Academic Inequality in University Hiring

Slate‘s Joel Warner and University of Colorado’s Aaron Clauset have detailed a study by Clauset and his colleagues on academic inequality in university hiring.


Clauset and his colleagues found:

The data revealed that just a quarter of all universities account for 71 to 86 percent of all tenure-track faculty in the U.S. and Canada in these three fields. Just 18 elite universities produce half of all computer science professors, 16 schools produce half of all business professors, and eight schools account for half of all history professors.


Clauset’s findings echo what David D. Perlmutter (Promotion and Tenure Confidential) and Karen Kelsky (The Professor Is In) have written about the tenure track process in United States universities. What matters is doctoral degree prestige, having a fundable research program, productivity in research publications, and making a definable impact on a field or domain of knowledge, that is validated through academic networks.


These findings mirror what I have seen in research management:


  1. The doctoral experience is important to a subsequent research career. It provides an opportunity for the doctoral candidate to immerse themselves in a field or domain, to read its best journals, to be mentored by established researchers, to present research findings at conferences, to master research methods, and to develop a personal voice as a professional author.
  2. Having a research program that is focused and fundable is important to success in competitive grant schemes, and to attracting contract research income. The research program needs to address a significant research or social problem. You need to be aware of the four or five other research teams in the world that are exploring the same research or social problem. You need to address current scholarly debates. The research program should develop expertise that can be shared with government policymakers and industry partners.
  3. Knowledge of journals gained in doctoral education, and a focused research program, can support productivity in research publications. A key is to get a stream of publications that advance the research or social problem identified in the research program. Being strategic about co-authored and collaborative publications is also important. Your publications track record should have a narrative to it that implements your research program. It should systematically build your expertise at national and international levels.
  4. The sum of the first three activities is that, over time, you have a definable impact on a field or domain. Universities look for this definable impact in the minimum standards for academic levels criteria used in promotions and tenure applications. This definable impact can be measured in several ways. Academic publisher prestige can be important for books. National and international conferences can be used to build networks and to workshop material that will later be published in a book or refereed journal article. Social media outreach and the careful use of sites like, ResearchGate and Google Scholar can increase citations. Academic networks can validate the definable impact.


Clauset’s study findings support earlier research: Lazear and Rosen’s work on labour tournaments, and Robert K. Merton’s work on the Matthew Effect or success to the successful. Doctoral candidates and Post-Docs who follow the above advice will improve the probability of career and research funding success.