How do academics work? How do they communicate? How do they analyse data? Does it differ between Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHSS) avs Science, Technology and MedMath (STEM) . Lets see
Ireland, or at least the government, is in the grip of a frenzy around entrepreneurship. From local government, through the higher education system, to the highest in the land, hardly a day goes by without some new band jumping on the wagon. We are being flogged with the mantra that we must start up, become entrepreneurs, be self-employed, yadda yadda yadda. It’s a diversion of resources, built around a self-perpetuating meme. The SME sector is really important, in Ireland and in Europe. In Europe, as of 2012, SMEs accounted for over 99% of all companies, employing just under 90m people. They account for 66% of total employment and for about 58% of total output. However, when we think of SME’s in Ireland we think of small and medium-sized companies. The SME definition is companies with less than 250 employees, €50m in total turnover. This is by Irish standards a fairly substantial enterprise. In Ireland, SME account for 68% of total employment. Thus, it makes sense, to some extent, to ensure that SMEs as a sector are in rude health. What it may not make sense to do is to pour more and more scarce resources into creating startups and micro enterprises, in pursuit of a problem that doesn’t exist.
Education is a complex matter while reducing it to simple soundbites is easy. Ignorance, in the pure sense of not knowing, abounds when it comes to higher education. Alas, ignorance creates memes that are powerful.
Research metrics are fraught with danger. Usually they are dangerous when they are abused. We can measure the citation history of a paper but that tells us little beyond its citation history. We can measure raw output but that tells us simply how busy someone is. We can measure lots of things but they are all limited in some way. Measurement limitation does not prevent university administration from seizing on metrics and using them appallingly. I recently was informed of an Irish academic unit where papers published in journals that are not in the ISI Web of Science are not allowed to be used as part of any promotion or other college activity. They are un-papers. This is stark raving lunacy, but it shows how dangerous a simple metric can be in the hands of the ignorant.
In late 2013, Stephen Kinsella and I undertook a survey of Irish economics and finance academics. We asked a bunch of questions on what they felt was core and not in the subject, on how things had changed in teaching over the last 5 years, on their views on the subject etc. We are writing this up as a paper with additional commentary and some suggestions on how to improve things but in the meantime we are presenting it at a conference organized by the Irish Economics Association on Friday 31 Jan 2014. (Update : Stephen has unavoidable work commitments and I have unavoidable personal/family commitments that make it impossible for us to attend. Hope this blogpost fills the gap partially)
Here are slides on this presentation. Here is a powerpoint show with my narration – this is quite large ( ±100 mb) so be warned – but it gives a much better sense of how we feel than just the raw slides alone. This is my take. Others, including Stephen, might not agree with any or all interpretation, so please recall that.
What’s the takeaway?
- We surveyed 300+ academics and got a fairly poor response. It was surprising how little people seemed to care about the profession. We unashamedly concentrated on university and macro/finance. We couldnt be sure of a full sample in IoTs. And we want to first see what the academics think before maybe moving onto the industrial.
- Modal respondent is 10y plus in academia, has a PhD doesnt have a professional training.
- only 11% are teaching in an area v close to their research – research led teaching seems a long way off
- average undergrad contact time is 57% of total teaching.
- Most economists think the government should put more money into economics education …mmmkaaay
- Despite the preponderance of evidence, the respondents dont think that studying economics makes you more selfish
- They firmly think its a science (three words – Prescott, Sims, Nobel…)
- Respondents want a broader focus in economics teaching BUT also want more math and DONT want it taught as part of management or social sciences. Greetings from Isolation Hill.
- There is no sense that the profession should sort out its internal disagreements on fundamental issues (and these are many and stark) before speaking out.
- Theres a very traditional skills led view of what should constitute the core. Amazingly only 33% think that a survey of irish economic conditions should be in the core.
- Theres a deep suspicion of accounting. Which is worrying as its the language of business. Most graduates wont go indon’tesearch but become part of the business workforce. Despite this there’s a feeling that SME finance is important. This is not logical.
- Most come across as technological illiterates. While there is considerable use of anti-plagiarism software there is much much less use of even things like interactive clickers (or apps for same), or the use of social media for engagement.
- compared to 5 years ago
- more time is being given to labour market issues, to debt dynamics and to DSGE. The latter is worrying as these are in essence (and imho) useless. See the series of takedowns by Noah Smith (search for DSGE). We also spend more time on the microstructure of financial markets, on models of bubbles and networks, and on the role of financial institutions. More time is spent on expansionary fiscal contraction, hopefully debunking its existence (but I wouldn’t be too sure) . That old trope of the Regan era, Trickle Down Economics, gets more time, as does privatisation and endogenous growth. If I had to call it, I would suggest that finance teaching has taken more cognizance of the crisis than has mainstream macro teaching in Ireland.
