Research Collaboration, Academic Stars and the Evolution of Science Systems
The important growth in research collaboration is generating increasing attention by research administrators and policy makers. There is much interest in improving our understanding of the nature, dynamics and impact of this cooperation in science. This thesis contributes to this area in three dimensions. First, it proposes a novel method by which one can characterize and assess research collaboration, which takes into consideration the self-organizing process of scientific collaboration. Second, building partially on the new method, it studies how research collaboration, in particular research groups and scientific stars, influence the nurturing of new researchers that enter a scientific system. Finally, it explores in detail what the new researchers look for, and find, in their early collaborations. The field of physics and related areas (including applied physics, material sciences and optics) in Mexico is used to look at these issues.
The proposed evaluation method uses self-organizing characteristics of science to identify and compare relevant units of analysis. To characterize groups, the thesis exploits the patterns of collaboration and develops a method that identifies and benchmarks research groups. Collaboration patterns of researchers are used to identify the frontiers of the focal research units and the backward citation patterns are employed to establish relevant benchmark units for each focal unit. The results suggest that the definition of the unit of analysis affects our understanding of the position a research institutions has within the Science Technology and Innovation (ST&I) System and provides evidence that the performance of Mexican institutions in Physics is highly heterogeneous within institutions. This is important because research administrators and policy makers need to take into account this heterogeneity when assessing the ST&I system.
The second contribution of this thesis is an investigation of how different forms of scientific collaboration early on in the career of a researcher relate to his or her future publication and citation rates, and their likelihood of becoming a leading scientist. In particular it quantifies the effect of collaborative research environments, such as prominent scientists or research groups (identified using the method developed in the thesis), on new scholars. This study shows that eminent scientists have an important role in the development of a scientific system (especially within the context of an emerging economy) in terms of publications and citations. In particular it finds that these stars have a positive and significant effect on the productivity and impact of young researchers, as well as on their likelihood of also becoming leading scientists. In addition, early collaboration with a highly productive research group and the leader of this group also contributes to superior productivity performance by scientists.
Third, this thesis explores how budding scientists, some of which became highly accomplished researchers, used their collaborations with other top scientists and research groups early in their career. This works finds that researchers who later became star scientists focus on acquiring new ideas and knowledge through early interactions with other scientists, particularly foreign collaborators and existing stars, whereas those less prominent focus on accessing resources and only learning “basic” research kills, like publishing.
Finally, this thesis provides important insights for policy makers by showing the significance research collaboration has in the development of ST&I of an emerging economy. In addition, this work highlights the importance of endogenously defining the unit of analysis and taking into account the heterogeneity within the system when making assessments of the ST&I system. Furthermore, this dissertation shows the relevance scientific stars surrounded by nurturing environments have in the progress of science, as well as the importance cooperation with these scientists and foreign collaboration has in exposing young faculty to new ideas.