If I move to a more highly ranked institution will I do better science?
Or, if I move to a more lowly ranked institution will the quality of my work decline?
Some scientists are obsessed with "moving up", thinking that being at the "best" place is essential. They cannot fathom that one could do outstanding work at a mediocre institution.
However, consider the following. People at a high status university may get Nobel Prizes but that is not necessarily where they actually did the prize-winning work. Here are a few examples.
John Van Vleck: Wisconsin to Harvard
Joe Taylor: U. Mass to Princeton
Tony Leggett: Sussex to Urbana
William Lipscomb: Minnesota to Harvard
Can anyone think of other examples?
So can one actually measure how career moves affect the quality of science? One recent attempt is
Career on the Move: Geography, Stratification, and Scientific Impact
Pierre Deville, Dashun Wang, Roberta Sinatra, Chaoming Song, Vincent Blondel & Albert-László Barabási
The authors give an exhaustive analysis of the authors, affiliations, and citations of more than 400,000 papers from Physical Review journals, concluding
while going from elite to lower-rank institutions on average associates with modest decrease in scientific performance, transitioning into elite institutions does not result in subsequent performance gain.This made it into an article in the Economist magazine, entitled Why climb the greasy pole?
It is worth looking at the figure that this conclusion is based on, noting the size of the error bars.