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Early co-authorship with a senior academic boosts junior researchers’ future careers

26 November 2019

Co-authoring a research paper with an established scientist early in an academic’s career leads to significant future benefits for the junior researcher, finds a paper by UCL.


This effect is much stronger for early-career researchers affiliated with less prestigious institutions, who are statistically less likely later in their careers to reach the same levels those at the most prestigious institutions will.

In the paper, published in Nature Communications, researchers found that a third (32.5%) of science academics who published research with an established expert in the first three years of their career were a highly cited scientist themselves by the 20th year of their career, compared to a fifth (19.1%) who did not have co-authorship early on.

Lead author Dr Giacomo Livan (UCL Computer Science) said: “From a quantitative standpoint we found our results to be quite surprising. The main outcomes were extremely consistent across very different disciplines and very robust with respect to a number of potential confounding factors, revealing a systematic mechanism at the heart of academic career progression.

 “The results show that more work needs to be done to support junior researchers, particularly those at smaller or lesser-known institutions, to realise their full potential in their careers.”

Early co-authorship with an established expert gave the junior researchers a competitive advantage throughout the rest of their careers and a higher probability of repeated co-authorship with top-cited academics.

The team analysed publication data for more than 22,000 established researchers whose careers began between 1980 and 1998 in the fields of neuroscience, chemistry, physics and cell biology.

Using matched pair analysis – a technique often employed in clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of a new drug, forming a treatment and control group – the team analysed career trajectories.

They split a large pool of authors with long academic careers into those who co-authored at least one paper with a top cited scientist early in their career and those who did not.

Other contributing factors included the early career impact of a junior researcher, as measured by the number of citations received, the early career productivity of a junior researcher and the total number of co-authors of a junior researcher.

The researchers defined an ‘established’ or ‘top’ scientist as one belonging to the top 5% of cited authors in their discipline for that year. They further defined an ‘early-career’ researcher or ‘junior’ researcher as a scientist in the first three years of academic activity, roughly covering the duration of a PhD.

The lead and first authors were supported by an EPSRC Early Career Fellowship in Digital Economy.



Media contact

Kate Corry

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 6995

Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk