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Thread: regarding RA position after undergrad

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    regarding RA position after undergrad

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    As one of my options after I graduate from my university, I was thinking about working as an RA for about a year under a professor or two professors. They are certainly very well known in the field and I personally know them, and they told me that they are willing to work with me upon me graduating, although I would not be paid. I will certainly apply to other RA positions (nber, etc.), but if I were to work with the former two, will it not be as impactful as I would be with working in the jobs posted in nber, siepr, etc.? That is, as long as I gain research experience along with great letters from them, would it matter at the end, right? (Assuming money is not an issue) (Sorry, this question may seem a bit weird and trivial but I just wanted to make sure ).

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

    It seems the important thing is that whoever writers your letters (1) has sent RA's to good programs before, and can compare you directly to those students (hopefully favorably), (2) gets a good signal of your quality, and (3) is themselves decently well published, so it's clear they know what they're talking about. Beyond this, whether the name ends in Chetty is probably somewhat helpful but not that huge. This seems to be the opinion I've gathered on this forum.

    For example, see my earlier thread here (http://www.urch.com/forums/phd-econo...dcoms-etc.html ). Check out also the thread I cite there, where some of the faculty who are active on urch share their candid thoughts on how the admissions process works and what matters. In particular, a comment from user tbe on my thread:

    "When we review applications, letters from people who have a history of placing students in graduate school carry more weight. Whether we have a personal connection is less important, though I do have a better sense of the judgment (for better or worse) of people who I know well. At best, personal connections may help get your application noticed, but it is unlikely to have much of an effect on admissions. I wouldn't worry about it."

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

    I would tend to agree with what jjrousseau said but not on everything though.

    It is indeed important to ask them what are their placement records. Since you said they're very well-known, I am assuming they're not junior professors, so they should have placed RAs previously.

    However, I'm not sure I'd agree with what has been said on the Chetty example, at least as it is. I mean precisely, Raj Chetty satisfied the 3 criteria jjrousseau mentioned, so it's a bit contradictory to cite him as an example...? But I guess his point was that the name per se (i.e., how famous your professor is) would not necessarily be helpful, although –again– R. Chetty is a quite bad example given that it turns out he places very well his RAs... So, things are quite strongly correlated, but not always!

    As for the quote from a professor who posted, I would also take this with caution. While it is certainly true to some extent, it's only one data point, so one cannot infer that all admission committee members judge application files like him/her. I mean I have seen some quite smart people get worse admission results than people who are (seemingly) less smart but who work for big guys... So, I believe that your professors' network/name does matter to some extent. Perhaps, for rather junior professors, having them use their network will "simply make your application noticed" but if, say, the (co-)editor at a top 5 journal asks for "a favor" to one of his friends/colleagues, I think things are quite different...

    All in all, I would say that in your case, unless the professors who want to exploit you (let's call a spade a spade) placed their previous RAs very well, you should rather think about getting a (paid) RA position at a top school (e.g., via the NBER website), even if it's for a rather junior professor who doesn't have many publications (if s/he has already placed well despite the fact that s/he junior, it's a good signal). I think that in that case, the signal from that professor's school is stronger (people usually understand that they're juniors and it takes a couple of years at least to publish in a top 5). So, take your current option as a back-up plan maybe?

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

    I agree with everything else that has been said, and I want to add that their unwillingness to pay you strikes me as a red flag. Even if money is not an issue for you, the fact that they have said they won't pay you indicates to me that they either don't value your work or don't respect you enough to make your time/effort worthwhile. That doesn't bode very well for any letters they might be writing you.

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

    I'd take a paid position at the NBER or SIEPR over an unpaid position elsewhere. I guess if you think these professors are likely to write you much stronger letters and have good placement records, it could be worth it, but otherwise I'd be very wary of working unpaid. Like, it's probably better to do a great job for these professors who won't pay you than to be the worst RA at the NBER, but otherwise I think you should seek out a paid position with someone who has a strong placement record, even if they're not as high-profile. I think also that the network that you develop at the NBER/SIEPR can be a really nice perk. I haven't done one of those positions myself so I'm not sure I can speak to the exact benefits, but it always helps to start building your network (possible future coauthors/classmates/friends!) as early as possible.

    Also it doesn't seem like jjrousseau is saying don't work for Chetty or that Chetty doesn't satisfy the conditions--more that the value added by his fame isn't as great as the fact that he probably writes his RAs strong letters when they do good work.

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

    Quote Originally Posted by noface123 View Post
    I'd take a paid position at the NBER or SIEPR over an unpaid position elsewhere. I guess if you think these professors are likely to write you much stronger letters and have good placement records, it could be worth it, but otherwise I'd be very wary of working unpaid. Like, it's probably better to do a great job for these professors who won't pay you than to be the worst RA at the NBER, but otherwise I think you should seek out a paid position with someone who has a strong placement record, even if they're not as high-profile. I think also that the network that you develop at the NBER/SIEPR can be a really nice perk. I haven't done one of those positions myself so I'm not sure I can speak to the exact benefits, but it always helps to start building your network (possible future coauthors/classmates/friends!) as early as possible.

