Most aca­d­e­mics would view a post at an elite uni­ver­sity like Oxford or Har­vard as the crowning achieve­ment of a career—bringing both acco­lades and access to better wine cel­lars. But scholars covet such places for rea­sons beyond glory and gas­tronomy. They believe perching on one of the top­most branches of the aca­d­emic tree will also improve the quality of their work, by bringing them together with other geniuses with whom they can col­lab­o­rate and who may help spark new ideas. This sounds plau­sible. Unfor­tu­nately, as Albert-​​Laszlo Barabasi of North­eastern Uni­ver­sity, in Boston (and also, it must be said, of Har­vard), shows in a study pub­lished in Sci­en­tific Reports, it is not true.

Dr Barabasi and his team exam­ined the careers of physi­cists who began pub­lishing between 1950 and 1980 and con­tinued to do so for at least 20 years. They ranked the impact of the insti­tu­tions these people attended by counting the number of cita­tions each institution’s papers received within five years of pub­li­ca­tion. By tracking the affil­i­a­tions of indi­vidual physi­cists and counting their cita­tions in a sim­ilar way, Dr Barabasi was able to work out whether moving from a low– to a high-​​ranking uni­ver­sity improved a physicist’s impact. In total, he and his team analysed 2,725 careers.

Read the article at The Economist →