Advice on surviving grad school

I’m still not sure how I managed to complete my PhD within 4 years and also get married in that time, but it must come down to:

  • Pick the right school – I was immensely fortunate to go to the dynamite George Mason (that dares to be different), and it meant that knowledgeable people, who shared my passions, surrounded me. If you study in an environment like that, you can’t go wrong
  • Preparing well – find out the textbooks for the core subjects and read them before you start
  • Find/create a good study group and stick with it – I find that learning is a social process and therefore a stable group of close colleagues is gold dust
  • Have realistic expectations – for me the first year was about survival. I’m consistently told that ambition and aspiration should exceed merely “survival”, but for me lower expectations seems to work
  • Drink productively^ – if you’re going to get drunk a lot, make sure it’s productive
  • Love what you do – my PhD mattered to me. I was willing to sacrifice a great deal. If it’s a chore then it’s a struggle, but I never grew tired of my subject and still want to discuss and develop the ideas I pursued.
  • Change the title at the last minute – without trying to contradict the previous advice, in the final few months of intense writing/rewriting of my dissertation I changed the title. As the formatting requirements began to take priority over the content, you begin to question everything. At about 4am I had a revelation and rewrote the abstract and changed the title. It was a good decision – not only was it a more accurate title, but it reinvigorated me and breathed new life into the project
  • Endure: it is a test of stamina. Pete Boettke likes to recite James Buchanan’s advice of keeping your butt in the chair. I believe that most academics are lazy, and if you work hard you will succeed. All writing is work and all work is work in progress. Just get it down and keep moving forward. If you go straight to grad school from undergrad you’ll realise that you’re open all hours. You can have a healthy work/life balance by realising that:
    • Your life is your work and your work is your life
    • You’re not working 9-5. Whenever you’re awake, you’re working.

Bottom line is that ideas matter.

More grad school advice:

As a warning, don’t ignore 6 bullet points on why people go into grad school in the Humanities (via Tyler Cowen). Mike Moffat has a guide here. Some funny cultural insights in grad school are here and here. Michael Munger has an excellent series of videos providing a Guide to Academic Publishing.

 

The Conference Handbook II

“If you ever go to the ballroom of a hotel where there’s been an academic conference you see men and women who roll uncontrollably to the music… off the beat…. waiting for the end so they can go home and write a paper about it.”

Sir Ken Robinson


Although I get highly anxious about presenting at academic conferences, they are an incredibly important part of academic life. In addition to receiving feedback on works in progress, they permit a survey of the contemporary state of your discipline. The best ones provide a mixture of confidence boosting rubbish and inspirational insights into elite scholar’s work. They also provide an opportunity to visit interesting places and socialise with good people.

The best fictional account of the role of conferences in an academic career is David Lodge’s ‘Small World‘ (see the Guardian book club series, starting here).

The modern conference resembles the pilgrimage of medieval Christendom in that it allows the participants to indulge themselves in all the pleasures and diversions of travel while appearing to be austerely bent on self-improvement… For that’s the attraction of the conference circuit: it’s a way of converting work into play, combining professionalism with tourism, and all at someone else’s expense” (prologue & p.231)

“As long as you have access to a telephone, a Xerox machine, and a conference grant fund, you’re OK, you’re plugged into the only university that really matters – the global campus… The American Express card has replaced the library pass… [and] A young man in a hurry can see the world by conference-hopping.” Morris Zapp (p.44 & p.64)

Even if you don’t receive useful comments from the audience, the act of writing the conference talk and thinking through potential criticisms is valuable. In a strong department this would be better achieved through an informal speaker series. But for those of us without a strong department, the conference does serve as a useful focal point.

