The Top of the Ninth

This time of year, my thoughts turn fairly often to baseball. This is especially true this year with my beloved St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs. The familiar sounds of the game’s great announcers are the background of my summer, and are particularly well-suited for listening while working. Today’s lengthy playoff games (three and a half hours for a regular nine-inning game) made me think of George Carlin’s famous dialogue on why he preferred baseball over football. The best part of the dialogue is the following:

“Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end – might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.”

As I work well into an October evening filled with tightly played postseason games, this quote makes me think about graduate school. Enrolling in a PhD program is a lot like playing baseball—there is no rigidly enforced time limit (at least since the end of curfews about three decades ago) and extra innings are unlimited in theory. Few other sports, with the exception of playoff hockey and cricket, have such indeterminate endings.

My journey through graduate school has often felt like an exciting playoff baseball game. Through my five-plus years in graduate school, both in economics and education policy, I have experienced the highest of highs (incredible research opportunities and working with amazing people) and the lowest of lows (scoring below the posted minimum score on an exam). But days like today make me feel like I’m entering the top of the ninth inning of graduate school with a comfortable lead.

Today marked a very exciting day in my time in graduate school. I have spent at least three years working with a research team on a paper examining the effects of a randomly assigned need-based grant program here in Wisconsin. We finally finished the umpteenth rewrite of the paper and sent it off to a very good journal. The paper should be posted on our study’s website in the next few days, but the main punchline is that financial aid does have modest positive effects on students’ persistence through college. To come up with this estimate, we used a pretty nifty econometric strategy of instrumental variables with treatment-by-site interactions; for baseball fans, think of it as advanced sabermetrics.

Additionally, I have been making good progress in applying for assistant professor positions in both education and public policy schools. In working on my application materials, I realize how much I have learned and grown in my time in graduate school. Five years ago, I couldn’t have imagined what I would be doing today, which is pretty amazing. I won’t know where I will be next year for several months as I approach free agency this spring, but I am looking forward to getting called up to the academic big leagues.

Author: Robert

I am an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. All opinions are my own.

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