This article identifies various goals I currently have and assesses their compatibility with my presently preferred dissertation topic.
The goal of my research is twofold:
- Prepare for an enjoyable career
- Make an actionable contribution to the literature
An enjoyable career is one which balances income with other benefits. The specific other benefits I have in mind are:
- The ability to improve the lives of others
- The ability to contribute to long-lasting knowledge
- Time off
Holding income constant, then, I would like to be a tenure-track research and teaching professor. I would like to focus on microeconomics with a focus on economics of education. I would like to emphasize empirical skills including statistical analysis, experimental analysis, and agent-based modelling.
Why education and economics? For three reasons:
- I think a traditional education takes too much money and effort for negligible benefits. The benefits are even backwards-bending (reduced salary expected) in certain areas of expertise.
- I self-taught myself programming. This is an extremely in-demand skill. Subsequently, I learned that about 70% of programmers are self-taught and less than 40% received a traditional degree. I also learned that kids are highly successful with only one year of homeschooling, homeschooling is extremely cheap compared to public education, and other mind-blowing facts about the contrast between traditional and alternative modes of education.
- I see a solution around the corner and I want to contribute. Education research doesn’t seem to be either a hopeless nor an excessively theoretical endeavor. Education is being rapidly improved through technology today, and the political climate is even receptive to policy change. Furthermore, GMU has faculty I consider knowledgeable on the subject.
So the area of education and economics seems to be an area which can bring lots of real-world gains to lots of people, and I find it interesting.
What if we don’t hold potential income constant with regard to my prospective career? I certainly don’t hate the private sector. I work there now and have worked there for some time. I would be happy to stay in the private sector. Given my background in IT as well as economics, I would first pursue a position as a quantitative analyst of some sort. In particular, I would go after the following positions:
- Data Scientist
- Quantitative Analyst
Selby Jennings has some nice listings on Indeed for roles like these in the private sector. I think a salary premium of 30%+ would be required to deter me from a life of academia, but I’m not certain.
If I went the Data Scientist route I would check out this postdoc bootcamp. I would also remain open to a think tank role with a pro-market organization, but think tanks have a reputation for shorting salary (at least compared to IT).
I would really not like to be employed by the government as an economist, but I do know they pay well and it has job security. I think that would be trivial for me to land, but I don’t intend to pursue it unless all other options fail.
Whether I end up working in academia or the private sector, I think a highly applied and quantitative dissertation will suite me well. I think economics and education has no shortage of opportunities for empirical work.