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high status policy research is often not the best policy research

At Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson observes that his fellow economists don’t always focus on the policies that have broad consensus, are easy to understand, and easy to implement. He uses the example of road pricing:

Heavy traffic is a problem every economist in the world knows how to solve: price road access, and charge high prices during rush hour. With technologies like E-ZPass and mobile apps, it’s easier than ever. That we don’t pick this low-hanging fruit is a pretty serious indictment of public policy. If we can’t address what is literally a principles-level textbook example of a negative spillover with a fairly easy fix, what hope do we have for effective public policy on other margins?

 

I agree. Think about status in economics – what sorts of work gets you the rewards? For a while, it was really, really hard math. Also, macro-economics, which is a notoriously hard field. Recently, insanely clever identification work. What do these have in common? They are hard. In contrast, how many Bates or Nobel prizes have been awarded for simple, high impact work, like road pricing? Nearly zero is my guess.

The same is true in sociology. Sociologists often imagine themselves coming up with marvelous approaches to solving deeply rooted social inequalities. For example, a few months ago, we discussed research on gender inequality and how it might be explained, partially, by the relative over- or under-confidence of men and women. In other words, it might be that women are overly cautious in terms of promotions.

One simple solution would be to require all eligible people to apply for promotions (e.g., require that all associate profs apply for full professorship after a few years). It is a simple rule and would almost certainly help. The response in the comments? The solution doesn’t remedy gender prejudice. Well, of course not, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to fix a specific issue – under representation of women in applicant pools. I have no idea how to eliminate the bias against women, but I can make sure they get promoted at work often – and it’s easy!

Bottom line: Social scientists have their priorities reversed. They get rewarded for trying to solve insanely hard problems, while leaving a lot of simple problems alone. That’s leaving cash on the table.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

September 16, 2014 at 12:01 am

sabbatical advice?

Orgheads:

I am going to take a sabbatical in the 2015-16 academic year. On the Facebook group, I asked for input and got one good suggestion. Here, I widen the query. What advice would you give to someone planning a sabbatical? Good places to go?  Do’s and don’ts? Other ideas?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz/From Black Power

Written by fabiorojas

September 12, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in academia, fabio

does organizational sociology have a future? the final part

This is the third and final installment of the “Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?” panel from ASA, featuring Ezra Zuckerman’s presentation and the Q&A. Here’s part 1 and part 2.

Ezra Zuckerman closed on an up note with “some reasons to be bullish.” Rather than reviewing the past or summarizing trends, Zuckerman highlighted three pieces of work he’s excited about by younger scholars.

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Written by epopp

September 4, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Posted in academia, education

does organizational sociology have a future? the answer, part 2

[This is a continuation of the summary of the "Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?" ASA panel. Part 1 featured Howard Aldrich and Lis Clemens; tomorrow I'll wrap up with a recap of Ezra Zuckerman's presentation and the Q&A that followed the panel.]

Harland Prechel spoke third. He described himself as being located outside organizational sociology early in his career but was drawn to its useful analytical tools and incorporated organizational sociology into his research over time. Organizational sociology has a lot to offer. So why is it in decline?

A central problem is there is no integrated theory of organizations. Instead, there are numerous competing perspectives that rise and decline over time.  This occurs, in part, because each perspective has a narrow scope that constrains what can be examined, explained, and predicted. For example, given that the behaviors that contributed to the 2007-2008 financial crisis occurred inside organizations, why did organizational researchers failed to predict or anticipate it? One viable answer is the prevailing theories did not direct researchers’ attention toward the underlying structures that permitted the risk-taking behaviors associated with the crisis.

Another part of the explanation for the decline in organizational sociology is that business schools have begun to produce their own PhDs in organizational studies and have become less dependent on sociology departments. Also, organizational sociology is perceived to be less relevant to managing organizations. Given these conditions, it is likely that the job market for organizational sociology in business schools will decline in the future.

Given all this, should we do more of the same? Or, should we be doing something different?

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Written by epopp

September 3, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Posted in academia, education

does organizational sociology have a future? the answer, part 1

By popular request (really—several!), I’ve written up a summary of the “Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?” panel, held Monday, August 18th, at ASA in San Francisco. Organized by Elizabeth Gorman, the discussion featured Howard Aldrich, Elisabeth Clemens, Harland Prechel, Martin Ruef, and Ezra Zuckerman. The audience was sizable—perhaps 80 folks, including many established people in the field.

