Recognition and weak ties: Is there a positive effect of postdoctoral position on academic performance and career development?

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Abstract

This article analyses the effect of researchers' postdoctoral mobility on academic performance. Postdoctoral positions are considered and conceptualised as a special type of researcher mobility. We use the curriculum vitae of UK academic scientists as a source of information, in addition to the ISI Web of Knowledge and the European Patent Office. We find major differences in the patterns of mobility between the pure and the transfer sciences. Pure scientists tend to move via a postdoctoral appointment, whereas transfer scientists tend to change job positions. We find that international postdoctoral mobility is positively correlated with publications for non job-mobile pure scientists in a five-year period starting two years after completion of the PhD, and with the total number of citations. The explanation is that weak institutional ties connected with postdoctoral fellowships give researchers access to institutions with higher reputation, which in turn gives access to valuable knowledge and networks. This institutional advantage means that international postdoctoral mobility has a positive influence on academic performance. The lack of significance of the correlation between precocity and international postdoctoral mobility makes it impossible to determine whether international postdoctoral mobility is a non-early advantage with positive effects on a scientist's productivity and career development. CIENTISTS ARE INCREASINGLY under-taking postdoctoral positions. 1 The increased duration of these positions is somewhat worry-ing: it leads to higher temporality rates for young scientists, 2 who are becoming a source of cheap labour (Stephan, 2005; Cruz-Castro and Sanz-Menéndez, 2005; Smith-Doerr, 2006). This is bad for the future prospects of young scientists and engineers. Stephan (2005) warns of a possible rela-tionship between scientists' temporary job positions and decreasing productivity. A delay in taking up a permanent position undermines the time horizons and degree of autonomy of scientists, and reduces their opportunities for specialisation (Stephan, 2005; Smith-Doerr, 2006). This reduced autonomy and specialisation could negatively affect the quality and quantity of their scientific production. 3 The tempo-rariness involved in postdoctoral fellowships could negatively affect scientists' knowledge production and career prospects. Very few empirical studies

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Authors

  • Ana F. Zubieta

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