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    Surely the difference is that working in the commercial sector means that you’re working on economically efficient things. You are delivering true value and your employer is able to capture that value. Increasing your effectiveness is useful there.

    Most academic work is either:

    • not worthwhile

    • worthwhile but does not deliver the value to the people doing the work

    Once you capture the value created, incentives align in increasing effectiveness.

    Academic departments don’t 1-1 their grad students because the grad students are usually fairly useless economically to the department. Increased input will not produce increased returns.

    Grant-supported academia is probably always going to be failing its workers. It isn’t that the managers don’t know. It’s that they’re making the right decision.

    As an aside, I suspect that knowledge economy workers (not just traditional software tech but also, e.g. bespoke design firms) will manage their workers better than other sectors of the economy for the fact that improved management’s results can be well-captured by the management.

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      working in the commercial sector means that you’re working on economically efficient things. You are delivering true value

      That depends entirely on where in the commercial sector you are. A massive part is useful, yes; but huge other parts get their profits through rent-seeking, speculation, or exploitation.

      Most academic work is either:

      • not worthwhile
      • worthwhile but does not deliver the value to the people doing the work

      That’s true for everybody who doesn’t receive the value of their work, or work for a company that shares its profits among its members, yes?

      It’s that they’re making the right decision.

      *profitable decision. Making right and profitable coincide is a goal, not a given, and it’s certainly not the case when you’re failing your workers.

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        I misspoke when I said “the people doing the work”. I meant “to the employer”. Most good academic work is available for pennies of what it’s worth. Most bad academic work also costs the same but it’s actually millions of times what it’s worth. Both orgs get paid roughly the same for a job. As a result the best scientists go off to spin-off labs if they can where the employer can extract the value.

        And obviously I meant ‘right’ as in ‘correct for them given the vector of their preferences’.

        All this is speculation, but one thing to me is certain. The following cannot all be true:

        • Improved management will yield improved returns

        • Smart people are in management

        • They choose not to improve management

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          Are you sure they can’t all be true at once? Smart people do stupid things All The Time. They (you? we?) are not free of short-term thinking, biases, habits, traumas, values, ignorance (hoo boy, do smart people suffer from ignorance), laziness, shortcuts, selfishness, bad influences, influences, indifference, overcorrections, stress, tiredness, peer pressure, acculturisation, indoctrination, social hints, forgetfulness, cruelty, grief, protectiveness, overprotectiveness, status, nudges, hierarchies, addictions, ambitions, self-overestimation, irrational behaviour, inexperience, their environment, and let’s not forget plain old mistakes. Homo economicus does not exist; and if you want to go from ‘somebody doesn’t do X’ to ‘therefore either X or the person is not smart’ you must first eliminate a heck of a lot of alternative explanations. Or, to put it differently: that line of reasoning is nearly always wrong.

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            Oh individually yes, but if an entire industry comprising a hundred thousand students and their advisors runs things this way, I’m inclined to search for a better explanation than “sometimes smart folk do dumb things”.

            The ‘sometimes’ is almost 100% of advisors for those students. Advisors who follow top man management principles are vanishingly rare. That does not look like an accidental result of individual variation. It can be, but that’s not likely to be my top hypothesis.

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        I’m not sure this is true. If you are an academic then it is to your benefit to have highly performing grad students because it increases your prestige, which increases the amount of grant money you can get, your chances of promotion, appearances at conferences, the quality of your future students and so on.

        Perhaps this is less true in departments that generally have very little money (but then these are also the places that have more paying grad students).

        I think for the most part academics are poorly managed themselves and that it is too easy to exploit grad students (because there is little accountability for supervisors and grad students generally do not unionise and do not have the protections of other employees).

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        This hits really close to home - while I didn’t do a PhD, my (equivalent of a master’s) thesis was a slog and I had zero support from the university, with my advisor also leaving halfway of the semester. And yes, I know you shouldn’t probably need a lot of help from the outside for this - but if you’re trying to follow the department’s guidelines because they support it it kinda helps to at least have one person to talk to once a month…

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          I really enjoyed this piece, and can very much echo their usefulness both as giver and as recipient of such talks.

          There’s one paragraph to which I’d like to add a second perspective:

          The main difference is that most accountability buddies don’t care about each other in the same way that managers/reports, or significant others, do: for me, Eve’s progress was the top idea in my mind in a way that I doubt it was for anyone else. Because of that, I ended up having more insightful feedback for her than a random “accountability buddy” might.

          That is definitely one way the advice sessions relationship can succeed. You must both feel so lucky, supported, and loved <3.

          I would like to add: skill, intermittent attention, and notes can substitute for emotional caring and continuous attention. When I got my ADHD-diagnosis, I got (offered, and chose to take partake of,) cognitive behavioural therapy – weekly at first, two-weekly later on, 45 minutes at a time. I presume I was one of many patients, and I hope I was not at the top of my therapist’s mind when she woke up in the mornings — and the one-on-one sessions we held helped me beyond belief.

          So when accountability buddies don’t work out, that might equally be from lack of skill or experience one-on-one coaching, rather than lack of caring.

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            Your point about notes being able to compensate for less frequent attention is spot on. I directly manage 25-30 people for a year at a time. There’s no way I can hold in my head a sufficiently good model of what all of them are doing so I keep a doc for each one and have a sheet with a summary view of them all and links to the docs for each one. That lets me quickly swap what I need into my working set right before each 1:1. I think most doctors do the same thing.

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            This is so timely since I just tried this with someone. I love “accountability buddies” since that half sounds like something they’d come up with. We didn’t know each other well enough for that to work out. There’s some good ideas here I didn’t see. Thanks a lot for the submission.