02 January 2012

Where I'm going in 2012

Happy new years!

My vacation in Egypt gave me some head space to consider my personal and professional options for 2012.

I have been worried about my career as a public intellectual, wondering if I could succeed (on my own terms) by continuing to pursue a combination of outreach, teaching and research that puts much more emphasis on public than academic discourse. (I reckon that a typical professor shares his time 5/15/80 into outreach, teaching and research, respectively; I allocate my time about 50/15/25 50/25/25.)

As I've said several times before, the academic business model is based on research a lot, teach a bit, get tenure and then consider public outreach while you enjoy tenure (lifetime job security). (Many professors who spend 5 years in graduate school and 6 years writing academic papers are not later inclined nor accustomed to outreach.)

That's not my business model for several reasons:
  • I don't want lifetime job security now (maybe ever)
  • Academic research and publication is not producing good results (post to come).
  • I see outreach as a critical function for academics who study what makes things work.
At the moment, I am lucky to have a job that gives me extra time away from research to write for this blog, give public talks (most of them free), answer a dizzying variety of email requests, write/market my book, etc.

I was thinking that I might quit this job to become a vagabond economist, but I reconsidered for two reasons: (1) I enjoy the academic environment and my colleagues and (2) I think that I may be able to move ahead in my career (in terms of jobs and impact) on an academic path.

This means that I need to get more academic work into publication at the same time as I look for an opportunity that allows me to continue a career that places more weight on outreach. That probably means an academic job (maybe a think tank), but my disinterest in tenure makes it easier to imagine a series of visiting lecturer positions around the world.

And let's remember the big picture here: The importance of sound water policy is growing, and my interest in it remains strong. That said, I am spending less time thinking about headlines that seem drawn from the same file year after year and more time thinking about how to implement good policies. That task requires reputation, connections and luck in -- addition to good ideas.

Bottom Line: So, that's my thinking as 2011 ends and 2012 rolls in. I don't know how much it matter to you, but I like to state things in the open -- to motivate myself and set expectations that will affect our interactions.


  1. "I allocate my time about 50/15/25"

    ... and 10% math classes?

    Kidding DZ. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and future plans. Hope that you still find time for Aguanomics in the years to come!

  2. Always great to read your thoughts David, please always keep the outreach going and the thoughts coming :)

    A thought strikes me ... in very general terms, professional academic researchers have had their reputations tarnished b/c close financial/funding/investment associations can appear to sway their judgement.

    I wonder whether your emphasis on outreach can in any way be approximated to being an academic parallel to the social enterprise model gaining ground in business communities, also in reaction to the overbearing influence of funding and investment?

  3. @stickman -- ouch. Yes, I am better at words than math :)

    @Chris -- I am not exactly sure of what you're saying. Both research and outreach can be swayed by funding, and both can produce "for society" without regard to the source of funding. Or, are you saying that my cross subsidy (salary for research subsidizes outreach) is the same as the social enterprise dimension of businesses? Maybe, but -- as I've said before -- I prefer that businesses make profits and that shareholders donate to support stand-alone enterprises. Academics are SUPPOSED to function as a social enterprise from the get go, but they do not when they do "useless" research or biased research... Make any sense?

  4. Makes perfect sense David ... I was making the erroneous assumption that outreach wouldn't be as susceptible to funding bias as research, so thanks for correcting me on that!


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