The role of early-career university prestige stratification on the future academic performance of scholars

Mario Gonzalez Sauri & Giulia Rossello


Prestige and mobility are important aspects of academic life that play a critical role during early-career. After PhD graduation scholars have to compete for positions in the labour market. Unfortunately, many of them have few research products such that their inherent ability and skills remain mostly unobserved for hiring committees. Institutional prestige in this context is a key mechanism that signals the quality of candidates, and many studies have shown that a "good" affiliation can confer many opportunities for future career development. We know little, however, about how changes of scholar's institutional prestige during early-career relate to future academic performance. In this paper, we use an algorithm to rank universities based on hiring networks in Mexico. We distinguish three groups of scholars that move Up, Down or Stay in the prestige hierarchy between PhD graduation and first job. After controlling for individual characteristics by matching scholars with equal training or the same first job institution, we find that scholars hired by their existing faculty sustain higher performance over their career in comparison to other groups. Interestingly, we find that scholars that move up the hierarchy exhibit, on average, lower academic performance than the other groups. We argue that the negative relation between upward ranking mobility and performance is related to the difficulties in changing research teams at an early-career stage and to the so-called "big-fish-small-pond" effect. We observe a high stratification of universities by prestige and a negative association between mobility and performance that can hinder the flows of knowledge throughout the science system.

Keywords: University Prestige, Academic Performance, Early Career, Mobility, Faculty hiring network, Institutional Stratification, Scholars Research Performance, University System, University Ranking Emerging Countries, Matched Pair Analysis, PhD Job Market, Mexico

JEL Codes: D7, I2, J15, O3, Z13