The mobility of scientists and inventors: patterns and determinants

PhD Thesis (2019)

with Luca Verginer

DOI Link Bibtex


Life Scientists working both at Universities and private institutions are very mobile. This fact is reflected both in their tendency to move globally, from city to city, as well as from institution to institution. This thesis addresses several questions regarding the mobility patterns of these scientists and tests possible determinants for their relocation choice. We develop a novel dataset tracking the mobility of 3.7 million scientists across 9,745 cities over two decades. We show that mobility is marked by national borders and shared languages and that the mobility network is dominated by a small set of “global cities”. We also find that only a few countries clearly benefit from international exchange. Moreover, we find that young and prolific researchers gravitate towards these “global cities”. We use the mobility data to show how state and federal Stem Cell funding restrictions in the US have affected the spatial distribution of scientists as well as their propensity to leave the country. In fact we find that differential state and federal approaches to Stem Cell research has had the overall effect of geographically concentrating scientists and averting an exodus of these researchers. Finally, we analyze the impact of M&As in the Pharmaceutical Sector to establish if these shocks cause a higher than average turnover. High turnover of R&D personnel in this R&D intensive sector is an undesirable outcome. We do in fact find that turnover is higher following an acquisition. However, as noted elsewhere, acquired companies experience often financial distress before the event and so defection starts even before the deal takes place.