Research Productivity of New Economics PhDs

The Economist posted a blog last week about the research productivity of new PhDs in economics. They point to a recent paper by John Conley and Ali Sina ├ľnder in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Below is the abstract:

We study the research productivity of new graduates from North American PhD programs in economics from 1986 to 2000. We find that research productivity drops off very quickly with class rank at all departments, and that the rank of the graduate departments themselves provides a surprisingly screen_shot_2014-11-05_at_16.31.22poor prediction of future research success. For example, at the top ten departments as a group, the median graduate has fewer than 0.03 American Economic Review (AER)-equivalent publications at year six after graduation, an untenurable record almost anywhere. We also find that PhD graduates of equal percentile rank from certain lower-ranked departments have stronger publication records than their counterparts at higher-ranked departments. In our data, for example, Carnegie Mellon’s graduates at the 85th percentile of year-six research productivity outperform 85th percentile graduates of the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, and Berkeley. These results suggest that even the top departments are not doing a very good job of training the great majority of their students to be successful research economists. Hiring committees may find these results helpful when trying to balance class rank and place of graduate in evaluating job candidates, and current graduate students may wish to re-evaluate their academic strategies in light of these findings.

I remember one of my graduate advisers, Lee Benham, claiming that the mode number of publications among PhD economists was zero. I think that was Lee’s way of encouraging grad students who are sweating out their dissertations and trying to get papers out for publication. Conley and ├ľnder’s results would seem to substantiate his claim.