It’s not what you know, but who you know- The RESEARCH SHOWS

Posted on September 18, 2012


Today, I read this great article ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know: The role of connections in academic promotions’. It is a very short article about the role relationships play in obtaining a job in academia. I suggest everyone read it. A quick highlight-

In a recent paper, we analyse the extent of favouritism within this system of centralised competitions (Zinovyeva and Bagues 2012). We find that prior connections between candidates and evaluators have a dramatic impact on candidates’ chances of being promoted. The magnitude of this effect is increasing with the strength of the connection. Candidates’ chance of being promoted is 78% greater if the seven-member committee includes, by luck of the draw, their adviser or a co-author. The presence in the committee of a colleague from the same university increases candidates’ chance of success by 35% and the presence of a weaker connection, such as a member of their thesis committee, by 19%. The impact of connections is (statistically) similar in natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities and it is particularly large in small disciplines. The importance of connections is commensurate with the relevance of observable research quality, as measured by the number of publications, received citations, and participation in thesis committees. For instance, the presence of a co-author or an adviser in the promotion committee is equivalent to a one standard deviation increase in candidates’ observable quality.

A while back I looked at where archaeology academics in the UK got their degrees from. I noticed that some departments had a strong correlation in where the academics obtained their degrees from. The obvious one was that many academics had degrees from the universities they work for. The other was that if one person had a degree from a university (not the one they work at) their is a greater chance that someone else in the department will have a degree from the university. This later relationship was not because everyone had a degree from Cambridge but because they went to Bradford, Cardiff, etc.

So what does this new research tell us? Well if you want a job in academia try like the devil to co-author papers with as many other academics as possible, in other universities. Make as many connections as possible as that is how you will get the job.  Remember it is a 78% increase in chances of getting an academic job for only having a strong connection with 1 in 7 of the review panel. Imagine that, only one in seven makes the difference in you getting a academic job.

This is no longer the advice of disgruntled PhD students or Machiavellian academics, the research shows it is who you know not what you know.