Early career productivity ‘linked to workplace, not training’

Data on almost 2,500 computer scientists in US and Canada suggest ‘prestige’ of PhD institution does not influence number of papers they later produce

April 29, 2019
Source: Alamy

An early career academic’s productivity is influenced by where they work rather than the university where they studied for their doctorate, research suggests.

The findings come in a study that compares the productivity and citations gained by early career computer science scholars before and after they had been appointed to a role following their PhD.

Data on almost 2,500 academics – including more than 200,000 of their publications and 7.4 million citations – at all 205 PhD-granting computer science departments in the US and Canada were analysed for the research.

Academics who trained or worked in similar institutions – based on a measure of each university’s “prestige” – were matched and then their scholarly output compared to see if where they did their PhD – or where they went on to work – had more of an influence.

According to the paper, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there was “no evidence that training at a prestigious institution confers any advantage to an individual’s subsequent productivity”.

There was a “marginally significant” increase in the number of new citations gained by academics who trained at a more prestigious university, but the researchers found “strong evidence that the prestige of an individual’s faculty appointment” compared with where they did their PhD “drives both their early career productivity and prominence”.

Specifically, the results showed that among academics who trained at similarly prestigious institutions – and had similar pre-appointment productivity and citation impact – those who went on to work at a more prestigious university produced 5.1 more papers on average in the first five years after their appointment.

The researchers go on to consider four factors related to the environment of “prestigious” universities that could increase productivity for academics, including how they select academics for roles, the expectations that they place on them, retention practices and “providing a conducive working environment”.

They find that “mechanisms based on selection, expectation, or retention each provide, at best, weak evidence that higher levels of productivity at prestigious environments simply reflect more stringent requirements for faculty”.

As a result, the characteristics of a department, including location, resources and organisation, are more likely to “enable or constrain the productivity and prominence of individual faculty”, they suggest.

“A common assumption is that faculty’s scholarly productivity mainly reflects their scientific skill, which is often assumed to correlate with the prestige of their doctoral institution,” concludes the study, which was led by researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“Here, we show that this assumption is false: for early career faculty, the characteristics of their working environment, and not the prestige of their doctoral training, drive their productivity, and the greater productivity of faculty in more prestigious departments cannot be explained by the preferential selection or retention of more productive scholars.”

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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