When I’m in the audience I place papers into one (or more) of the following categories:

  1. Find your focus – at least two papers in one, way too ambitious, naivety of youth, yes it’s obviously a fascinating topic, but to become a serious scholar you need to contribute to the literature, not write about what interests you.
  2. Go do it – makes sense, but where are the results??
  3. Robust but trivial – what have I learnt?
  4. Important, but flawed – yes, I’m afraid the obvious comeback does invalidate your findings, regardless of how praiseworthy your efforts might be.
  5. WTF? – Possibly genius, but way over my head…

Increasingly I ask myself “Would the planning committee of the Soviet Union be interested in these findings?” And if so, I stop listening. And every time someone says “right?” I wonder at what point the need for constant reassurance and affirmation replaced a confidence in simply explaining oneself .


Here are my thoughts on various conferences:

EU management

  • The most important is the European Academy of Management. I found the selection process to be competitive (I’ve had a submitted paper rejected) but worth it. The session that I participated in was organised with great attention and there was excellent feedback. It was quite expensive, but is usually in an interesting European city.

EU econ

US management

US econ

  • The most important economics conference is the American Economic Association. I haven’t submitted to attend because it’s in the first week of January, which is a crazy time to have a conference. However, it is a great opportunity to see the most famous economists, and is also a focal point for the US job search.
  • The Southern Economic Association is a wonderful conference because there are many sessions organised by the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics. This offers a great combination of professional prestige and direct relevance (note that there tends to be a trade off). The SDAE is full of friends and I enjoy seeing what they are working on. There are also appointed discussants so you are guaranteed quality feedback.
  • There have been some SDAE panels at the Eastern Economic Association as well. The main advantage this has over the Southern’s is that it’s more likely to be a direct flight from the UK. There’s a heavy presence of assorted heterodox economists, with a fair share of cranks.
  • I regularly attend the Association of Private Enterprise Education. It alternates between Las Vegas and somewhere more exotic and has a youthful energy. The emphasis on pedagogy is excellent because I always feel that my teaching, as well as research is benefitting from attendance.

US political science


“No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there”

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Recommended pop economics

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Hazlitt, Henry (1946) Economics in One Lesson, Harper and Brothers

  • The original attempt to explain economic reasoning to non-economists, and an excellent utilisation of the broken-window fallacy.

Landsburg, Steven (1993) The Armchair Economist, Simon & Schuster

  • Provocative and intellectually stimulating.

Harford, Tim (2006) The Undercover Economist, Oxford

  • Less contrarian than Landsburg and contains more principles of economics than Levitt & Dubnar. A useful alternative to a textbook.

Cowen, Tyler (2007) Discover your Inner Economist, Penguin

  • One of the sharpest minds applying basic economic reasoning to an array of social situations.

Frank, Robert (2007) The Economic Naturalist, Basic Books

  • Somewhat repetitive reiteration of the point that economics can explain many social curiosities by recognising that things happen when the benefits exceed the costs.

Harford, Tim (2008) The Logic of Life, Little Brown

  • An extension and update to Gary Becker’s classic The Economics of Life (1995).

Course readings

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These readings are all fascinating ways to go deeper into some key economic insights. I am conscious that my students will not forge an academic career, and therefore my aim isn’t to develop technical capabilities, but to confront intuition and to stimulate interest. I am continuously updating this list, so please let me know what you think.

I don’t tend to link to encyclopedia or newspaper websites that explain important concepts. For that, Wikipedia – the second most important website of all time – is your friend.

1. Incentives matter

  • Becker, G.S., 1992 “The Economic Way of Looking at Life” Nobel Prize Lecture – The classic statement on the surprisingly wide applicability of economic explanations.
  • Runciman, David, 2012 “Everybody gets popped” London Review of Books 34(22) – A fascinating look into incentive alignment in elite sport doping.
  • Hope, J., and Fraser, R., 2003 “New Ways of Setting Rewards: The Beyond Budgeting Model” California Management Review, Vol. 45, No. 4 – A look at how compensation can be driven by performance rather than fixed targets.
  • Also: Harford, T., 2016 “Incentives” Ch 6 in Messy

