Categories: Newsletter Issue 2020:1

ASHEcon Job Market Webinar with John Cawley: A Follow-up Interview

By: Anne M. Burton

John Cawley recently held a webinar on the health economics job market. You can view the archived version and download the slides here.

  1. Thanks for taking the time to share some advice about the job market. This first question will either be a softball or the hardest question of the interview: what’s a webinar?

A webinar is just a seminar that takes place over the internet. Boom! This is easy. Next question.

  1. You already share your job market guide ( that you update every few years—what did current or future job market candidates learn from the webinar that wasn’t in your guide?

The webinar included some new data on number of job openings and recent salaries, but to me the biggest difference was the ability to field and respond to students’ questions in real time. We had around 120 participants and it was fun to see the questions come rolling in, providing a sense of what job candidates wanted to know.

  1. By the time this article goes to print, this year’s crop of job market candidates will mostly be busy deciding between job offers if they have multiple, so they’ll be done with most aspects of the job market. For grad students like me who will be on the job market next year, what’s a general timeline for things we’ll want to be doing in the next several months, from now through next fall when employers start posting applications on the American Economic Association’s Job Openings for Economists page (also known as JOE;

Great question. If you want to be on the job market in the Fall/winter of 2020-2021, then you should try to hit these benchmarks:

End of Spring 2020 semester:

  • Have a decent draft of your job market paper, and present it in practice seminars, which could be to your grad student colleagues and/or your committee
  • Ask your committee what you’ll need to do to be ready to be on the market in the Fall
  • Go to the job market seminars that your department is hosting now and talk afterwards with grad students and faculty about what each candidate did right and wrong. Based on what you see, what skills you would need to acquire to give a good job talk by this time next year?
  • Are you a clear and confident presenter?
  • Can you think on your feet and answer questions well?
  • Can you manage time during a seminar, for example skipping material near the end if you spent more time than expected early?
  • Could you handle a difficult questioner?
  • Can you create slides that are informative but uncluttered?
  • If not, work to improve those skills

Summer 2020:

  • Make a lot of progress on your job market paper
  • Think about your preferences and comparative advantages as an economist: e.g.:
    • What field(s) will you work in, are you more theoretical or empirical, and if empirical more structural or reduced form?
    • Are you interested in investing more than average in teaching? If so, you may be a good fit for liberal arts colleges.
    • Would you rather write grants than teach? If so, you may be a good fit for “soft money” environments like medical schools.
    • Do you enjoy collaborative research but are not interested in teaching or the stress of publishing? If so, consider jobs in government and the private sector.
    • What are your geographic preferences?
    • If you have a partner, talk with them about their geographic preferences
    • Talk to your committee about what types of positions and institutions are a good fit for you
    • Read my guide to the economics job market (, so you understand the big picture
    • Create your job candidate website, containing your CV, photo, contact information, and copy of your job market paper (when you’re ready to share it)
  • Talk to your family and explain how the job search process works in economics. Explain that you’ll start applying for jobs in October and that you probably won’t have a job offer until March, so they won’t need to ask for an update every weekend. Explain how the process works (signaling, AEA interviews, flyouts) – they’ll probably find it fascinating. Clarify that it’s a well-organized national market so you might not end up near them but it definitely wouldn’t be appropriate for them to call the local colleges to encourage them to hire you. In exchange, promise to keep them informed when there’s major news; after all, they just love you and want the best for you.

Fall 2020:

  • Early on, sign up to present your job market paper in a major seminar in your department
  • Practice it repeatedly in advance, in full, in front of fellow grad students
  • Practice your answers to the likely interview questions
  • Post your job market paper on your website
  • As job openings are posted, share your tentative list of jobs with your committee to get their feedback; ask if they could write a stronger letter if you limit your applications to certain places
  • Decide if you want to go on the European job market, which is now much more structured and centralized, and will take place a few months before the AEA meetings
  • Practice the five-minute summary of your job market paper (the “elevator pitch”) to ensure that it is clear and concise, even to people who know nothing about your field
  • Hopefully your department’s placement committee will offer mock interviews, but if not, organize your own with fellow graduate students
  • Throughout, stay in touch with your committee about your progress
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress (e.g. exercise, meditation)
  • Strive for a good balance between focus and productivity on the one hand, and healthy breaks and socializing on the other
  1. For those who are on the market this year, what advice would you give them with respect to deciding between job offers and/or negotiating the terms of a job offer?

