Persistence and Uncertainty in the Academic Career

Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 109, 5213-5218 (2012) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1121429109

29 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2012

See all articles by Alexander Michael Petersen

Alexander Michael Petersen

University of California Merced, Ernest and Julio Gallo Management Program

Massimo Riccaboni

KU Leuven - Department of Managerial Economics, Strategy, and Innovation; IMT Institute for Advanced Studies

H. Eugene Stanley

Boston University - Center for Polymer Studies

Fabio Pammolli

Polytechnic University of Milan - Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering; CERM Foundation

Date Written: April 3, 2012

Abstract

Understanding how institutional changes within academia may affect the overall potential of science requires a better quantitative representation of how careers evolve over time. Since knowledge spillovers, cumulative advantage, competition, and collaboration are distinctive features of the academic profession, both the employment relationship and the procedures for assigning recognition and allocating funding should be designed to account for these factors. We study the annual production ni(t) of a given scientist i by analyzing longitudinal career data for 200 leading scientists and 100 assistant professors from the physics community. We compare our results with 21,156 sports careers. Our empirical analysis of individual productivity dynamics shows that (i) there are increasing returns for the top individuals within the competitive cohort, and that (ii) the distribution of production growth is a leptokurtic “tent-shaped” distribution that is remarkably symmetric. Our methodology is general, and we speculate that similar features appear in other disciplines where academic publication is essential and collaboration is a key feature. We introduce a model of proportional growth which reproduces these two observations, and additionally accounts for the significantly right-skewed distributions of career longevity and achievement in science. Using this theoretical model, we show that short-term contracts can amplify the effects of competition and uncertainty making careers more vulnerable to early termination, not necessarily due to lack of individual talent and persistence, but because of random negative production shocks. We show that fluctuations in scientific production are quantitatively related to a scientist’s collaboration radius and team efficiency.

Keywords: career trajectory, labor market, science of science, tenure, computational sociology

JEL Classification: J3, D39, J24, J44, L83

Suggested Citation

Petersen, Alexander Michael and Riccaboni, Massimo and Stanley, H. Eugene and Pammolli, Fabio, Persistence and Uncertainty in the Academic Career (April 3, 2012). Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 109, 5213-5218 (2012) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1121429109, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2033918

Alexander Michael Petersen (Contact Author)

University of California Merced, Ernest and Julio Gallo Management Program ( email )

School of Engineering
Science & Engineering 2, Suite 315
Merced, CA 95343
United States

Massimo Riccaboni

KU Leuven - Department of Managerial Economics, Strategy, and Innovation ( email )

Naamsestraat 69 bus 3500
Leuven, 3000
Belgium

IMT Institute for Advanced Studies ( email )

Complesso San Micheletto
Lucca, 55100
Italy

H. Eugene Stanley

Boston University - Center for Polymer Studies ( email )

Boston, MA 02215
United States

Fabio Pammolli

Polytechnic University of Milan - Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering ( email )

Via Lambruschini 4C - building 26/A
Milano, 20156
Italy

CERM Foundation ( email )

Via Fiorentina, 1
Siena, Siena 53100
Italy

HOME PAGE: http://www.cermlab.it

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