Also see “Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done”” HBR, September 2016 and Gneezy, U., and Rustichini, A., (2000) “A Fine is a Price” Journal of Legal Studies, 29(1):1-17

2. Cost and choice

  • Drucker, Peter (1995), “The Information Executives Truly NeedHarvard Business Review Vol 73, Issue 1, pp.54-62 – Understanding how companies can use information to engage in genuine wealth creation.
  • West, G., 2017 [2018], Scale, Weidenfeld & Nicolson – West extends the empirical claim that organisms scale according to regular power laws to cities and companies. It is a broad application of the principles of physics to biology and economics (although I think the emphasis should be as much on networks as on power scaling laws).
  • Bastiat, Frederic (1850) “The Broken Window” (Part I of That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen) – The classic articulation of opportunity cost thinking.

3. Market exchange

  • The Bidding game, National Academy of Sciences, March 2003 – A good, short, overview of auction theory and practice.
  • Tabarrok, A., and Cowen, T., “The End of Asymmetric Information” Cato Unbound, April 6th 2015 – A discussion around the claim that technological developments are reducing the problem of asymmetric information.
  • Roth, Alvin E., “Art of designing markets“, Harvard Business Review, Oct 1st 2007 – Examples of market design from the master.
  • Barnett, J.M., The Hosts Dilemma, Harvard Law Review – Barnett provides an economic explanation for why platforms give away access to core technologies: it increases user investment and increases the platforms value. But this creates a double edged sword.
  • Also: McMillan, J., 2002 “Come bid!” (pp. 75-88 and 68-72) in Reinventing the Bazaar

4. Prices and economic calculation

  • McAfee, Preston “Price Discrimination“, in 1 Issues in Competition Law and Policy 465 (ABA Section of Antitrust Law 2008) – A theoretical treatment of alternative types of price discrimination.
  • Dye, Renee, “The promise of prediction markets: a roundtable” McKinsey Quarterly, 2008 – An executive discussion on the benefits of prediction markets and how to implement them.
  • Malone, Thomas W., “Bringing the Market Inside Harvard Business Review, April 2004 – Pros and cons of companies that decentralise decision making and set up internal markets.
  • Fisman, R. and Sullivan, T., 2013, “What Management is Good For” (Chapter 5) in The Org: The Underlying Logic of the Office, Twelve – A defence of the practice of management, and an account of its continued importance.
  • Munger, M. “Bosses Don’t Wear Bunny Slippers: If Markets Are So Great, Why Are There Firms?” Library of Economics and Liberty, January 2008
  • Newhard, J.M., 2014, “The Stock Market Speaks: How Dr Alchian Learned to Build the BombJournal of Corporate Finance, 27(C):116-132 – Newhard reveals the story of the world’s first event study, which occurred when Armen Alchian attempted to use publicly available  information relating to the share prices of various companies to establish that lithium was used as the fissile fuel

5. Competition and the market process

6. Capital theory and recalculation

7. Public finance

8. Monetary theory

9. Fiscal policy

10. International economics

  • World Bank, “Assessing Globalization” Part 1, 2, 3 and 4 – A useful collection of papers on empirical evidence around globalisation.
  • Richman, Sheldon, “The goal is freedom: Made everywhere” The Freeman, February 23rd 2007 – A passionate claim that the concept of “imports” and “exports” has no economic meaning.
  • Obstfeld, M., & Rogoff, K. (1995). The Mirage of Fixed Exchange Rates. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 9(4), 73-96. – A theoretical explanation for the fragility of fixed exchange rate systems – there is usually no technical constraint on governments providing sufficient reserves to cover base money, however it is almost impossible to credibly signal that they will ignore the resulting domestic economic hardship (due to high interest rates) and an interesting case study of Mexico 1994.
  • Weisbrot, M., “Ten years after: The lasting impact of the Asian financial crisis” Center for Economic and Policy Research, August 2007 – A reflection on the East Asian crisis with a focus on the role of the IMF
  • Chiodo, Abbigail J., and Owyang, Michael T., “A Case Study of a Currency Crisis: The Russian Default of 1998“, 2002, The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis – A review of different models and identification of specific triggers for currency crises.

Here is a selection of critical discussion over globalization:

11. Behavioural economics

  • Lambert, Craig “The Marketplace of Perceptions”, Harvard Magazine, March-April 2006 – A summary of chief insights from behavioural economics and neuroeconomics
  • Beshears, J., and Gino, F., “Leaders as Decision Architects” Harvard Business Review, May 2015 – A good overview of the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 thinking, and how organisations can implement processes to improve decision making
  • Poundstone, W., (2011) “Prospect Theory” (Chapter 16) and “Ultimatum Game” (chapter 18) from Priceless: The Hidden Psychology of Value, One World – Good introductions to key concepts
  • Tabarrok, A., “A Phool and His MoneyReview of PHISHING FOR PHOOLS: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, > George A. Akerlof and Robert Shiller, Princeton University Press – A defence of standard economic theory against behavioural claims
  • Manne, H.G., (2005) “Insider trading: Hayek, virtual markets, and the dog that did not bark”, Journal of Corporation Law 31(1):167-185 – A defense of insider trading from the perspective of internal markets and corporate information flows
  • Smith, V. L. (2002) “Constructivist and Ecological Rationality in Economics” Nobel Prize Lecture – An explanation of the difference between constructivist and ecological rationality

12. Global prosperity

  • Acemoglu, D., 2009 “Epilogue: Mechanics and Causes of Economic Growth” in ‘Introduction to Modern Economic Growth’, Princeton University Press – A summary of key insights about growth theory from one of the leading practitioners.
  • Leighton, Wayne and Lopez, Edward, “Public Choice”, Chapter 4 in ‘Madmen, Intellectuals and Academic Scribblers’, Stanford University Press 2013 – An engaging history of the subject.
  • Laar, Mart “The Estonian Economic Miracle” Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder No. 2060, August 7th 2007 – A case study of Estonia’s post-Soviet economic reforms.
  • Isern, Joseph and Pung, Caroline “” href=”http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/driving-radical-change”>Driving Radical Change”>” McKinsey Quarterly 2007, Issue 4, pp.24-35 – Parallels between economic transition (e.g. shock therapy) and initiating change within an organisation.
  • Snowden, Christopher “The Spirit Level 10 Years On” – When The Spirit Level was released back in 2009 it caught the imagination of the public, by providing empirical evidence to claim that rising inequality was a serious problem. Chris Snowden debunked a lot of the analysis in his book, The Spirit Level Delusion,  and this short blog post updates the data to show that not only was the original analysis flawed, but it no longer holds.

The Shin film list


Last updated: June 2020

Films are a great way to extent intellectual curiosity beyond the classroom. I’ve listed the following movies because they satisfy two criteria. Firstly, I think that they are excellent ways to reflect upon key issues in the art of business management – I have utilised these films to probe my thinking about areas of my research and teaching, and to that end I feel screenings can be incorporated into either a discussion group or classroom environment. Secondly, they all pass a basic hurdle in terms of entertainment and quality. However you utilise these recommendations I hope you enjoy them!

 

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Is this story an allegory for monetary systems? Some claim that Dorothy represents the everyman America, the Scarecrow represents farmers, the Tin Woodman industrialists, and the Lion is William Jennings Bryan (Democratic Presidential candidate). At a time when America feared deflation, the yellow brick road to Oz is a reference to the gold standard and Washington DC. Rather than reinstate the silver standard (proposed by Bryan at the time) we see the Emerald City of greenbacks and the Wizard of Oz himself (the President) exposed as fraud. Regardless, the shift from black and white to colour must have been one of the most magical cinematic moments of all time.

