Daniel Lemire's blog

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

Deville et al. studied the performance of physics professors as they moved from one job to another.

They found that moving to a lesser school lowered the impact of one’s research papers on average a tiny bit (by a fraction of a standard deviation)… However, moving to a better school had no measurable impact at all, on average. You can go from the worst to the best without improving the impact of your papers. Because the result is true on average, it implies that moving to a better institution sometimes help, sometimes hurt. The authors find the result surprising and appear to be unable to explain it.

However, the true story is that the productivity of scientists is not affected very much by their move… This is consistent with a lot of earlier work showing “it is not where you work, but who you work with” that matters. Moving physically closer to geniuses is pointless:

I find no evidence for peer effects at the local level. Even very high-quality scientists do not affect the productivity of their local peers. (Waldinger, 2012)

We are easily convinced that people who worked in the same building as the best minds must somehow have been improved by the experience. Or that they have access to better books and better managers. But the evidence is clear: brilliance is not a contagious disease you catch by the air ducts.

Source: The Economist.