    Also it doesn't seem like jjrousseau is saying don't work for Chetty or that Chetty doesn't satisfy the conditions--more that the value added by his fame isn't as great as the fact that he probably writes his RAs strong letters when they do good work.
    I know jjrousseau wasn't saying that. It's just that everything is so highly correlated with Chetty that ad com people who see his name certainly already have a positive bias even before reading his letter (assuming they bother reading his letter...).

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

    Quote Originally Posted by Spookiz View Post
    I would tend to agree with what jjrousseau said but not on everything though.

    It is indeed important to ask them what are their placement records. Since you said they're very well-known, I am assuming they're not junior professors, so they should have placed RAs previously.

    However, I'm not sure I'd agree with what has been said on the Chetty example, at least as it is. I mean precisely, Raj Chetty satisfied the 3 criteria jjrousseau mentioned, so it's a bit contradictory to cite him as an example...? But I guess his point was that the name per se (i.e., how famous your professor is) would not necessarily be helpful, although –again– R. Chetty is a quite bad example given that it turns out he places very well his RAs... So, things are quite strongly correlated, but not always!

    As for the quote from a professor who posted, I would also take this with caution. While it is certainly true to some extent, it's only one data point, so one cannot infer that all admission committee members judge application files like him/her. I mean I have seen some quite smart people get worse admission results than people who are (seemingly) less smart but who work for big guys... So, I believe that your professors' network/name does matter to some extent. Perhaps, for rather junior professors, having them use their network will "simply make your application noticed" but if, say, the (co-)editor at a top 5 journal asks for "a favor" to one of his friends/colleagues, I think things are quite different...

    All in all, I would say that in your case, unless the professors who want to exploit you (let's call a spade a spade) placed their previous RAs very well, you should rather think about getting a (paid) RA position at a top school (e.g., via the NBER website), even if it's for a rather junior professor who doesn't have many publications (if s/he has already placed well despite the fact that s/he junior, it's a good signal). I think that in that case, the signal from that professor's school is stronger (people usually understand that they're juniors and it takes a couple of years at least to publish in a top 5). So, take your current option as a back-up plan maybe?
    Hi, thanks for your input!
    Actually, I've known him before and contacted him individually if I can "learn" under him through assisting with research, etc., and he said yes to me. We actually didn't discuss about whether I'll be paid or not, but I just assumed that I won't be since I did not necessarily go through the formal application process. Do you still think I should set this as backup?

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

    Quote Originally Posted by Spookiz View Post
    I would tend to agree with what jjrousseau said but not on everything though.

    It is indeed important to ask them what are their placement records. Since you said they're very well-known, I am assuming they're not junior professors, so they should have placed RAs previously.

    However, I'm not sure I'd agree with what has been said on the Chetty example, at least as it is. I mean precisely, Raj Chetty satisfied the 3 criteria jjrousseau mentioned, so it's a bit contradictory to cite him as an example...? But I guess his point was that the name per se (i.e., how famous your professor is) would not necessarily be helpful, although –again– R. Chetty is a quite bad example given that it turns out he places very well his RAs... So, things are quite strongly correlated, but not always!

    As for the quote from a professor who posted, I would also take this with caution. While it is certainly true to some extent, it's only one data point, so one cannot infer that all admission committee members judge application files like him/her. I mean I have seen some quite smart people get worse admission results than people who are (seemingly) less smart but who work for big guys... So, I believe that your professors' network/name does matter to some extent. Perhaps, for rather junior professors, having them use their network will "simply make your application noticed" but if, say, the (co-)editor at a top 5 journal asks for "a favor" to one of his friends/colleagues, I think things are quite different...

    All in all, I would say that in your case, unless the professors who want to exploit you (let's call a spade a spade) placed their previous RAs very well, you should rather think about getting a (paid) RA position at a top school (e.g., via the NBER website), even if it's for a rather junior professor who doesn't have many publications (if s/he has already placed well despite the fact that s/he junior, it's a good signal). I think that in that case, the signal from that professor's school is stronger (people usually understand that they're juniors and it takes a couple of years at least to publish in a top 5). So, take your current option as a back-up plan maybe?
    Thanks for your reply!
    Actually, I've known him before and contacted him individually if I can "learn" under him through assisting with research, etc., and he said yes to me. We actually didn't discuss about whether I'll be paid or not, but I just assumed that I won't be since I did not necessarily go through the formal application process. Do you still think I should set this as backup?

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    Re: regarding RA position after undergrad

    Quote Originally Posted by subbydoo View Post
    I agree with everything else that has been said, and I want to add that their unwillingness to pay you strikes me as a red flag. Even if money is not an issue for you, the fact that they have said they won't pay you indicates to me that they either don't value your work or don't respect you enough to make your time/effort worthwhile. That doesn't bode very well for any letters they might be writing you.
    Thanks for your reply!
    Actually, I've known him before and contacted him individually if I can "learn" under him through assisting with research, etc., and he said yes to me. We actually didn't discuss about whether I'll be paid or not, but I just assumed that I won't be since I did not necessarily go through the formal application process. Do you still think I should set this as backup? (I've asked the same question to those who posted before you did just to hear more.)

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