PDA

View Full Version : Importance of non-authorship role in paper



NotFrequentist
01-02-2015, 06:10 PM
Hi everyone,

I posted on here a few months back about accepting an RAship with a prestigious professor. Long story short: I did, and now I'm working here.

Anyways, the professor has a paper coming out (the first I've worked in) in a top econ journal (think AER, QJE, Econometrica). I am not an author, but I am mentioned in a footnote on the first page in a thanks ("Thanks to NotFrequentist for research assistance").

I guess my questions are 1) is this appropriate to mention in grad school applications (I think intend to apply in two years time)? 2) does this have any added value?

I would also like to ask for any tips/advice in maximizing the benefits I get from my time as an RA.

Thanks in advance for the advice.

Food4Thought
01-02-2015, 06:35 PM
To mention that you are thanked in the paper? That is rather tactless.

Presumably, the letter of rec you get from that prof. would make clear your contribution. I would simply state that I worked with professor Blank doing blank. This allowed me to explore my interest in black and I hope to continue studying blank.

Also, that footnote probably includes the names of several other RA's who worked on the project, so the value added is your experience and the relationship with your professor, not the mentioning of your name in a paper.

NotFrequentist
01-02-2015, 07:17 PM
Thanks!

PhDPlease
01-02-2015, 10:58 PM
Agree. It sounds like what you did is a typical RA job. I do not mean that in a bad way. Likely you'll get a helpful letter of recommendation from an important professor which is a good thing. I agree that it isn't standard to mention that you were thanked in a footnote. Just concentrate on things like what the project was (brief summary of what the main question was and what the main research result/finding was), what was your contribution, and what you learned/gained from working on the project. While of course you don't want to minimize yourself, try to make sure to not write in a way that could come across as arrogant. (I am not accusing you of being arrogant but sometimes people can unintentionally come across that way if not familiar with the norms for how to talk about your accomplishments in the way that the field considers standard.)

In terms of advice, the biggest thing (to me personally) was to make sure I was gaining an understanding of the "big picture" in the project. If you have a particular task, even if it is minor like cleaning data, I would still make sure to ask (assuming the professor has time/interest to talk with you) how it contributes to the big picture. Also if you have time and haven't already done related reading on the topic, I would try to read some related papers (ask professor for recommendations if unsure) so you can see how the paper fits into the literature. Also another thing that was helpful to me was attempting some academic writing. Often the RA job is mainly data/programming, but writing up your findings causes you to reflect on the big picture/analysis and also lets you develop your academic writing skills, so it may be helpful learning/practice even if the professor doesn't include your writing in the actual paper. Finally, something I found helpful that was suggested by one of my advisers was maintaining some notes for yourself on both the overall big-picture analysis as well as your contribution. This is especially helpful if you work for a few years before going to grad school and by the time you are trying to write your personal statement and prepare for interviews (if you apply to any places that interview - many do not) you have forgotten some of the details.

PhDPolEcon
01-02-2015, 11:45 PM
Great post! Thanks for contributing to the forum!


Agree. It sounds like what you did is a typical RA job. I do not mean that in a bad way. Likely you'll get a helpful letter of recommendation from an important professor which is a good thing. I agree that it isn't standard to mention that you were thanked in a footnote. Just concentrate on things like what the project was (brief summary of what the main question was and what the main research result/finding was), what was your contribution, and what you learned/gained from working on the project. While of course you don't want to minimize yourself, try to make sure to not write in a way that could come across as arrogant. (I am not accusing you of being arrogant but sometimes people can unintentionally come across that way if not familiar with the norms for how to talk about your accomplishments in the way that the field considers standard.)

In terms of advice, the biggest thing (to me personally) was to make sure I was gaining an understanding of the "big picture" in the project. If you have a particular task, even if it is minor like cleaning data, I would still make sure to ask (assuming the professor has time/interest to talk with you) how it contributes to the big picture. Also if you have time and haven't already done related reading on the topic, I would try to read some related papers (ask professor for recommendations if unsure) so you can see how the paper fits into the literature. Also another thing that was helpful to me was attempting some academic writing. Often the RA job is mainly data/programming, but writing up your findings causes you to reflect on the big picture/analysis and also lets you develop your academic writing skills, so it may be helpful learning/practice even if the professor doesn't include your writing in the actual paper. Finally, something I found helpful that was suggested by one of my advisers was maintaining some notes for yourself on both the overall big-picture analysis as well as your contribution. This is especially helpful if you work for a few years before going to grad school and by the time you are trying to write your personal statement and prepare for interviews (if you apply to any places that interview - many do not) you have forgotten some of the details.

econapp2014
01-03-2015, 04:11 AM
What matters is your role in the project, not where the paper got published.

