Monday, 30 October 2006

Leave it to the economists to design an efficient job market

If there is a recurring fall “theme” here at Signifying Nothing, it’s my belief that the political science job market is fundamentally broken; the only candidates who are well-served by the market appear to be the 3–4 “star” ABDs every year and established scholars (the latter of whom don’t actually participate in the same job market), and the only employers who are well-served are those who ultimately get their pick of the litter from those categories. For everyone else, there’s the obscenely stupid APSA meat market that (except for the earliest-deadline institutions) really doesn’t work except as an impetus for a run on the hotel bar by candidates and search committee members alike.

Unlike political scientists, the economists have actually thought about these problems, and continue to refine their processes. A case in point: Stephen Karlson reports on the new ‘signaling’ mechanism that allows candidates to credibly indicate up to two positions that they are particularly interested in, getting around the problems of both private (every application including the boilerplate “I really want to teach at [Institution mail-merge name here]”) and public signals (the candidate declaring on his/her website what job he/she really wants, which probably doesn’t help the candidate with other job applications)* in cover letters and recommendations. Greg Mankiw and the AEA website explain the details.

Obviously getting political scientists to adopt a similar process would be like herding cats—but there is a strong case to be made that the lower-tier R1s and other schools would be best served by banding together and either getting the APSA to sponsor an AEA-like hiring event, or organizing their own event, in the November-January time frame where more serious interviews could take place than at the APSA meat market and departments would have a clearer idea of their needs and realistic prospects for attracting the top candidates.

Even absent a hiring conference, though, APSA could provide a similar credible signaling system for candidates in eJobs—if it were so inclined. Doing so, while a baby step towards a more useful market, would probably at least help a few candidates get on the shortlists they want to be on as opposed to the ones that departments think the candidates want to be on.

* As for me, I’ve made no real secret of my preferences, but if an R1 wants to pay my salary for a few years on the tenure track while I try to find a good liberal arts college that will take me I’m certainly not going to complain.