The summary is long, so I’m going to break it into a couple of parts. What follows is part one, sans commentary, from notes I took during the session. The rest will be posted over the next day or two. The panelists have all had a chance to review the summary and make edits. Also, there has been some suggestion that slides may be posted at the Work in Progress blog — I’ll post a link if that happens.

I’m not going to be able to capture the humor and asides, alas, but hopefully this will give a flavor of the main themes. If you don’t have the time or inclination to read, the quick version: does organizational sociology have a future?

  • Prechel: Yes.
  • Zuckerman: Yes.
  • Clemens: Yes, if there’s space for thinking outside the box of professionalization and top journals.
  • Aldrich: I’m going to answer a different question.
  • Ruef: Only if Howard Aldrich doesn’t go fly fishing.

Okay, that’s a bit flip. More below.

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Written by epopp

September 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Posted in academia, sociology

what do 1st-year grad students need to know?

I’m back from ASA and engaging in a little just-in-time production of syllabi. (For anyone who’s wondering, I did take notes on the “future of orgs” panel and will write those up, but want to run them by the presenters before I post them.)

As grad director, I get to run the proseminar for first-year graduate students. Ours is one hour a week, both semesters. In the past, about half of it has been faculty introducing students to their research areas — e.g. urban week, work & orgs week, demography week, etc.

But grad students have expressed dissatisfaction with this format, and I don’t think faculty are overly thrilled with it, either. So I’m trying to mix things up a bit and make it more immediately useful.

One challenge is that while we want students to get the message about the need to publish, etc., in the past they’ve found such messages a bit overwhelming in the first year, when they’re still trying to figure out how to get through Durkheim. So I’ve tried to approach this from the perspective of, “What do you need to know your first year of grad school?”

Here’s what I’m thinking in terms of weekly topics. This is by substantive area, not chronological. Most weeks will involve guest speakers; I’ll lead perhaps 1/3 of them.

  • How to get around the university
    • Intro to the grad curriculum (DGS)
    • Introduction to the department (department chair)
    • How to get things done in the department (graduate secretary)
    • Guide to library resources  (librarian)
  • How to get through the first year of grad school
    • How to “read” 1000 pages a week (DGS)
    • What I wish I knew my first semester (2nd and 3rd year students)
    • Mid-semester check-in (open discussion)
    • Surviving stats (stats faculty, 2nd-year grad student)
    • The “hidden curriculum” (including race, gender, class issues; DGS and possibly grad students)
    • Successful TAing (one faculty, one student)
    • Making the most of your RA experience (ditto)
    • Time management (DGS? Or someone better with time management skills…)
    • The personal side of grad school (social life, psychological challenges) (not sure…)
  • Thinking about the next year
    • What do I do in the summer? (2nd and 3rd year students)
    • Reverse CV exercise—find people whose jobs you want—what did they have to do to get there? (DGS)
    • Planning years 2, 3 and 4 (DGS)
    • Looking back—how’d the first year go? (open discussion)
  • Thinking about finances
    • Fellowships and grants (DGS)
    • Financial aid & personal finance (financial aid office rep, advanced students)
  • Learning about the profession
    • An overview of the profession (DGS)
    • Developing a publishable research project (one student who collaborated with faculty, one who published from MA?)
    • Developing mentors (advanced grad students)

Then there are a few topics that seem important, but that are not primarily first-year topics. I may include some of these, but open the meetings up to advanced grad students as well:

  • My first article (advanced grad student)
  • Publishing in AJS/ASR (faculty)
  • Will your dissertation be a book? (book faculty)
  • Types of jobs (guest panel—research, teaching, non-academic)
  • Presenting at conferences (advanced students)
  • Choosing a dissertation topic (advanced student + faculty)
  • Finding postdocs (???)
  • The transition to becoming faculty (new junior faculty)

What do you think? Additions? Omissions? Things to skip?

Written by epopp

August 22, 2014 at 1:35 am

Posted in academia, sociology

an ASA bingo retrospective

ASA Conference Bingo is on a permanent vacation pending its return around 2030 in a nostalgic comeback that warms the hearts of fans old and new. But as several people have asked me about it, here is a collection of the cards from years past. Not available in stores.

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Written by Kieran

August 13, 2014 at 11:10 am

Posted in academia, sociology

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