuable if it leads to publications.

[via @UdadisiSuperior]

Grad Student Advice Round-Up

impostorNearly two years into my graduate school experience, I now feel qualified to write this post–especially since it is an aggregation of others’ experiences and recommendations. This is by no means all the relevant wisdom, but hopefully it will be a useful resource for others who are earlier in the process than I am. The immediate impetus for this post was this recent interview with Gary King:

The highlight is at 4:33 when he says:

Another general suggestion is that most academics tend to use the same methods their whole career and they’re the methods that they learned in graduate school. Don’t be like them, right? That’s the first suggestion. Don’t be like them. Keep learning tools. The second suggestion is to realize that, realize the social science generalization that people are who they are. People tend to be the same and you’re probably going to be like them. What that means is that when you’re in graduate school or you’re an undergraduate, pick up the tools because the tools will enable you to do the things that others haven’t been able to do. So if you have the choice, take some statistics courses, take some courses in political methodology, take a computer science course or two now and then you’ll have a framework on which to build. Then you can prove me wrong after you become a professor and you can learn more tools, but those tools will be taken to the next level.

The full list of recommended reading, watching, and listening is here.

Interviews with Over 50 IR Scholars

Readers of this blog may enjoy Theory Talks, which I recently discovered thanks to a link on Twitter that I cannot remember now. Here’s how the site describes itself:

Theory Talks is an interactive forum for discussion of debates in International Relations with an emphasis of the underlying theoretical issues. By frequently inviting cutting-edge specialists in the field to elucidate their work and to explain current developments both in IR theory and real-world politics, Theory Talks aims to offer both scholars and students a comprehensive view of the field and its most important protagonists.

The interviews tend to follow a pattern of questions, which I like because you can compare views between scholars in different interviews. The three questions they ask in every interview I have read so far are:

  1. What is, according to you, the biggest challenge / principal debate in current IR? What is your position or answer to this challenge / in this debate?
  2. How did you arrive at where you currently are in IR?
  3. What would a student need to become a specialist in IR like yourself?

Here are some interviews with big names to get you started:


A New Blog on Political Violence

This has already been shared by brighter lights than mine, but readers of this blog might be interested in Political Violence @ a Glance. Not surprisingly, many (all?) of their recent posts have to do with the Middle East/North Africa region. Contributors include Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortna and Andrew Kydd. I had the impression that Jason Lyall was involved, but he is not listed on the author page yet. I’m looking forward to seeing more from all of the contributors.

New Year’s Resolution: Get Addicted

While many are trying to kick old habits or shed holiday pounds, I offer you a different challenge: pick up a habit. While I wouldn’t encourage smoking or competitive eating, there are a lot of positive addictions out there. As Paul Graham points out, addiction can serve as another word for something we like too much.

You can always make time for the things you truly love. The things you spend your time on reveal a lot about what you prefer. Probably more so than the things you say, “I wish had time for….” So do it. Think of something you’ve always wanted to do. Sit down and figure out how an hour or two per day for a month can get you closer to that goal.

For further motivation, here is Google’s Matt Cuts encouraging you to expand your horizons for thirty days: