Monday, May 19, 2008

What do Professors do with their summer?

So on Friday I finished my duties as a professor for the school year, save some grading. Sometimes people ask me what does a professor do with their summer “vacation”?

Like many professors as part of my tenure/promotion decision I’m expected to publish academic journal articles. Without teaching duties for 3.5 months, I have a lot time to dedicate to that. During the school year depending on the time in the semester I spend between 50% and 10% of my time on research. During the summer it is closer to 90%, with some time to develop courses for next year.

So how do I research? For the most part I work with pre-collected data sets. A few of the papers I’m working on use data from a program in Nicaragua that gave money to families if they sent their kids to school and got health care checkups. The data is freely available here. Another paper I’m working on involves minor league baseball attendance. In that case I had to pay for the data set. I spend time organizing the data and using statistical programs to test for various relationships between variables of interest. This part of the project I would say takes about 1/3 of the time.

Once you have results you can begin to write up the paper. Luckily, I have a cadre of great co-authors. Typically one person will write up a section, then another person will edit it. In some cases one person does a lot of the data work, so they write up the results and econometric (statistical) section, while the other writes the literature review. Typically, the junior colleague has a comparative advantage (that is they take longer to do it, but are less busy or slower at the other parts) in the statistical part, while the senior colleague has it in the introduction, literature review, and particularly editing. I play both roles depending on my co-authors. The initial write up along with the literature review takes about 1/3 of the time.

With the final 1/3 it is about editing and reediting. You present your paper at conferences or university seminars. You might have colleagues read the paper. Then you make changes, and more changes, and more changes. Then if you get enough positive feedback you send it to a journal. The journal gives it to 3-4 peers and the peers decide to accept, reject, or ask for revisions. The most common result is to reject or ask for revisions. Sometimes papers can go through 2-3 rounds of revisions, and reviewers can sometimes take a few or many months to get back to you. So sometimes you can’t work on your article for a few months, so it is best to have several projects going at once. I have five projects I plan on working on this summer, they are all at various stages.

One great thing about the summer is that I set my hours (although I typically work normal work hours) and I can work from anywhere I want.

So this summer I will be living in Palo Alto, California while my does a temporary work assignment all summer. So look for some Bay area related updates.

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