Do scientists change over 40 years of their academic careers? Can they be radically different in terms of their productivity, for instance, can low performers become top performers? Or perhaps top performers will always be top performers, and bottom performers will always be bottom performers?
The idea was tested in a national system: “Once Highly Productive, Forever Highly Productive?”
Anecdotal knowledge was verified with solid data, including Big Data.
This longitudinal study explores persistence in research productivity over time (40 years). The authors examine the trajectories of the academic careers of 2,326 current Polish full professors in 14 STEMM disciplines, studying their lifetime biographical histories and publication histories.
Every full professor is compared in terms of productivity classes (top, middle, bottom) with their peers at earlier career stages.
The results show that membership in top productivity classes is to a large extent determined by being in these classes earlier – an much earlier. Half of the current top productive full professors belonged to top productivity classes throughout their academic careers. Half of the top productive assistant professors continued as top productive associate professors, and half of the top productive associate professors continued as top productive full professors (52.6% and 50.8%).
Top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top transitions in productivity classes occurred just marginally. Only 4.3% of scientists enjoyed a radical top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top transitions in their careers.
The combination of biographical and demographic data with raw Scopus publication data from the past 50 years (N=1 million) made it possible to assign all full professors retrospective to different productivity, promotion age, and promotion speed classes.
In logistic regression models, two powerful predictors of belonging to the top productivity class for full professors were being highly productive as assistant professors and as associate professors (increasing the odds by 180% and 360%). Neither gender nor age (biological or academic) emerged as statistically significant.
The findings have important implications for hiring policies: hiring high- and low-productivity scientists may have long-standing consequences for institutions and national science systems as academic scientists usually remain in the system for decades.
Bibliographic information: Kwiek, M., Roszka, W. Once highly productive, forever highly productive? Full professors’ research productivity from a longitudinal perspective. High Educ (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-023-01022-y
Professor Marek Kwiek is Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies and UNESCO Chair in Institutional Research and Higher Education Policy, AMU University of Poznan, Poland (www.cpp.amu.edu.pl). His research area is quantitative studies of science, with interests in globalization of science, global academic profession, and international research collaboration. He has published 230 papers and his recent monograph is Changing European Academics: A Comparative Study of Social Stratification, Work Patterns and Research Productivity (Routledge, 2019). His most recent invited seminars include Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Beijing and Hong Kong. He spent three years at North American universities, including the University of Virginia, UC Berkeley, National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC, and McGill University. He was also a Fulbright New Century Scholar in higher education (2007-2008) and a Professorial Visiting Fellow at the UCL Institute of Education, London (2012-2013). Currently (2022-2023), he is a Visiting Researcher at the German Center for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW), Berlin. A Principal Investigator or country Team Leader in 25 international higher education research projects. An ordinary member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (EASA) in Salzburg and Academia Europaea in London. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Marek_Kwiek.