- Less time is being spent on very little. Keynesian Cross models – this is interesting as an implication of the KC model is that there can be a equilibrium with less than full employment and with recession – that might be a useful idea to implant in peoples minds, no? Maybe its seen as dangerous.
- For the most part people teach the same , more or less, than they did 5 years ago. Despite the massive wrench in the actual economy, the academy seems to be broadly unchanged in how and what it teaches. This must change.
How to organise an academic conference – 10 tips
Below is a link to The Guardian HE Network blogpost by my good self…
I have been a journal editor for over three years now, as in Editor in Chief. At present I am editor of two journals, and on the board of three others. I have reviewed for over 25 separate journals and done special issues as a guest editor for half a dozen. One of the most frustrating things about being a journal editor is dealing with the process of getting good reviews. First you have to get someone to agree, and then typically it’s a chase to get the review in. Some thoughts below and bear in mind that editors have probably committed every sin here and then some….
- It’s called peer review for a reason. You, putative reviewer, are the peer. If you don’t do it for them why should they do it for you?
- It’s good for you. This is one way to keep up with the literature. Don’t whine.
- Saying “i’m busy” is not a good excuse. The chances are really really high that the editor is much much busier than you.
- Saying “it’s not my area” is a slightly better excuse. But, it is not a good one when you have published a very closely related paper recently. And saying ‘I’m only one of the authors’ in response? That doesn’t cut it.
- Be open. Unless it’s a review for the Journal of Incredible Specialization, specialists and generalists have a role to play. At least they do in social sciences, IMHO. If you are a finance professor specializing in say markov switching portfolio allocations, that’s great. But it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have an informed view on a paper on say the role of alternative investments in portfolios, or portfolio planning for sovereign wealth funds. Specialization is for ants. Editors, especially of general journals, will try to get specialized and more general reviewers
- Be honest. Don’t agree to do it then not do it. We all find ourselves having at times to back out of agreements. Its much better to say “sorry, I now find I cant” than to sit mum.
- Be timely. Try to do it on time. You can’t complain about how long it takes a paper to be deal with if you are sitting on reviews like a dragon on its hoard.
- Be meaningful. A review is more than a suggestion to revise or to reject or to accept. It should be meaningful. It should guide the author on what is good and what is not so good as you see it. If it’s short then it probably isn’t going to do that.
- Read the invite. Most journals now have in their email inviting you to review a link to accept and one to reject. Don’t respond with a long apology about how you would love to you cat has kittens and you have a paper yourself to do and anyhow Prof von Juntz at Miskatonic would be better. Click. The. Link
- Be humble. Don’t use the review process to puff your own work. Its perfectly ok to suggest that your work be included as part of the paper if your work is relevant and missing. But ask .. if its missing is it really as good as you think? If it is and the paper misses it, what else is it missing…
- Don’t be cruel. If the paper is truly awful, suggest a reject but don’t engage in ad hominum remarks. Rejection should be positive.
- Be definite. Ok, its our role as editors to make the call but try not to sit on the fence. Tell us what you think in the cover letter.
- Be conscious of your role. Don’t get upset if the editor doesn’t take your advice. Its our call to determine, with you aid, what to do with the paper. You are part not the totality of the decision making process.
- Be scientific. Don’t fall back on filling the review with editorial and typographic issues. IF the paper is rife with errors, tell the editor and give examples. Concentrate on the added value of your scientific knowledge and not so much on missing commas etc. If as part of your revision you think that the paper should be professionally proof edited (as I sometimes do with my own) then say so.
- Be sensible. A caveat to this is that the paper is an act of communication. If it is so poorly constructed as to fail then tell me that also. Remember however that this is not Proust or even Lee Child. Its not about style but substance until the style gets in the way
- Ask the editor. If you are unsure about something then ask. Don’t stew – your wasting your time and worse that of the author.
- Be aware of that for which you are reviewing. Reviewing for a conference is not the same as for a journal. The aim of most conference organizers is to have decent work needing feedback presented. Therefore the bar in terms of completeness etc is lower. The material still needs to be scientifically good enough but this is a step on the way not the final stage.
- Thank the author if you learned anything, even if you are suggesting rejection.
- Be realistic about the process. You and the editor and the journal will make errors. Poor (in retrospect) papers will be accepted, good ones rejected. Therefore don’t beat yourself up if such is made, learn from it.
- A review is a mini paper – structure it as a logical flow of argument. You can’t critique a paper for being a rambling mess if your review is one also.
- Don’t tell the author what you think the editor should do – reject etc. Tell the editor in a cover letter.
- Be helpful. Make suggestions to the authors as to how to overcome the shortcomings you identify