Econhead
01-03-2015, 04:48 PM
What matters is your role in the project, not where the paper got published.

This couldn't be further from the truth in some ways. No one cares about your being RA for a professor that published an article that will never play a role in future economics literature. Publication location is usually tied to professor quality, though. So, it never really is about the publication, but rather your role and your professor's prestige. In this way it is clear why being an RA for a prestigious professor for a project that never gets published will carry more weight than co-authoring a paper that get's published in extremely low impact journal.

econapp2014
01-03-2015, 06:32 PM
This couldn't be further from the truth in some ways. No one cares about your being RA for a professor that published an article that will never play a role in future economics literature. Publication location is usually tied to professor quality, though. So, it never really is about the publication, but rather your role and your professor's prestige. In this way it is clear why being an RA for a prestigious professor for a project that never gets published will carry more weight than co-authoring a paper that get's published in extremely low impact journal.
I don't think having done some data cleaning job, for example, for a prestigious professor would be more valuable to the application process (and future research career) than actual theoretical/empirical analysis in a co-authored paper, even it only got published in a 2nd/3rd tier journal. At the end, you could be doing some logistic work that is completely unrelated with Economics. What really matters is what you have done and what you have learnt from the process.

publicaffairsny
01-03-2015, 08:10 PM
This couldn't be further from the truth in some ways. No one cares about your being RA for a professor that published an article that will never play a role in future economics literature. Publication location is usually tied to professor quality, though. So, it never really is about the publication, but rather your role and your professor's prestige. In this way it is clear why being an RA for a prestigious professor for a project that never gets published will carry more weight than co-authoring a paper that get's published in extremely low impact journal.

Yeah, i think its a little silly to expect an applicant to work on a project that will shape the field in a meaningful way. That has everything to do with the opportunities available to the applicant during their pre-doctoral work. Not the talents and abilities of the applicant. Yes, that Rhodes scholar from Harvard who RA'd for Larry Summers and James Poterba, obviously had a chance to work on some important articles. But they wouldn't have if they were at a public comprehensive college, and if we are honest with ourselves, undergrad placement is highly linked to SES and corresponding HS opportunities.

Now thats an extreme case, and if you are at a US news top 100 undergrad and you are the applicant who gets the RA job with the highest impact prof, that sends a signal. But if you compare the signal from an RA who just did data cleaning as part of a team with a big shot prof, or the kid who got mentored by an AP, designed a study using advanced methods applied to an area that reflects their interests, saw the study from data collection to completion and submitted it to a lower impact journal, I think the second is a more formative experience, and that kid will have much stronger skills than someone who worked on only a small part of a higher impact study,

NotFrequentist
01-03-2015, 11:03 PM
Thanks for the helpful advice everyone.

Econhead
01-04-2015, 05:44 PM
My point was two fold, and I think my post is being misinterpreted.


The value from an RA ship is primarily derived from the letter garnered. An RA experience can be thought of much like a decision tree. The best circumstance is getting a letter from a well-known (ie connected) professor. Beyond this, there are two different categories: those RA experiences that result in just a letter, and those that result in a coauthor. The latter is rare, obviously. If we look at the former, it can be broken down into RA for well-known (again, synonymous with "connected") professor, and RA for unknown.


Everyone knows that a letter from a well known professor is likely to do much more than one from unknown_prof_01 that rarely publishes. Although we could break it down into different types of RA experiences, we don't need to. The point here is that if you are an RA for an unknown prof, the quality of the publication is MUCH more likely to matter. This is directly speaking to how much the prof can vouch for your ability to succeed and also vouch for your ability to contribute to work that will impact future economics literature. This is not weighed the same way when RAing for a well known professor because their history gives credence to their recommendation.


