Sunday, January 19, 2014

Thoughts On Grad School, One Grad Student and his 'Better'

In considering what my career path could've been as opposed to what it is, I'm struck by how many opportunities I've had to give up to placate the wishes of another (my supposed better).

One reason I chose the grad school I did were the multiple faculty connections to a think tank I would've have loved to spend a summer at and hopefully start a relationship with. I soon determined that my better didn't like said think tank. I have no doubt reprisals or general harassment would've resulted had I tried to spend a summer there.

Once in grad school, I wanted to do some research of my own choosing. I had ideas and worked on mergers and churches and the distribution of church sizes. While both deal with churches and religion (a topic my better belittles on a regular basis), the basic tools of both studies could be used to analyze similar problems in business or economic applications. My research just analyzed a certain type of firm called a church. I also did some work on firm location choice.

All of this research had the potential to broaden my horizons, produce a publication or two, and create some marketable skills. None of this fit with my better's research agenda so my efforts in these directions were discouraged and occasionally ridiculed.

If my memory serves, I did some background work on six different topics that had some relation to my better's research interests and pitched them to him in the hopes of getting a dissertation topic. These were either ignored or received a response of 'Ok, but.....' I wasted a good year and a half doing this.

Eventually my better had me set up a meeting with someone he had tried unsuccessfully to make contact with in order to acquire research funding from him. We had a meeting supposedly about 'my' dissertation, but the meeting was dominated by my better. I finally gave up and gave in and agreed to a topic he wanted in order to try to escape.

My better later told me (probably a year later) that he had chosen 'my' dissertation topic before I ever step foot on campus. It was then that I realized that I never had a choice in anything I had done. If 'my' research didn't fall in line with what my better wanted, it was not worth doing and I was discouraged accordingly. I honestly believe that part of the reason I was discouraged from doing other research was to make sure that I didn't have any other options with my dissertation and had to do what my better wanted or else. My better once told my office mate that grad school was the last chance you'd have to research what you wanted to research. What a cruel joke!

The complete and total lack of respect for what the grad student desires, for the desire to push his career in the path he desires, and the thinly veiled manipulation of the grad student for the objectives of one's better is inexcusable. The topic I've been forced to work on uses very specialized methods that are not useful in any other application. The data does not exist to properly conduct his study. 'My' dissertation is a joke and is nothing but an attempt by my better to further his agenda. If I escape, I will be in the subbasement of the profession. I do not possess basic proficiency in any commonly used methods in the profession or in industry. 

If my better had told me that I was his indentured servant for the next five years and that the fa├žade of pretending to care about my desires was simply a cruel trick, I might have dropped out of grad school with a little dignity intact.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Is it Possible?

That I'm still in grad school? Why yes it is!

It comes down to a battle of wills and one person's expectations (yours truly) that the dissertation process would involve the student picking a topic and the advisor giving guidance and advice on directions to take the research in order to further the student's career goals. Instead, the dissertation process for me has been all about furthering the career goals of the advisor, with nary a concern for what the student desires career wise. The dissertation process for me has been a tool for the advisor to use to further his career and ambitions at the expense of the career and goals of the student. My career will start from square one as a result of the advisor's manipulation of the situation for his own benefit.

This entire process has truly been a crime and a waste of time.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Professional Requests

A couple of weeks ago I gave a departmental seminar on my current research. Afterwards, one professor approached me and had a "professional request" as he called it. He requested that I cite a paper that he was a coauthor of. I did a thorough literature review of my topic. His paper did not come up in my search.

There is a huge difference between telling someone about a paper and saying "Take a look at this, it might be helpful" and saying to a graduate student "Please cite my paper." Just another example of the character, or lack thereof, exhibited by members of academia.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On the Dangers of Grants

One day after deciding to change formats I get some excellent food for thought. What luck! For the blog, not for me!

I'm currently working with several colleagues on a grant from a private organization. The time commitment has been well beyond what was specified in the agreement. In addition the organization has continuously changed their objectives, making our task that much more difficult. They have also expected us to do things that are beyond our capabilities given the grant size, and quite frankly some of the things they have in mind couldn't be done if we had a blank check. It has degenerated into a pseudo scientific endeavor that is devoid of any real policy relevance. All of the academics involved are sorry we got involved.

Now this organization is seeking to file suit against us for failing to deliver what was promised. Never mind that what was promised initially is nothing like what they now expect given the expanded demands they placed on us. This could get ugly quickly. I had to waste an afternoon that I didn't have chronicling for the third time my contributions to the project so my colleagues can show proof of the time and effort we have expended and hopefully stop this nonsense before it goes any further.

The lesson I draw from this is to avoid working with groups who have no idea what they're doing. The problem is determining who is stupid before you start working with them! I've come close to concluding that grants should be avoided at all costs, but I'm sure there are a few organizations that are intellectually honest and seek to conduct and support sound scientific research. I do believe though that this goes to show that just because a research idea is funded does not make it superior to an unfunded one. The lure of research dollars is quite alluring. However, that funding can come with strings that strangle you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Format

The Misanthropic Economist is about to undergo a dramatic change in format. I started this blog with the intention of posting occasionally on topics from an economic perspective. As is plainly visible, that approach hasn't yielded very good results. An new approach is in order.

I am now in the midst of finding a dissertation topic and conducting research. This process has proven even more frustrating, demoralizing, and down right silly than I ever could have imagined. From now on, I will use this blog primarily to chronicle my journey from finding a topic, to looking for funding (insert prostitution joke here!), to data collection, to analysis, to programming, to writing, and every other piece of rubbish and nonsense in between and every moral compromise along the way. I hope to one day look back and be able to writing something of value to society (imagine that!) on the pitfalls of graduate education in economics. I hope that students considering graduate education can use it as a cautionary tale and enter grad school with no misconceptions about what is about to take place. Assuming I survive this process, I also hope to use this chronicle to make the process better for any grad students I might work with in the future.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Research and Grants

It has been awhile since my last activity here; this semester was horrible and it is not over yet. I have a paper for a conference due Monday. That being said, something I really want to research is the corrupting effect of research grants. While I have minimal familiarity with grant funded research outside of economics, I would wager that the same corrupting influences hold sway.

In short, my hypothesis is that grants create perverse incentives for researchers in two ways. One is that it encourages researchers to conduct research that someone else wants regardless of how interesting, relevant, or socially beneficial it is. It creates an incredible bias toward doing research that someone is willing to fund which may or may not be something that is productive. Two is that often the funding source expects a certain answer and the researcher is then prone to twist the results in order to deliver the desired answer to the funding source.

More to come, hopefully. If this isn't a way to derail my academic future before it starts I don't know what will!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Grad School Lessons

I don't how many people have told me this. I don't know how many times I should have realized this before. Now I get it. The Number One Lesson of grad school is:
"It doesn't matter what you think!"
They hold the keys to getting you out of this four year hell storm. If they want it done, do it. If they don't want it done, don't do it. Get your union card, then you can do what you want. I FINALLY understand.