PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) has published an article on Productivity, prominence, and the effects of an academic environment which tests the common assumption that faculty at prestigious universities are more productive because prestigious universities can recruit more productive researchers.
The authors have examined the alternative hypothesis that the faculty’s work environments drive their productivity. Using comprehensive data on an entire field of research, they used a matched-pair experimental design to isolate the effects of training at, versus working in, prestigious environments. They used data on doctorate-to-faculty transitions of 2,453 tenure track faculty at all 205 PhD-granting computer science departments in the United States and Canada, spanning 1970–2011, along with complete records of their scholarly output through 2017, encompassing more than 200,000 publications and 7.4 million citations. They found that – in computer science – indeed it is the faculty’s work environments, and not selection effects, that drive their productivity and prominence, establishing that where a researcher works serves as a mechanism for cumulative advantage, locking in past success via job placement and thereby facilitating future success.