Deciding between job offers can be hard, because you may not know a lot of important things that will affect your quality of life, like what are the small group dynamics in the different units? Talk to friendly junior people that you met during your flyouts and ask them open-ended questions about life in the department/unit; they may provide you with important information. Talk to your advisors (and other friendly senior faculty) about the options as well.

If you have multiple offers and are engaged in negotiations, bend over backwards to always be polite and appreciative with each employer. Remember that you’ll be interacting with these folks again in the future – they may be journal referees or editors, or tenure letter writers. Also, remember that everybody talks, so if you act arrogant or entitled with an employer, that information may get around and may hurt your professional reputation. Employers will appreciate it if your requests in negotiation are reasonable and clear – specify what they can do to make you sign, so they don’t have to wonder if you’ll just keep coming back with new requests. However, don’t claim you’d sign unless you really would. When weighing various factors, remember that the research environment and collegiality of your first job is way more important than a few thousand dollars per year. Salary is visible and thus easy to focus on, but don’t let it override much more important considerations that are less visible and salient.

  1. Everything I’ve seen and learned about the job market so far (caveat: I have not gone through the adventure of being a job market candidate yet) makes me think that one of the keys to having a less stressful job market year is to figure out what you want (e.g. what type of job) early on and then backwards induct what you need to do 1, 2, or even 3 years before you go on the market. For grad students in their 2nd, 3rd, and/or 4th year of a Ph.D. program, what general advice and/or general timeline would you give them?

I agree!  That can be tough, though, because while you’re still in grad school there are so many career paths you could follow – it’s hard to narrow it down. But when you’re on the job market, employers will want you to know a lot with certainty – what field(s) of economics you’ll work in, what sector of employment is the best match (e.g. academic, government, industry) and what your next several papers will be.

So, during grad school, try to figure these things out – e.g. take classes in different fields, attend different seminars to get a sense of what you’re both good at and enjoy. Try to meet with visiting scholars and ask them not just about their research but for their advice on professional development. Talk to your advisors and the placement committee about what life is like in different sectors of employment. Talk to your grad school colleagues who are on the market now – what advice do they have for you about preparation? Attend the seminars of visiting job candidates and discuss their seminars with fellow grad students and faculty. Meet the visiting seminar speakers who work in your area and ask about their career path.

Apply for competitive grad student programs, such as the University of Chicago Price Theory Camp , RAND Mini-Med School, NBER Health Economics Research Boot Camp, AEA Summer Fellows program, and Western Economic Association Graduate Student Workshop.  Attend conferences and go to not just research sessions but also the receptions and talk to a wide range of people. You can also follow #EconTwitter and its debates about the profession.

  1. On the topic of conferences: as a grad student affiliated with both the Economics department and the Policy Analysis and Management department at Cornell, I am fortunate to have access to departmental and university resources to present at and attend conferences (certainly more than the median grad student). What advice do you have for grad students, particularly those at institutions with fewer resources than Cornell, for how to attend conferences when their budget constraint is binding?

Talk to your Director of Graduate Studies and advisors about sources of funding for graduate students to attend conferences. There may be funds available from a mix of places – the graduate school, your particular PhD program, and interdisciplinary institutes or centers around campus. Make sure you choose conferences that offer good bang for the buck. Sure, it’d be awesome to go to the conference in Hawaii or Barcelona, but honestly, it’s not necessary. Many very important conferences take place in cities that are much cheaper to travel to and stay in. If you work as an RA for faculty, ask to attend the conferences at which the joint work will be presented. Some conferences will give graduate students a travel grant to attend; see the Western Economic Association’s Graduate Student Workshop and the Annual Health Econometrics workshop.