 

12 Angry Men (1957)

Highly decorated and intense portrayal of the decision-making process in the jury room of a murder trial. A simplistic view is that it exposes blatant and latent prejudice, but can also be viewed as a warning against groupthink and a desire to build consensus. Ultimately it’s the vindication of the role of a Devil’s Advocate in a group setting. According to Krastev & Holmes (2019, p.116) it “is a classic expression of American liberalism. It is a symphony of praise for the power of free individuals to fight for truth and against class and ethnic prejudice. It is a cinematic tribute to rational argument, attention to evidence and disinterested justice… it remains a powerful if highly stylised defence of American liberal values”

 

All the President’s Men (1976)

This is the most famous whistleblowing case writ large in a Hollywood blockbuster. Interesting to compare with Woodford’s book and the information that has come to light since Deepthroat was revealed. It demonstrates that whistleblowers aren’t disloyal and aren’t opportunistic.

 

Name of the Rose (1986)

A great account of the diffusion of ideas and the treatment of knowledge as a resource. Based on Umberto Eco’s book, I see it as a version of the Fatal Conceit, where those in positions of authority pervert Truth and Reason. It also shows the dangers of historical revisionism and thus the importance of reading the classics.

 

Wall Street (1987)

Some see this as the embodiment of capitalism, but to me it revealed how some groups view capitalism – by comparing the likeliness of the events depicted in the film to actual business practice, some nuances emerge. Greed doesn’t need to be good for capitalism to work.

 

Antz (1998)

An animated film featuring the voices of Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman and Jennifer Lopez. The protagonist, “Z-4195” is an individualist who challenges the hierarchical structure of the colony, demonstrating a modern parable of rights, responsibilities and ultimately of freedom. ‘A Bug’s Life’ came out at the same time and captured more attention, but I found Antz more charming.

 

Office Space (1999)

The best film I’ve seen that demonstrates the monotony and fatalism of typical office life. All managers should watch this, and realise that Bill Lumbergh isn’t a fiction. The film bombed at the box office, was slated by the New York Times, but has become a cult classic.

 

Good Bye Lenin! (2003)

Set in East Berlin, a woman falls into a coma and misses the fall of the Berlin Wall. When she awakens her children don’t want to shock her, and attempt to screen the economic changes occurring outside the bedroom window. This is an entertaining but poignant demonstration of the transition process and alternative economic systems.

 

There Will be Blood (2007)

The film is less moralising than the book, but there’s an undercurrent that demonises the protagonist for his profit seeking. Aside from the majestic performance by Daniel Day-Lewis this raises questions about risk-taking, speculation, eminent domain and the relationship between business and family management.

 

12 (2007)

A Chechen “remake” of 12 Angry Men, where the accused’s fate is determined not by the abstract concept of justice, but by the actions of a concerted protector. Compassion and concern for the orphaned child wouldn’t be delivered by “justice being done” but by helping him survive. The dilemma facing the jury is whether they’d take responsibility for the consequences of granting his freedom.

 

The Lives of Others (2007)

An enthralling depiction of the East German Stasi, with the main character questioning the implementation of his ideals whilst spying on a playwright. There’s no neat ideological conclusion, but a challenging portrayal of espionage.

 

Mad Money (2008)

A pretty pointless crime movie but it raises some interesting discussion points about the mechanisms of monetary policy and the ethical implications of macroeconomic policy.

 

Two Days One Night (2014)

Not seen it yet, but Tyler Cowen has.

 

Leviathan (2014)

A wonderfully presented tale of eminent domain and the bureaucracy and corruption that come with it. I was expecting a battle between man and the state, but it was more of a Vodka-fuelled truel than a duel. (Also contains a fascinating side plot with regard to how it was funded.)

 

Joy (2015)

Attractive women who unfathomably puts up with all kinds of family drama uses nepotism and duplicity to recklessly embark on a scheme to sell some mops.

As we root for her to succeed we see that a myopic addiction to commercial success is a much more socially beneficial vice than alcoholism, drug use or destructive violence.

A powerful example of the struggles faced by an entrepreneur, and the problems caused by excessive IP protection.

