Monday, April 23, 2007

A woman wins the Clark medal 

For the first time, the John Bates Clark Medal has gone to a female economist, Susan Athey of Harvard. The Clark medal goes to the most promising economists under forty, and is only awarded every other year. Most people will know Freakonomics' Steven Levitt won the award in 2003; Daron Acemoglu, whose work I know much better than Athey's over even Levitt's pre-Freakonomics, won in 2005.

I was looking through some of Athey's papers and found this one quite interesting. Co-authored with well-known professors from other universities in the top five in our area, it is an attempt to predict success for economists based on their work in graduate school.
The Ph.D. admissions committee�s evaluation of a student predicts first-year grades and Ph.D. completion, but not job placement. First-year performance is a strong predictor of Ph.D. completion. Most importantly, we find that first-year Micro and Macro grades are statistically significant predictors of student job placement, even conditional on Ph.D. completion. Conditional on first-year grades, GRE scores, foreign citizenship, sex, and having a prior Masters degree do not predict job placement. Students who attended elite undergraduate universities and liberal arts colleges are more likely to be placed in top ranked academic jobs.
That last sentence is rather depressing. I remember one of my professors at Claremont, a Harvard-trained economist, telling me that if I placed back at a school as good as my undergraduate institution, I would be considered to have done well. The implication was that above that I could not go. But remember that the Athey et al. paper only surveys those coming out of top-five econ programs. I have no idea what these results would look like for the next 25 graduate programs; I rather doubt they'd be the same, particularly the conclusion that first-year grades in your core courses somehow determined where you would eventually place for an academic position.