Abstract: Although academic scientists work under similar institutions, norms, and incentives, they vary greatly in how they organize their research efforts and in their outputs. To understand this heterogeneity, we model scientists as publication-maximizing agents and identify two distinct organization patterns that are optimum under different parameters. When the net productivity of a research staff (e.g., PhD students and postdocs) is positive, the funded research model with an entrepreneurial scientist and a large team dominates. When the research staff’s costs exceed its productivity benefits, the hands-on research approach is optimal. Our model provides an explanatory framework for significant heterogeneity of scientists across fields in research funding, supply of scientific workforce, team size, publication output, perceived relevance gap, and stratification patterns over time. Exploratory empirical analysis finds consistent patterns of time allocation and publication in a survey of faculty in US universities. Using data from an original survey, we also find causal effects consistent with the model’s prediction on how negative shocks to research staff — for example, due to visa or health problems — differentially impact research output under the two modes of organization.
Keywords: Economics of Science, Heterogeneity, Publication, Research Funding, Collaboration