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Thread: Work for a professor or for the Fed?

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    Work for a professor or for the Fed?

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    I'm a college senior choosing between full-time RA positions for next year rn. Specifically, I can continue to work with a professor whose work I really enjoy and with whom I have a fairly good relationship, and a position at a "good" Fed branch.

    I've been told by others that this professor is "famous" (in the top 100 of Ideas/Respec ranking thing for the last-ten-years one), but I sort of hate my undergrad institution and the surrounding city. Not in terms of academic merit, or the people, just the environment. Working at a big city for a few years sounds incredibly nice in comparison. Also, since you are working for one professor and not with a larger team of recently graduated undergrads, staying at this job can be a little isolating, and part of the reason I'm taking a two-year break ish from academia is to do some mental health cleanup anyway. The letter of rec that would come out of the Fed job would probably be weaker than a letter written by this professor.

    I've been waffling a bit between what my intended field will be in the future as well, so that's not a huge dividing point. In terms of pay, time, etc. they seem similar. The professor job will probably have more interesting work associated with it. I also go a bit back and forth about whether I want to apply to a Top School, but in the end it comes down to funding issues that I'll probably encounter, so I think I will still have to strive for that.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you guys in advance.

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    Re: Work for a professor or for the Fed?

    It seems like you have a pretty good sense of the pros and cons, and the big jump from here is making what is really a personal decision based on your preferences. The best anyone here can do is provide information, but it will always be your decision at the end of the day.

    That said, some thoughts that may be useful...
    - You are not wrong to give due consideration to where you live and how you spend your time over the next couple years. If you already have a signal that your current situation won't make you happy, that's useful information and you shouldn't disregard it.
    - It's likely that continuing with this professor will lead to better admissions outcomes than Fed. At the same time, remember that if you do choose Fed, I presume you'll still have a letter from this professor based on your current work. Also, note this is all probabilistic. You could well end up with the same placement from either, though it sounds like in expectation the Fed may place you a couple/few programs lower.
    - Maybe worth thinking a little about courses you'd like to take over the next couple years, if any? Can your GPA stand to gain? Any courses you never got around to (real analysis etc)? Would you like to take grad courses while working? If any of these apply, does the Fed have a good university nearby and a policy of tuition reimbursement / would your university allow you to take further courses? (all rhetorical)
    - Seeing the work at a policy institution firsthand does provide some benefit for thinking down the road whether you might prefer that career path over academia (or industry).

    I think it will boil down to: how much happier might you be at the Fed versus how risk averse are you and how much do you care about possibly going to a program a few spots higher/lower in the rankings?

    I feel this is a somewhat rambling reply, which maybe reflects that this is just a tough call you'll have to make. Maybe the more useful things I can say are these:
    - These are both great options.
    - Tough decisions inherently imply that you value both options similarly. As such, you have little reason to dwell over the road not taken. Once you decide, just look forward to what's ahead.

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    Re: Work for a professor or for the Fed?

    It seems like you'll be much happier at the Fed How long have you been working for this professor? If you've been working for them for a while, the marginal benefit of working for one or two more years might not be much.

    Mental health is important, both personally and in terms of the kind of work you will be able to produce (which will affect your outcomes beyond grad school admissions). Life is not just about getting into the best school possible. Since you mentioned wanting to do some "mental health cleanup", I personally don't think a few spots in the rankings are worth it (plus, plenty of people from Feds place at high-ranked programs, so I wonder if there are any substantial differences after controlling for input quality).

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    Re: Work for a professor or for the Fed?

    Re: jjrousseau

    No, thank you so much. A few of the points in your "rambling reply" are actually things that I didn't consider before, or didn't consider as thoroughly as I now think I should have, so this was really helpful. I am still wavering between the two options: every three hours I would lean against one option, then switch. But I think you are right that, as hokey as it may seem, the answer really lies within myself - I just have to do some soul searching haha. (Good thing that whatever choice I choose will maximize my utility according to revealed pref theory - or something like that.)

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    Re: Work for a professor or for the Fed?

    Quote Originally Posted by pulsars View Post
    It seems like you'll be much happier at the Fed How long have you been working for this professor? If you've been working for them for a while, the marginal benefit of working for one or two more years might not be much.

    Mental health is important, both personally and in terms of the kind of work you will be able to produce (which will affect your outcomes beyond grad school admissions). Life is not just about getting into the best school possible. Since you mentioned wanting to do some "mental health cleanup", I personally don't think a few spots in the rankings are worth it (plus, plenty of people from Feds place at high-ranked programs, so I wonder if there are any substantial differences after controlling for input quality).
    I've been working for the professor for a few months now. By the time I graduate it would have been a year. So perhaps not necessarily enough, unfortunately. I think I would miss the work relationship we have though - can't complain about having a nice boss, even if the guy is pretty busy.

    There's also another slight concern I have: I would be working in a "pooled" system (rather than a match system) in the Fed branch subdivision, if I choose to do the Fed branch job. It might not be as optimal because you don't get the same one-on-one relationship with an economist. I've looked at a couple of the alumni of this subdivision and they seem to be doing fine, so it should be fine.

    Thank you for acknowledging the mental health thing I put in there haha. Earlier on in my undergrad career I didn't think it was something worth taking care of, but I think just personal experience and also seeing some of my classmates (esp. those thinking about doing econ PhDs) go through some of the ups and downs have changed my opinions somewhat.

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    Re: Work for a professor or for the Fed?

    Quote Originally Posted by salamonger View Post
    (Good thing that whatever choice I choose will maximize my utility according to revealed pref theory - or something like that.)
    Yes, assuming you know your preferences, which seems to be at issue here :P

    Good luck deciding, and again these are both great options worth looking forward to!

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