 

Eye in the Sky (2015)

A nicely tense example of a moral dilemma, which also serves as a brilliant case study in decision-making under pressure and chains of command. I would be intrigued to see how the viewer’s own judgment changes throughout the course of the film, and the verdict on the organisational structure on display.

 

The Founder (2016)

Michael Keaton stars in the true story of how salesman Ray Kroc notices the burger ordering system created by Mac and Dick McDonald (standardized production in advance! no cutlery!) and turns it into a global franchising behemoth. Provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on whether Kroc is a hero (for creating wealth, for getting things done) or a villain (for using the ideas of others and impinging their interests and rights).

 

Graduation (2016)

A tale of corruption from Cluj, Romania. Should a loving father make an ethically compromised decision that allows his daughter to receive a scholarship that she totally deserves, but is in danger of losing through no fault of her own? As we see, “If she wants to live her life in a normal country, she first has to lower herself to the humiliatingly unethical normality that reigns in the country of her birth” (Krastev & Holmes, 2019, p.50).

 

Sing (2017)

A tale of the individual vs. the collective – should the choir member with the terrible voice stay quiet for the good of the team? Is it better to be carried by others than to not be allowed to play? How should people find their voice in a collectivist setting?

 

The Death of Stalin (2017)

A chillingly funny case study of collective decision making within a leadership vacuum. Molotov’s speech, and the manner in which consensus is formed is a wonderfully applicable example of herding effects and deference.

 

Others

In addition to the above I’ll indulge myself by listing some films that aren’t necessarily MBA curricula, but I’ve deeply enjoyed nevertheless. This is my own algorithm, whereby if you like several of the films within a cluster, you’re likely to enjoy the ones that you haven’t seen.

  • An Affair to Remember, Roman Holiday, Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, In the Mood for Love, Lantana, Before Sunrise, Gatsby
  • Everyday, Boyhood
  • The Lady Vanishes, North by Northwest, Village of the Damned, Charade
  • Nuts in May, Cannibal the Musical, Napoleon Dynamite
  • Lost Boys, Mission: Impossible 2, Fargo, The Bourne Identity, The Hunger Games, The Village, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • Trainspotting, The Croupier, Children of Men, How I Ended This Summer
  • Memento, Fight Club, The Machinist, Inception, The Prestige, Shutter Island
  • 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days, Beyond the Hills

I’m also a fan of Emir Kusterica and my ranking of his 4 best films is:

  1. Black Cat White Cat (1998)
  2. Underground (1995)
  3. Life is a Miracle (2004)
  4. When Father was Away on Business (1985)

Guide to conducting industrial interviews

This guide is written for researchers with integrity intending to conduct industrial interviews.  There are alternative means to get information, but they’re not worth sacrificing your integrity.

Personally I don’t think that tape-recording interviews is necessary, but if the interview is a long one it’s a good idea so that you’re not wholly reliant on your notes/memory. Make sure you get permission from the respondent first though.

The purpose of cold calling is to establish who has the required information. Document your journey so that it’s easier to find the right person at the next company that you contact.

  • Establish common ground (i.e. explain who you’ve been introduced by)
  • Explain who else you’re contacting and who else is participating
  • Emphasise any confidentiality agreements (and provide in writing)
  • If the interview is semi-structured explain that the questions aren’t designed for self-completion and required dialogue

Sell the interview

  • It won’t take long
  • The final results will be of interest
  • Explain how this information helps their business needs

General advice

  • Know your subject matter as much as possible
  • Know your questionnaire thoroughly
  • Ask follow up questions to clarify any points that aren’t clear
  • Ask bold questions
  • Triangulate responses against available data
  • Complete questionnaire and save it
  • Keep all promises and engage in any follow up work
  • Leave door open for follow up questions (e.g. “would we be able to contact you again…”

Tips for getting useful answers

  • “It is my understanding that…”
  • “What range would you estimate…?”
  • “Other interviewees have suggested that…”

Finally, follow up. Make sure you say thank you. Make sure you send a copy of the final report. Keep the relationship open. Keep your promises.