Worst case, if you can’t find any travel funds, then make the very most of the visiting scholars who come to your campus. Try to meet them for individual meetings, and if those aren’t available then hang around after the seminar to say hi and chat.

Also, keep in mind that some really great educational programs are available for streaming on the AEA Continuing Education website and the NBER Summer Institute Econometric Lectures website. You don’t have to travel to acquire human capital.

You can also ask professional development questions on #EconTwitter and participate in the professional development webinars conducted by ASHEcon and other organizations.

  1. On the topic of budgets, the monetary costs of the job market really seem to add up. A suit (or two), professional shoes, and a professional briefcase/bag alone could easily add up to several hundred dollars. If you’re on the economics job market, attending the AEAs/ASSAs in January for the first-round interviews can also cost several hundred dollars. Add to that the fact that some institutions have you book your own flights (which means you pay up front) and then reimburse you sometime later. Some departments or universities may subsidize some of these expenses, but not all do. Do you have any advice for how grad students can financially plan for these expenses?

Yes, it’s definitely expensive to go on the job market, but it’s an important investment in your future. If your phone or laptop doesn’t work reliably, don’t just cross your fingers and hope they don’t crash during the job market – be proactive and replace them beforehand so that you can stay in constant communication and always do your work.

The summer before the job market, ask your credit cards to raise your limits in case you do end up booking a lot of flights and not getting reimbursed for two months. You can look into taking out a student loan to cover the other costs of the job search. This will be a tight period financially – many people will not get their first paycheck until late summer / early Fall.

  1. What other resources, besides your job market guide, would you recommend to grad students who want more information about the process and/or preparation for the job market?

The Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP) of the AEA maintains a page with many links to helpful professional development resources.

Talk to the people who are on the job market now, before they head off to their new jobs. Your department’s placement committee may hold orientation sessions for students about to go on the job market; ask to attend these in the years before you plan to be on the market.

A year before you plan to be on the market, apply for the Graduate Student Workshop of the Western Economic Association.

When you chat with visiting scholars or professors at conferences, ask them their advice regarding the job market – you’ll get some good suggestions and usually a funny story.

  1. Given that ASHEcon organized the webinar and is publishing this article, I thought it would be a good idea to ask you a question specifically about the health economics/health policy job market. Grad students doing work in health economics and health policy seem to have many different types of job opportunities, both in terms of academic departments and across non-academic jobs (such as think tanks, health-care consulting, health insurance companies, and government agencies). In terms of the academic job opportunities, can you outline some of the key similarities and differences between an assistant professor job in the various academic departments and schools where you might find health economists?

The field of health economics is unusual in its incredibly wide diversity of job opportunities. Health economists are recruited into a wide range of academic units: economics departments in Colleges of Arts & Sciences, business schools, public policy, public health, and medicine. Health economists are also heavily recruited for government jobs, think tanks and contract research organizations (e.g. RAND, Mathematica), non-governmental organizations such as the World Bank and OECD, and industry.

Focusing just on the academic side, here are some considerations that help you decide how good a match you are with each type of unit:

Economics Department in Liberal Arts college:

  • Requires you to be very good at teaching and willing to do a lot of it (e.g. three courses per semester)
  • Relatively less weight is put on research during the tenure review, but that weight is still positive
  • This probably entails living in a smaller town; there aren’t many liberal arts colleges in big cities.

Economics Department in Arts & Sciences:

  • Among these types of units, economics departments in research universities put the greatest emphasis on publishing in “Top Five” journals; they may put near-zero weight on publishing in journals outside of economics, even if they are high-impact like JAMA or NEJM.
  • Teaching load is lower than in a liberal arts college (3-4 per year rather than 6-8)
  • This is probably the environment that you’re most familiar with because you were trained in it.

