Assistant professor of economics at the University of Oklahoma. Interested in macro-welfare economics; animal agriculture; population ethics; etc.
Professional Website: https://sites.google.com/view/kevinkuruc/home
Thanks for flagging :) I am going to take a look!
Thanks for asking this! I teach a ~400 student principles of macroeconomics course, so I am very interested in the answers people come up with (and eventually seeing the email you sent). I'd like to send something about EA after exposing them to ideas of long-run growth, the current number of people in extreme poverty, etc.
Great piece, well done!
I think I've experience drudgery on the end of projects, when I feel like I've learned what I would like to about a sub-topic, but I still need to formalize everything in exacting detail for something like an academic publication. Hopping between and/or starting new projects -- even within the same sub-discipline -- is not boring for me.
However, things are probably different when you're near the frontier of a sub-discipline and the research you're working on is generating new knowledge, rather than reading lots of what others have done. It's definitely more exciting. Admittedly, it takes a lot of hard work to get to that point in any field, but I've found it very worthwhile.
Thanks for writing back -- and for the unnecessary complements of my inaugural posts :) -- Charles! I only know the context of mis-messaging around skills at a high level, so it is hard for me to respond without knowing what 'bad outcomes' look like. I don't doubt that something like this could happen, so I now see the point you were trying to make.
I was responding as someone who read your (intentionally not fleshed out) hypothetical and thought the appropriate response might actually be for someone well-suited for 'biology' to work on building those broad skills even with a low probability of achieving the original goal.
No laptop! That's even better :)
And yes, to build on your caveat, I meant to add one of my own recognizing 'voluntarily having no connectivity because you have a nearby office, library, computer lab is much different than not having the option to be easily connected.'
That seems correct to me for the most part, though it might be less inevitable than you suspect, or at least this is my experience in economics. At my University they tried hiring two independent little 'clusters' (one being 'macro-development' which I was in) so I had a few people with similar enough interests to bounce ideas off of. A big caveat is that its a fragile setup: after 1 left its now just 2 of us with only loosely related interests. I have a friend in a similarly ranked department that did this for applied-environmental economics, so she has a few colleagues with similar interests. Everything said here is even truer of the top departments if you're a strong enough candidate to land one of those.
My sense is that departments are wise enough to recognize the increasing returns to having peers with common interest at the expense of sticking faculty in teaching roles that are outside of their research areas. Though this will obviously vary job-to-job and should just be assessed when assessing whether to apply to a specific job; I just don't think its universal enough to steer people away from academia.
For an analogy, imagine making a statement about the EA movement needing more “skill in biology”. In response, this updates conscientious, strong EAs who change careers. However, what was actually needed was world class leaders in biology whose stellar careers involve special initial conditions. Unfortunately, this means that the efforts made by even very strong EAs were wasted.
This doesn't immediately strike me as a bad outcome, ex-ante. It's very hard to know (1) who will become world class researchers or (2) if non-world-class people move the needle by influencing the direction of their field ever-so-slightly (maybe by increasing the incentives to work on an EA-problem by increasing citations here, peer-reviewing these papers, etc.). I, by no means, am world class, but I've written papers that (I hope) pave the way for better people to work on animal welfare in economics; participate in and attend conferences on welfare economics; signed a consensus statement on research methodology in population ethics; try to be a supportive/encouraging colleague of welfare-economists working on GPR topics; etc. I also worked under a world-class researcher in grad school and now sometimes serve as a glorified assistant (i.e., coauthor) who helps him flesh out and get more of his ideas to paper. In your example, if the community 'needs more people in biology' I think the scaffolding of the sorts I try to provide, is probably(?) still impactful. (Caveat: I'm almost certainly over-justifying my own impact, so take this with a grain of salt.)
If 80K was pushing people into undesirable careers with little earnings potential, this might be a legitimate problem. But I think most of the skills built in these HITS based careers are transferrable and won't leave you in a bad spot.
I'm not sure I have much to add aside from things I saw in your post (e.g., morning working, and other Cal Newport-ish tricks). I've found these to be really great.
One thing I experimented with pre-pandemic, and am about to re-up, is canceling my WiFi. Obviously during the depth of the pandemic when I had to work full time from home I needed it, but I'm actually calling up my provider tomorrow to drop back off. I still had some data on my phone for a quick email and/or internet check , but this entirely eliminated useless scrolling, streaming, etc., at home that don't bring me joy.
I think more people should try this -- maybe I'll write a short post making the case for it.
EDIT: I did write that short post up, if anyone's interested.
I agree there is something more exciting about diving into a whole new field, since the fruit become low-hanging again and progress is faster. I guess what I meant is specific to economics, or other fields that give you 'thinking tools'; I underestimated how narrowing in on specific questions/fields teaches you how to learn, such that you can bounce to new disciplines and learn a lot much faster. Maybe another way to say that is that my focusing in on very particular subtopics was more temporary than I forecasted, but necessary for skill building.