On the flip side, with regard to coauthored work, it is much like this latter case. If you coauthor in a publication with extremely low impact, it won't be a positive signal, and the letter will be given much less weight, on average, than a letter from a well-known professor when working on project that never came to fruition.

publicaffairsny
01-04-2015, 06:57 PM
My point was two fold, and I think my post is being misinterpreted.


The value from an RA ship is primarily derived from the letter garnered. An RA experience can be thought of much like a decision tree. The best circumstance is getting a letter from a well-known (ie connected) professor. Beyond this, there are two different categories: those RA experiences that result in just a letter, and those that result in a coauthor. The latter is rare, obviously. If we look at the former, it can be broken down into RA for well-known (again, synonymous with "connected") professor, and RA for unknown.


Everyone knows that a letter from a well known professor is likely to do much more than one from unknown_prof_01 that rarely publishes. Although we could break it down into different types of RA experiences, we don't need to. The point here is that if you are an RA for an unknown prof, the quality of the publication is MUCH more likely to matter. This is directly speaking to how much the prof can vouch for your ability to succeed and also vouch for your ability to contribute to work that will impact future economics literature. This is not weighed the same way when RAing for a well known professor because their history gives credence to their recommendation.


On the flip side, with regard to coauthored work, it is much like this latter case. If you coauthor in a publication with extremely low impact, it won't be a positive signal, and the letter will be given much less weight, on average, than a letter from a well-known professor when working on project that never came to fruition.

Are adcoms especially at non top 10 programs more concerned with the signature on the letter than the relationship described by the content?

I would think a personal mentoring relationship with a lower impact prof would still be better than a standard letter written for one member of a research team by a high impact prof with minimal time for supervision.

Of course famous profs probably know just what to say and if they are reasonably confident in your abilities even with minimal interaction will pull the strings. I'm guessing a lot of competitive Ra's like that have that quid pro quo aspect to them. Elite stuff is usually more about signal than a clear difference in learning opportunities.

econapp2014
01-04-2015, 07:02 PM
My point was two fold, and I think my post is being misinterpreted.


The value from an RA ship is primarily derived from the letter garnered. An RA experience can be thought of much like a decision tree. The best circumstance is getting a letter from a well-known (ie connected) professor. Beyond this, there are two different categories: those RA experiences that result in just a letter, and those that result in a coauthor. The latter is rare, obviously. If we look at the former, it can be broken down into RA for well-known (again, synonymous with "connected") professor, and RA for unknown.


Everyone knows that a letter from a well known professor is likely to do much more than one from unknown_prof_01 that rarely publishes. Although we could break it down into different types of RA experiences, we don't need to. The point here is that if you are an RA for an unknown prof, the quality of the publication is MUCH more likely to matter. This is directly speaking to how much the prof can vouch for your ability to succeed and also vouch for your ability to contribute to work that will impact future economics literature. This is not weighed the same way when RAing for a well known professor because their history gives credence to their recommendation.


On the flip side, with regard to coauthored work, it is much like this latter case. If you coauthor in a publication with extremely low impact, it won't be a positive signal, and the letter will be given much less weight, on average, than a letter from a well-known professor when working on project that never came to fruition.

It seems to me that you are assuming a letter from a prestigious professor, regardless of its content, is almost always better than that from an unknown professor, which I don't agree. In fact, I think the content of the letter carries much more weight in the application process than who wrote the letter. Here is a quote from NYU's FAQ which said just that:


Do not be concerned about getting letters from "important" academics or researchers. We can tell a lot about your letter writers from the letters they have written before, and from the way they write. These things matter a lot more than whether your recommender has won the Nobel Prize in economics (often, the so-called "important" people don't have the time to write a serious letter).

Econhead
01-04-2015, 08:59 PM
You are picking two ends of a spectrum: connected from who doesn't know you vs unknown prof who knows you so well tht you named your child after them.

Just because you don't help a prof work on something theory related, doesn't mean you can't develope a meaningful relationship with them even if you are doing something more menial. Relationships are less about the actual item produced than the discussions that occurred during the process. Even if you are data mining/cleaning, you should do your best to make as much time as possible to meet with the professor to discuss the work, discuss other projects, etc.

