Daniel Lemire's blog

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Does moving to a better university make you a better researcher?

10 thoughts on “Does moving to a better university make you a better researcher?”

  1. Daniel Lowd says:

    That’s a really interesting result, and somewhat surprising! I would generally expect better institutions to attract better students, which can make a big difference in doing good work. If that effect isn’t significant, then that suggests that good researchers can attract equally good students at any location.

  2. OZ says:

    I didn’t read their methods in detail, but it could be that moving to a better university does improve your productivity, it is just that there is an opposite regression-to-the-mean effect.

    In order to move to a better university, a scientist has to do well. Therefore, scientists who just moved to a better university are more likely to do so after having a productive period (relative to themselves), and you would therefore expect their productivity to go down after the move (towards their true mean ability)

  3. @OZ

    This appears to be more or less their argument… but I do not find it convincing.

  4. David Allyn says:

    Is “..being a better researcher…” quantified by the volume (i.e. frequency) of publications? (Not rhetorical – I’m actually asking). It seems a very simplistic measure (by itself) for what a researcher does.

    In “the business world” (as opposed to the “the research world”) the highest productivity comes from someone who is happy — plain and simple. If a person is happy with where they are and who they work with, they will have greater output of… whatever. If they are unhappy, productivity suffers (including both quantity and quality).

    For a researcher, I would think the same to hold true. Papers are up when they are happy and down when they are not. So, if I have a researcher who I’m moving from an environment where he’s happy to a state-of-the-art building that has nothing but the best geniuses and Bill Gates is personally funding the facility — but the researcher hates it there, then the measure would show that moving a researcher to a “better” facility is less productive.

    I would think you’d need to control for a researcher’s satisfaction — or choose a different measure for the productivity of a researcher.

  5. @David

    I believe that they use the number of citations per article as a quality measure.

  6. Djamé says:

    Could it be that a better university has a higher rate of managerial staff (very lame translation of “encadrement”) so the burden of admin work is lighter, allowing the researcher to devote more time to his research?

  7. @Djamé

    I am sure larger and richer schools have more “managerial staff” but whether it translates into more research time… I do not know.

  8. Michele says:

    I had watched an piece of interview to Richard Feynman in which he talk about this problem with students.

    His point was more or less this: “If you take a brilliant guy from a modest class and you put him in a class of brilliant guys, it is very likely he won’t sparkle any more. This is because among the brilliant guys, there is still space for only 3 of them to be super brilliant. The rest will feel sad and will go on feeling even worse than it is.”

    This makes somehow sense for me. To what extent it can be true for researchers too, I don’t know. What do you think?

  9. @Michele

    I do not know.

    However, I would say that if you are stuck in the mediocre class, you should not conclude that you are done for. I started primary school in a class for students having learning disabilities. Today, I have been a federally funded researcher in computer science for almost 15 years.

    I was lucky, however, to work with brilliant people who raised my level.

  10. Michele says:

    I saw his answer more as a scepticism against all the forms of elitism in academy, rather than some thing else.