Categories: Newsletter, Newsletter Issue 2019:3

Great Mentors: John Cawley

By: Catherine Maclean, Elaine Hill, and Daniel Grossman

We write as three former Cornell students from three separate degree programs (Economics, Applied Economics and Management, and Policy Analysis and Management, respectively), with one common denominator: John Cawley as a mentor.  John epitomizes what it means to be a mentor.  He guided us – and many others – from the first daunting years of PhD student life, making the transition from consumer of knowledge to producer of knowledge, that awkward step of writing your first independent paper, to the next big transition from graduate student to professional economist, and onward.  He provides, to all his students, mentorship across the lifecycle.  Each stage of our careers have posed distinct challenges and he was, and is, always ready to listen, offer advice, and then let us make our own decisions, making clear that he truly wants what is best for us.

While each of our experiences are different, they share similar themes:

  • John invests deeply in his students. He knows that they have different objectives and strengths, and he wants his students to find the best match for them, not for him or his institution.  We each remembering John asking us early on in our graduate student careers, slight variants of, what interests you, what do you want to do?  He met with us regularly, listened to us, read our papers (which we readily admit were, at times, really quite hard to read), watched our practice job talks, and helped us navigate the tricky waters of the economics job market.  He provided thoughtful and forthcoming insight into how to market ourselves and identify necessary skills to support our respective paths.  Finally, for John, if you are happy with the outcome of your graduate education, he is truly and deeply happy for you, and views you as a complete success.
  • John is not a hand-holder, he teaches his students to develop as independent scholars. His relationship with his students is that of a supportive colleague.  Perhaps one of the most valuable skills we have learned from John is to ‘figure it out.’  That is, be brave and have the confidence that you can do this, John is able to help build that confidence in his students.  John makes criticism palatable and ALWAYS constructive.  John is always clear: my comments are about the paper, not you.  He taught us that the ability to separate ourselves from our work will allow us to be more objective, scholars, and happier human beings.
  • John promotes his students in myriad ways. He co-authors with his students – the opportunity to work with John Cawley is priceless – encourages grad students to attend conferences and meet with seminar speakers, and is willing to ‘get on the phone’ and make calls when his students are on the market.  To this day, as we are professional economists, John continues to promote us by including us in conferences and networking events, and cites our work!
  • John is a gifted teacher. His courses are thoughtfully constructed to support students’ professional development.  Every assignment and requirement provide students with a tangible skill that they will use in the future (we can attest to this!).  In addition to his contributions in the classroom, John has modeled how to be an active and supportive member of an academic department.  He brings out the best in students and faculty alike, and promotes inclusivity which benefits the overall department through strong connections within the academic community.
  • John is kind. His kindness is evident in all his interactions with Cornell students, faculty, staff, and beyond.  John values his students both as scholars and as people.  John leads by example; his acts of kindness have ripple effects across the profession.  We feel this point is particularly important as our field is not known for kindness, but could surely benefit from it.

In sum, we are all better economists, colleagues, teachers, and people for having had John as a mentor.  We aspire to emulate him with our own students and in our own classrooms and departments, in doing so, to make meaningful impacts on the economics profession and, perhaps more importantly, the lives of individuals.

Catherine Maclean is an Associate Professor of Economics at Temple University.  Elaine Hill is an Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Outcomes Research at the University of Rochester.  Daniel Grossman is an Assistant Professor of Economics at West Virginia University.