Writing a case study

Case studies are not without controversy, and came to prominence via the University of Chicago’s Dept. of Sociology in the early c20th. It’s important to make a distinction between case studies as a research method, and sociology as a research discipline.

Choosing a Case

  • A unique event
  • New data that hasn’t previously been available
  • Applying a theory that isn’t dominant

Collecting the Evidence

A brief overview of the key examples of what constitutes valid evidence, plus ideas on how to get hold of them:

(i) Documentation

  • Letters & memoranda
  • Minutes of meetings and written reports of events (e.g. from official website)
  • Administrative documents (direct from the company)
  • Formal studies and evaluations (Google Scholar, Library database)
  • Newspaper clippings & mass media (Lexis-Nexus, The Economist, the FT)

Documents will provide the bulk of your analysis (they’re the easiest types of information to find). Rather then base your case study on what the documentation tells you, however, try to use it to corroborate evidence from other sources.

(ii) Archival Records

  • Service records – Market share, profitability (company website and annual reports)
  • Organizational records – charts and budgets (ditto)
  • Maps and charts
  • Lists of names
  • Survey data – census records etc
  • Personal records – diaries, calendars (from interview contacts)

Archival records are crucial to establish the factual content of the evidence you use. Not all of the above information would be accessible/useful, but the final case study will depend on the accuracy of the archival records you uncover.

(iii) Interviews

  • Open-ended – ask for the respondents opinions and insights
  • Focused – following pre-arranged questions
  • Survey – tightly defined questions used for multiple respondents

All methods are suitable, but be clear before conducting an interview which approach to take. Open-ended are very good if you have plenty of time, and the respondent is an expert on the subject. However this must be corroborated with archival records. Be careful not to ask leading questions, and use more focused interviews to double-check.

All interviews suffer from problems about bias and inaccurate information, so do not depend too heavily on interviews – use them to get advice, and to corroborate other evidence.

 (iv) Direct Observation

A field trip is useful if the situation is still occurring – i.e. if the company is still trying to solve the same problem that you’re investigating. Observation can help you corroborate what an interviewee has told you about how the organisation is run, but due to the subjective nature it’s better if more than one of you is present.

(v) Participant-Observation

This is when you take an active role within the environment you’re observing, but is usually used if the other sources of evidence are unavailable.

(vi) Physical Artefacts

Obviously you should collect as much evidence as possible, physical artefacts might include technology, tools, instruments etc

Principles for Collecting the Evidence:

Once you’ve got your evidence, there are a few things that ensure a rigorous case study:

  • Use Multiple Sources. Using the classifications above, try to find information from as many different sources as possible
  • Create a Database. The perfect case study should have the data/evidence completely separate from the report. Whilst you’re creating and writing up your case study bear in mind that the facts should be kept separate from your analysis (as much as possible). This can be done using two stages. Firstly, write up your interview notes, and secondly, write up your analysis. In theory the first part should be made available to other researchers who have completely different research questions, but would still find your data useful.
  • Maintain a Chain of Evidence. To make your analysis reliable the reader of your case study should be able to follow the derivation of your evidence from the research question to your conclusion (or vice versa). This is done by accurate citations (whether it’s documents, interviews or observations), demonstration of the actual evidence (and the manner in which it was collected), and that all this is consistent with the original project plan.

A word of advice – if your case studies are chronological you may wish to start off by writing them backwards, i.e. have a section on the current conditions and then go back to the phenomena under investigation, and finish with the firm’s strategic decision-making.

For more, see Yin, R. (1994). “Case study research: Design and methods” (2nd ed.). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publishing.

Comments on doing fieldwork

Introduction

  • It’s not proper fieldwork, unless you become seriously ill [i.e. “you need to get a disease to be a serious anthropologist”]
  • Learning a foreign language – communication vs. theory of language [the Golden Lions of the Presidential Palace]
  • Three responses to “Global Prosperity Initiative”

Being Invisible

  • Jane Goodall and the Chimpanzees
  • Wearing an Adam Smith tie in an interview about laissez-faire
  • “Being a Westerner” (note, not an American!)

