Monday, August 28, 2006

Once In a While I Get (Pleasantly) Surprised

One of the most frustrating parts of an academic's job is working with Ph.D. students. It's also one of the best parts. I have two projects in the works with doctoral students at my previous university. In fact, I'll likely sit on both students' dissertation committees.

One of them doesn't seem to work well without handholding. When faced with a problem, she'll try one (or at most, two) things, and then throw up her hands and come looking for help. In some ways, my leaving her school's faculty has been good for her, since it has forced her to work more independently. It's a bit of "sink or swim" therapy for her, and it might be just what she needs.

But the other student is a gem. I gave him a long term project for the summer - he'd have to code the governance information (board characteristics, compensation structures, etc...) for several hundred firms engaging in a particular type of corporate transaction (I can't say more about it without giving too much away).

For those of you who've done this kind of work, you know it's mind-numbing in its tediousness. Then he left the country in late June to spend time with family in Canada (and to take advantage of free medical care). I didn't hear anything from him for about 2 months, so I figured (based on past experiences) that the project wouldn't see much progress until fall.

Then I get an email with an excel spreadsheet attached. It contained data on 200+ firms, and contained data on each firm for both before and after the event in question. I am truly impressed. I may have found that rarest of creatures - a grad student who's both smart AND self- motivated.

I'm also excited because the topic we're working on (and the data set) are rich enough that we should be able to get a whole string of papers out of them. The data collection is only about half done, but we already have more than enough material to start analyzing things and putting together a preliminary write-up. And even better, it's in an area that I worked in a while back and have been wanting to get back to.

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