Research & Advising Statement

Thoughts on organizations research

Most fundamentally, I consider myself someone who studies labor markets, work, and organizations. These phenomena are studied by many researchers in many disciplines, including economists, sociologists, and psychologists. Each discipline offers different theories, methods, values, and precise phenomena that they have traditionally conceived as their domain. My lens is primarily informed by personnel economics, in that the weight of my background is in applied microeconomics, labor economics, organizational economics, and econometrics. However, as an organizations researcher, my taste for theories and methods extend anywhere that provides a framework for aggregating evidence and generating useful and testable predictions. 

One of the reasons I gravitated toward personnel economics is my view that it features a community that is quite receptive to problem-centered, empirical work, perhaps because much of this community consists of business school faculty who collaborate with companies. Even so, much of my work is in career ladders, hiring, and discrimination-- topics of particular cross-disciplinary interest. Life is full of opportunity costs; I tend to view these first from an economic lens, even as I enjoy and gain from collaborating with those who do not. 

This isn't to say that I don't have my own tastes. Problem-centered work tends to be abductive: research questions emerge from the selected, observed set of circumstances that organizations face, and then the researcher presumably generates and tests hypotheses from the selected sample offered by that setting. To offer a roadmap for the lessons to generalize to other settings, such studies should make clear, falsifiable claims that could be scrutinized by future work. One common trap, in my view, is that any sort of test for the hypothesis could be written off as not conforming to some tautological criteria set by the supposed hypothesis. Presumably any researcher presenting a hypothesis should be able to explain what sort of finding would constitute disconfirming evidence. I'm also critical of work that seemingly caters to the academic discipline ahead of genuine inquiry; research should acknowledge and contextualize very similar or related empirical work done regardless of which journal published it. And if research in one discipline has assembled sufficient evidence to construct well-established theory, presumably future research to which that theory closely applies should relate the theory as well. In organizations research, I find that papers in the disciplines often miss that the exact same phenomena has been studied by other disciplines, which have sometimes accumulated strong evidence for more nuanced conclusions. I'm not opposed to building disciplinary edifices, but I don't view that as an end-goal. Again, I see the disciplines as a toolkit: a constellation of theories, methods, and (inevitably) values. 

Looking at my CV, you'll notice that I've published in a wide breadth of journals and have collaborated widely across disciplines. However, my work has much in common: it is motivated by a general problem faced by organizations, I contribute the theoretical and methodological perspectives offered by economics (and sometimes other disciplines, with or without the aid of co-authors), the research is done in collaboration with a company that is involved throughout the research process, and (I hope) I contextualize closely related work done in other disciplines.


PhD advising

First, I'll talk about my advising style. I'm blessed to be a strong, multidisciplinary department that also houses researchers who care about the study of work and organizations. I am not possessive of PhD students or advisees. Rather, I am happy to lend my perspective to any student. As a principal advisor, I would see my role primarily as a willing guide as you embark on your own academic journey. I'll talk to you about half-baked research ideas, ask what I see as the most important questions, and try to point you in the right direction. 

Students often get hung up on the question of what they should research. Almost on principle, I will not tell you what to research: your ability to come up with a question of your choosing is the greatest perk of being where you are. How to use that autonomy is the hardest thing to "teach," all I can do is be part of that fertile ground. 

To be clear, this is what my advising style is not. Some faculty members admit a student, involve them as fifth author on a paper day-one, get students on a paper-a-year moving up the author order as they graduate, and then produce an advisee who ends up doing similar work as the vessel of their advisor's intellectual tradition. That's not me. You can collaborate with me on one of my projects, work with other co-authors, or work on your own project and use me as a sounding board. As an advisor, I think I would be the best match for someone who values independence and my support. 

Second, let's talk research topics. My research is primarily problem-focused. My goal is not to write purely theoretical papers or papers where the audience or implications are unclear. My research tends to involve companies, rather than public-use data. My students join me on site visits to speak to managers, workers, HR, and data engineers trying to understand their organization and come up with ways to answer their questions. I've done research with public-use data in the past, but my research now is almost exclusively with companies using administrative data. My research tends to require some acumen speaking to industry audiences and also advanced knowledge of econometric methods. Previous students have brought their own skills to projects (e.g. ethnographic, interview, survey, or machine learning methods). Much of my work targets the core economics journals, and I would be happy to collaborate to that end. However, I suspect that many students working with me would find it ideal to work with me and other faculty to target multidisciplinary work and organizations journals. The set of people doing work purely in personnel economics for economics journals is small, but the set of people using personnel economics theories and methods in their work is quite large, so I may be able to complement work on other topics. 

RA inquiries

I've generally found that my research has a "middle skills" gap: I'm generally either looking for someone who can help with things like literature reviews, proofreading, or routine work, or someone who can work largely autonomously as a full-on collaborator on a major project. For the former, it generally helps if you have a familiarity with academic research on a topic, copy editing skills, basic knowledge of Stata, R, or Python, or a familiarity with the word processor Latex. For the latter (generally advanced PhD students), it helps if you have doctoral-level statistical or formal modeling skills and/or a very strong sense of the literature and how my current projects and data sources may contribute to that literature.