Fieldwork

  • Formal interview
  • Informal conversation
  • Direct/indirect observation

Local Knowledge vs. Standing Outside the Frame

  • Hayek: knowledge is dispersed
  • “You can’t see the picture, if you’re standing inside the frame” RS Trapp
  • How to assemble knowledge of time and place?
  • Equip yourself with a hunch, and a broader framework
    • Note: not a theory that predetermines all your evidence
  • Arrive knowing nothing of cultural context
  • See what strikes you
  • Learn culture from locals
    • Do the history books dictate the local behaviour? No! Local culture dictates what goes into the history books. Culture is the lead variable
    • Go out with the locals, learn from them
  • Then fill in the gaps, and corroborate, via historical record
  • Your hunch will probably be wrong, the fieldwork rests on your ability to ground it within a strong framework

These are notes for a talk that I gave on doing fieldwork. Out of context parts of them may not make much sense, but if you are interested in this topic send me an email!

Writing “One-Pagers”

A “one pager” is a succinct summary and commentary on either a book or journal article. It is intended to establish that you can grasp the key points of a particular work, and contribute constructively to scholarly dialogue (for advice on how to read an academic paper, see Peter Klein). I first encountered the one pager through Roger Congleton, and have found it to be a highly effective training device to interpret information. As the name suggests, it must be kept to one page.

Component Parts

There are four parts to a one pager:

  1. Provide an accurate citation of the book/article
  2. Include your own name and relevant details.
  3. Use three bullet points to provide a holistic summary. Each paragraph should be short, and pick up on a critical part of the thesis. If you’re reading the text with a specific reason in mind (e.g. a literature review on a particular subject), the summary can be focused on that aspect of the piece.
  4. Use three bullet points for constructive analysis. These might be aspects of the manuscript that you didn’t understand, sections you feel could/should be expanded, or parts you outright disagree with. The three points should demonstrate that you can critically assess the material, think creatively about how to build upon it, and draw upon a wider knowledge of the subject.

Finally

As with most skills you can develop your ability to write a one-pager with practice. It’s a method to focus your attention whilst reading an article, and therefore – I find – can drastically reduce the time it takes to absorb material, and increase the effectiveness of your reading.

Resources

Also see: Business One Pagers

Research article template

The title

Learn the lessons of social media and adopt the three C’s:

  • Catchy (i.e. you want it to be clickbait)
  • Citable (i.e. shareable)
  • Controversial (i.e. trolling)

This outline is based on advice from Pete Boettke. To some extent it’s a comment on best practice, but it also tries to map out a replicable blueprint. This is targeted at writing up a piece of traditional empirical work (i.e. testing a hypothesis) for publication as a journal article. Book chapters or theoretical papers have different foundations. Here is good guidance for positioning theory papers. If the empirical methods are non-quantitative, section 3 should include a discussion/justification.

Section 1: Introduction [2 pages]

  • Why is this topic important? Why should the reader care about your contribution?

Section 2: Lit Review [5 pages]

  • What has everyone said on this topic? What is missing?

Section 3: Methods [5 pages]

  • How are you able to fill in this missing gap?

Section 4: Results [5 pages]

  • What have you discovered?

Section 5: Conclusion [2 pages]

  • Recap what was done, how you did it, and why we’ve learnt something

Also, to bear in mind:

  • Inputs and outputs – look at your references. They should reflect your target publication. If you’re citing books, you’ve written a book. If you’re predominantly citing journal articles in the same field as you’re writing in, you’re on the right lines
  • Structure of production – it takes a lot of time to switch between a policy paper and a journal article. If you can submit a paper within 6 months of a start date that is doing well. Don’t try to rush the end result; focus on continual progress.