Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Job Candidate Presentation at RFF

Today I had the opportunity to sit in on a presentation of a job candidate at RFF (where I am interning). The candidate was one of six applying to be a research fellow at RFF. While the presentation itself was a bit over my head, I did find the experience valuable for what I learned about the job market at think tanks such as RFF and competing universities.

Typically, men and women completing their Ph. D in various fields of economics spend 6-8 weeks traveling to various institutions and presenting their theses (as I witnessed today). The job candidate stood in front of a crowd of at least 30 of senior fellows, junior fellows, research associates, and research assistants, equipped with just a powerpoint presentation and a water bottle--no notes. He presented for well over an hour and could be interrupted at any moment with questions. It felt more like an interrogation than a presentation, with the audience questioning all aspects of the thesis from theory to methodology to interpretation.

I later spoke with some of my colleagues about the proceeding. They explained to me that this was a typical practice for job candidates. They also explained that think tanks such as RFF are often at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting job candidates. RFF often has to compete with top universities to hire the best researchers. A professor position is often more appealing to job candidates because it doesn't require the added burden of funding one's own research. In contrast, RFF fellows are responsible for applying for grants to fund some of their own research agenda. Still, those who want to focus primarily on research and find the university teaching requirement burdensome would probably prefer to work at a think tank.

Learning all this forced me to consider my own eventual career path. Although I'm not even close to ready to make such important decisions about my future, this experience gave me some important insight into a field I may eventually pursue.

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