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A referral is worth a thousand ads: Job search methods and scientist outcomes in the market for postdoctoral scholars


  • Thomas E. Wei
  • Victoria Levin
  • Lindsay M. Sabik


The contributions postdoctoral scholars make to scientific production are well-documented. Increasingly in the USA, serving as a postdoctoral scholar is an expected component of a scientist's career. A notable feature of the job market for postdoctoral scholars is that it is ad hoc. Social network theory and supporting empirical evidence suggest that personal connections in job searches are beneficial for turnover, satisfaction, and productivity outcomes. This is particularly relevant given the large fraction of foreign postdoctoral scholars, who may naturally be more constrained in their search networks than their US-based counterparts. Using the Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society's data on postdoctoral scholars in the USA, we explore the relationship between job search methods and these outcomes, focusing on the differences in outcomes between domestic and foreign postdoctoral scholars. We find suggestive evidence of weaker networks for foreign postdoctoral scholars, who more often resort to 'impersonal' searches. The resulting difference in job match quality is related to differences in turnover, satisfaction, and productivity, which suggests that public policies to facilitate the job search of postdoctoral scholars (foreign ones especially) may yield substantial benefits. Copyright The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:, Oxford University Press.

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  • Thomas E. Wei & Victoria Levin & Lindsay M. Sabik, 2012. "A referral is worth a thousand ads: Job search methods and scientist outcomes in the market for postdoctoral scholars," Science and Public Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 39(1), pages 60-73, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:scippl:v:39:y:2012:i:1:p:60-73

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    Cited by:

    1. Gee, Laura K. & Jones, Jason J. & Fariss, Christopher J. & Burke, Moira & Fowler, James H., 2017. "The paradox of weak ties in 55 countries," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 133(C), pages 362-372.

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