The Mobility of Elite Life Scientists: Professional and Personal Determinants

Pierre Azoulay, Ina Ganguli, Joshua S. Graff Zivin

NBER Working Paper No. 21995
Issued in February 2016
NBER Program(s):Children, Health Economics, Labor Studies, Productivity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship

As scientists’ careers unfold, mobility can allow researchers to find environments where they are more productive and more effectively contribute to the generation of new knowledge. In this paper, we examine the determinants of mobility of elite academics within the life sciences, including individual productivity measures and for the first time, measures of the peer environment and family factors. Using a unique data set compiled from the career histories of 10,004 elite life scientists in the U.S., we paint a nuanced picture of mobility. Prolific scientists are more likely to move, but this impulse is constrained by recent NIH funding. The quality of peer environments both near and far is an additional factor that influences mobility decisions. Interestingly, we also identify a significant role for family structure. Scientists appear to be unwilling to move when their children are between the ages of 14-17, which is when US children are typically enrolled in middle school or high school. This suggests that even elite scientists find it costly to disrupt the social networks of their children and take these costs into account when making career decisions.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21995

Published: Azoulay, Pierre & Ganguli, Ina & Graff Zivin, Joshua, 2017. "The mobility of elite life scientists: Professional and personal determinants," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 46(3), pages 573-590. citation courtesy of

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