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Quantifying the impact of weak, strong, and super ties in scientific careers

Published Web Location

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2015/08/05/1501444112.full.pdf
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Abstract

Scientists are frequently faced with the important decision to start or terminate a creative partnership. This process can be influenced by strategic motivations, as early career researchers are pursuers, whereas senior researchers are typically attractors, of new collaborative opportunities. Focusing on the longitudinal aspects of scientific collaboration, we analyzed 473 collaboration profiles using an egocentric perspective that accounts for researcher-specific characteristics and provides insight into a range of topics, from career achievement and sustainability to team dynamics and efficiency. From more than 166,000 collaboration records, we quantify the frequency distributions of collaboration duration and tie strength, showing that collaboration networks are dominated by weak ties characterized by high turnover rates. We use analytic extreme value thresholds to identify a new class of indispensable super ties, the strongest of which commonly exhibit >50% publication overlap with the central scientist. The prevalence of super ties suggests that they arise from career strategies based upon cost, risk, and reward sharing and complementary skill matching. We then use a combination of descriptive and panel regression methods to compare the subset of publications coauthored with a super tie to the subset without one, controlling for pertinent features such as career age, prestige, team size, and prior group experience. We find that super ties contribute to above-average productivity and a 17% citation increase per publication, thus identifying these partnerships - the analog of life partners - as a major factor in science career development.

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