I am not suggesting that a name is everything. Everyone should be aware of what type of letter they are getting. Many connected professors won't go through the trouble if they don't believe in you/know you well enough. At that stage, yes the well connected prof letter will be better on average.

publicaffairsny
01-04-2015, 09:10 PM
I would also like to think that the perspective of adcoms reflects an awareness of the opportunities available to the student. Maybe a student goes to an lac or comprehensive college and doesn't have access to big name professors. Accordingly the word of an assistant professor at Harvard who thinks you have exceptional talent and made an outstanding contribution should carry as much weight as a letter from a full professor.

PhDPlease
01-04-2015, 10:29 PM
In my opinion, the important thing is that the letter writer is credible. I do not think famous is essential/expected (although of course it's a positive contingent on the contents of the letter), but that it is important that the letter writer is credible. By credible, I mean someone who is qualified to comment on your research abilities and give an opinion regarding whether you are qualified for a PhD at that rank. For example, having attended a competitive PhD program, having published some research, having recommended other students in the past who went on to be successful are all things that could give a professor credibility. If the professor attended a very low ranked program and never published research or otherwise lacks the knowledge of what it takes to succeed in the phd program itself and as an academic researcher, the admissions committee could question whether he has any grounds to know if someone is qualified for a rigorous PhD program.

Econhead
01-05-2015, 12:46 AM
In my opinion, the important thing is that the letter writer is credible. I do not think famous is essential/expected (although of course it's a positive contingent on the contents of the letter), but that it is important that the letter writer is credible. By credible, I mean someone who is qualified to comment on your research abilities and give an opinion regarding whether you are qualified for a PhD at that rank. For example, having attended a competitive PhD program, having published some research, having recommended other students in the past who went on to be successful are all things that could give a professor credibility. If the professor attended a very low ranked program and never published research or otherwise lacks the knowledge of what it takes to succeed in the phd program itself and as an academic researcher, the admissions committee could question whether he has any grounds to know if someone is qualified for a rigorous PhD program.

Thank you. I believe you had addressed some of the subtleties that I think are being missed. Random prof who rarely publishes is, by most accounts, not credible under these guidelines.

I think that we get too hung up on the words famous, which is why I tried to start using the term "connected." A professor can be well respected within hers or her sub field (and obvious fit the credible guidelines) without being "famous".

publicaffairsny
01-05-2015, 01:31 AM
Thank you. I believe you had addressed some of the subtleties that I think are being missed. Random prof who rarely publishes is, by most accounts, not credible under these guidelines.

I think that we get too hung up on the words famous, which is why I tried to start using the term "connected." A professor can be well respected within hers or her sub field (and obvious fit the credible guidelines) without being "famous".

I think the resistance to this is that we start to get into the "classism" that is so prevelent in the way people think about higher ed in general. A tenured professor of economics at any program is an expert in the field regardless of if they are published or to take it further if their publications are respected. They have been through admissions and socialized in a doctoral program, probably a half way decent one at that. They get what it takes to be successful. In addition they have seen class after class of students come through their program and are more than capable of assessing someone.

Let's not discredit people who have accomplished a great deal. We know from previous discussion research is not linked to rankings. It may not even be linked to creativity intelligence or any of a number of factors we think its should be. That doesn't mean we should discredit folks who have succeeded educationally and professionally. We should consider ourselves lucky to make it to that level.

Econhead
01-05-2015, 04:10 AM
I think the resistance to this is that we start to get into the "classism" that is so prevelent in the way people think about higher ed in general. A tenured professor of economics at any program is an expert in the field regardless of if they are published or to take it further if their publications are respected. They have been through admissions and socialized in a doctoral program, probably a half way decent one at that. They get what it takes to be successful. In addition they have seen class after class of students come through their program and are more than capable of assessing someone.

Let's not discredit people who have accomplished a great deal. We know from previous discussion research is not linked to rankings. It may not even be linked to creativity intelligence or any of a number of factors we think its should be. That doesn't mean we should discredit folks who have succeeded educationally and professionally. We should consider ourselves lucky to make it to that level.

