Wednesday, February 15, 2012
A Job Market Story
Noah Smith tells his economics job market story over at Noahpinion, and it inspires me to tell one of mine. (Bravo, Noah, not just for landing a good job, but for doing it nonrobotically.) I have a lot of stories, because I was on the market a long, long time.
In this case, the time was December 1987, the place was Chicago, site of the annual economics meetings that year. I had just completed my dissertation, a theoretical treatment of wage compensation for dangerous work. (My chair was Herb Gintis, an extraordinarily generous and helpful advisor.) I had sent out a whole slew of applications but had landed hardly any first interviews.
My plane landed in Chicago just as a powerful snowstorm was blanketing the city. Since O’Hare closed for a while, the beginning of the meetings was disrupted, and the entire event felt a bit surreal. I had some extra time the first morning—OK, with few interviews I had a lot of extra time all the way through—so I decided to get some exercise. My hotel’s fitness room was shut down for renovations, and they were giving away vouchers for a health club down the street. I went down to the concierge desk to pick up mine.
Standing next to me was a woman of about my age, also picking up a voucher. Since neither of us quite knew where we were going, and the snow was blowing furiously in the wind, we decided to find our way together. I asked where she was from; she said the Duke school of public policy, and she was at the meetings to recruit. Amazing, I said, since I’m on the market, and I had applied to Duke public policy, and I was sure I would get an interview, since I am really a policy person, but I didn’t.
She asked about my dissertation, and I described it. (The snow was fierce.) She seemed very interested. Why hadn’t they scheduled me, she wondered. Then she asked what school I was from. UMass-Amherst, I said. There was an uncomfortable silence. You could see her face simply drop, as if it were about to fall off. “Um, don’t they have a lot of Marxists there?”
Well, that was that: no last minute possibility at Duke. And it went downhill for the next half-dozen years, desperate and unproductive job-hunting with a smattering of amusing stories along the way.
The best comeback lines occur to you too late. I wish I had calmly replied, “Don’t worry, it’s sort of like AIDS. You can’t get it from casual contact.”