Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What kind of jobs are academic scholars looking for?

Any university ranking that is published these days features a majority of US-based schools at the top. It is clear that across every field the United States is able to attract the best talent, at least when looking at top schools. Why is that so? What attracts scholars to the US?

Jürgen Janger and Klaus Nowotny have created an interesting data set by surveying 10,000 academics across the world and letting them choose between various hypothetical jobs. Those jobs varied along a series of characteristics, which allows to understand what academics value most. The results indicate that the standard US tenure track system is pretty much close to optimal. What matters most is pay, which should have a performance component, valuable peers, internal grants and a good mix of teaching and research. Location does not matter much, presumably because academicians are so focused on their work. Those early in their careers value financial and intellectual autonomy, as well as having some prospect for internal promotion based on performance. The more senior ones do not like being bound to a particular research stream and prefer being in a departmental setup rather than a chair-like system. Given all this, it is no surprise that the US manages to attract the best talent. But one can wonder whether the responses also reflect the realization that the United States has attracted the best researchers, so its system must be better independently from personal preferences.

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