Stereotypes are based in reality. A large percentage of those that attend some schools, such as some of the ivies, are given lenient admissions standings because of "lineage rules." Similarly, just because you have a PhD doesn't make you an expert. There are many professors that I am sure that we have all met that we view as "near incompetent." Similarly, their colleagues often view them the same way. Some professors also hand out LoRs without much reservation-but with motivation. After all, some schools look to improve, and helping a student they do not necessarily value as much as their recommendation indicates helps the program overall (ie touting placement). Thus, letters are not just always given to "the very best." Even when they are, the quality of student at the school, depending on the range of schools considered. As a result of these factors, it is not surprising to me that letters are given so much weight, but also that it matters do much who they come from.

publicaffairsny
01-05-2015, 04:22 AM
Again though we are comparing two ends of the spectrum. What are the odds that a student will ask for an LOR from the "incompetent" prof with the the "meaningless" phd. Probably pretty low. And what are the odds that that person gets and keeps tenure at any school let alone a top 100 school. Basically nil. I find that whole line of thinking very disrespectful, especially from students to be applying to established professors.

PhDPlease
01-05-2015, 05:21 AM
I apologize to anyone who was offended. I agree that academia can be very classist and that students who are bright but attended a lower-ranked university due to reasons such as family socioeconomic status are unfairly disadvantaged. I was attempting to share my view of what I think is important from an admissions perspective (although of course I could be wrong), not what I think is fair in an absolute sense. I agree that in an absolute sense students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be unfairly penalized (although I think this is a problem that occurs in all academic fields, not specific to econ phds), but I don't really think that trying to describe how you think the process is (rather than how you think it should be in a 100% just world) is morally wrong. I wasn't claiming that students lacking access to a recommender that may be perceived as credible aren't often equally bright or might have had adverse life circumstances. I also didn't specify "tenured" professor as the recommender. The professor who attended a low-ranked university and didn't publish in my example could also likely be an adjunct/lecturer, as (in my limited knowledge) I think that becoming a tenured professor after attending a low-ranked university and not publishing would be fairly unlikely, but of course that is just my personal opinion. But I apologize if that is offensive or unhelpful to anyone.

publicaffairsny
01-05-2015, 05:54 AM
I apologize to anyone who was offended. I agree that academia can be very classist and that students who are bright but attended a lower-ranked university due to reasons such as family socioeconomic status are unfairly disadvantaged. I was attempting to share my view of what I think is important from an admissions perspective (although of course I could be wrong), not what I think is fair in an absolute sense. I agree that in an absolute sense students from disadvantaged backgrounds may be unfairly penalized (although I think this is a problem that occurs in all academic fields, not specific to econ phds), but I don't really think that trying to describe how you think the process is (rather than how you think it should be in a 100% just world) is morally wrong. I wasn't claiming that students lacking access to a recommender that may be perceived as credible aren't often equally bright or might have had adverse life circumstances. I also didn't specify "tenured" professor as the recommender. The professor who attended a low-ranked university and didn't publish in my example could also likely be an adjunct/lecturer, as (in my limited knowledge) I think that becoming a tenured professor after attending a low-ranked university and not publishing would be fairly unlikely, but of course that is just my personal opinion. But I apologize if that is offensive or unhelpful to anyone.

You're fine. My research interest is class and racial disparities so I always try to educate folks about it. My ideas are about 3 standard deviations above the mean of ideas on equity.

publicaffairsny
01-05-2015, 03:45 PM
I apologize if my comments were harsh. When I get on a social critique sometimes the argument gets to be more important to me than anything else. I am still developing my rhetorical skills, and while I know I need to present challenging ideas in ways that don't make people shut down, the ability to do so takes skill and experience that i am still developing.

I am in a unique position, having gone to a US News Top 30 undergrad (Top 20 econ) but now attending a third tier public comprehensive. There are biases built into my experience of these two places, not the least of which is the fact that I did not take advantages of my opportunities at my undergrad alma mater, while I am making the best of my opportunities at my current institution. However, in my opinion, the top students at my current institution far exceed the median student at my undergrad institution. Accordingly, I find that classes are smaller, and professors are much more invested in students, especially top students who demonstrate passion for the field.

In addition, as I have pursued all available opportunities, I have involved myself in a center for excellence in teaching, which delivers professional development for faculty, and I have worked with a wide range of faculty. These are smart people, and the tenure process is rigorous. Lots of people don't make it. Yes teaching is weighted more heavily in decisions, but folks in general come from well-ranked institutions and are exceptionally bright.

Granted there are professors I would not ask for a LOR from, but I like to think that a well chosen LOR from a professor at this school can carry an exceptional student just as far as one from a prof at an R1. After all, the LOR is about the student, not the professor.