Business school:

  • Values publications in top economics journals highly, but some business schools also put great weight on the top journals in management, marketing, etc.
  • The teaching load may be substantial, less in terms of number of courses than in the quality of teaching demanded by the MBA students
  • Job candidates who aren’t clear, confident communicators may be quickly dropped from consideration. A major question for recruitment committees in business schools is: “Could this person teach MBAs?”
  • Business schools tend to pay higher salaries than economics departments, and may provide some summer money indefinitely

Public policy:

  • A wider set of journals counts in public policy departments than in economics departments
  • For example, the Journal of Policy Analysis & Management (JPAM) is likely to be seen as a top field journal, on par with the top field journals in economics (e.g. Journal of Health Economics, Journal of Public Economics)
  • Teaching quality matters more than in an economics department but arguably less than in a business school
  • In an interdisciplinary environment such as this, it’s important that economists play well with others. Job candidates who say dismissive or insulting things about other disciplines are likely to be dropped from consideration. You’ll be happiest if you share research interests with some of the non-economists in the department.
  • Your job talk should be understandable to non-economists; in fact, the median voter in hiring decisions may be a non-economist

Public Health and Medicine:

  • Typically, little teaching but instead there are high expectations of grant-writing. A soft-money department might expect you to bring in 50-75% of your salary after 3 years or so (they cover all of your salary during the first few years)
  • It’s important to get a K award from NIH (National Institutes of Health) early in your career, which signals that you can succeed in grant writing and supports a lot of your time
  • As with policy schools, these types of units only want to hire economists who work well with other disciplines
  • In public health and medicine, there is more group production of research – economists produce more papers per year, and these papers have more coauthors
  • There are higher expectations about quantity of research, so articles will often be submitted to public health or medical journals, which expect shorter papers and have quicker turnaround time.
  • Thus, if you spend the first several years of your career in public health or medicine, you may not publish enough in economics journals to later switch to an economics department. There is some path dependence to your career – you are likely to evolve to fit the environment of your first job, making it more likely that you stay in that lane. Thus, if you want to make a major change, it may be best and easiest to do it quickly.
  • Higher administration may value JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) and the New England Journal of Medicine as much or more than AER (The American Economic Review) and QJE (The Quarterly Journal of Economics)
  1. Do you have any last pieces of advice that you wanted to share?

Figure out who you are – what are you good at and what do you enjoy doing? Once you determine this, share it with your advisors and the placement committee. Don’t worry about what other people think. I know some people have been worried to tell their advisors that they want a non-academic job. But what’s the alternative? To ignore your own preferences and meekly live your life doing what you think other people want you to do? You may be underestimating your advisors; a lot are good-hearted and just want to help you achieve your goals, whatever they are. As for the rest, they have their own lives to worry about and probably care a lot less about your decision than you might think.

Likewise, be honest in your cover letters and interviews about who you are and what you want to do. That will make it easier for you to match with the right type of job. When I’ve been placement director for Economics at Cornell, I’ve gotten calls from government agencies wanting to know which of our candidates really want to work in government. Not who wants to use government jobs as a backup plan, but who really want that as their first choice. Likewise, liberal arts colleges want to know which candidates have a liberal arts job as their first priority. Non-US institutions want to know who’s really interested in working outside the U.S. When job candidates have been honest with me about their preferences, I can credibly convey that to these employers and facilitate matches. Make sure that your advisors and placement committee know how you see yourself fitting into the profession and what kind of jobs you want.

Finally, keep in mind that you’ll be interacting with the people you meet on the job market for the rest of your career. If you are clear about your interests and comparative advantages, and you’re professional and kind, you will be fondly remembered. Even if this particular job isn’t a good match, the same employer might contact you a few years later when the right job opens up (this happens more often than you might think). Even if that doesn’t happen, it will be beneficial for you to have a good professional reputation, and perhaps most importantly, you’ll have the peace of mind of having done things the right way.

Anne M. Burton is a Doctoral Candidate in Economics at Cornell University.

 John Cawley is a Professor of Policy Analysis and Management and Economics at Cornell University.