July 24, 2006
Forecasting top 25 faculty
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Pop Quiz:  Which group is more likely to be currently working in a top 25 tenure-track university faculty positions: 

    (a) The "Moneyball" Group.  Students who, ten years ago, were enrolled in top graduate programs in math, engineering and physical sciences, or

    (b) The "Gifted" Group.  Students who, twenty years ago, scored in the top 0.01% of their age cohort when taking the SAT at age 12. 

Answer below the fold.

Counterintuitively -- at least to those of us steeped in Moneyball analysis -- is that the gifted group is more likely to secure a top 25 faculty position.  See this paper. This finding is especially strong for females.  And they achieve this success despite not working as long hours as the moneyball group.  What makes the finding remarkable, of course, lots of folks from the gifted group go into law, business, or medicine rather than teaching, the most common path for the graduate students in top programs.  Here's an interesting quote from the paper:

That the SAT can identify young adolescents who eventually achieve tenure-track positions at top universities at rates comparable to those of graduate students attending the top U.S. math, science, and engineering doctoral programs is truly remarkable. Moreover, 21.7% of the TS [talent search/gifted] participants who were in tenure-track positions in the top 50 U.S. universities were already full professors, compared with ‘‘only’’ 6.5% of GS [graduate student] participants.

Similarly, regarding the attainment of doctorate degrees:

Doctoral-level degrees (Ph.D., M.D., or J.D.) were earned by 51.7% and 54.3% of male and female TS [talent search] participants, respectively, and 79.7% and 77.1% of male and female GS [graduate student] participants.  Because the latter were identified as graduate students, their higher rates of doctoral degrees would be expected; in fact, it is remarkable that the GS-TS difference is not more marked.  Selection before age 13 on the basis of one high SAT score resulted in the identification of a population that, 20 years later, earned doctorates at 50 times the base-rate expectation of 1% for the general population and at two thirds the rate of enrollees in prestigious doctoral programs.

The big picture is that both groups do very well in terms of professional and lifestyle satisfaction.   

I'm one of the subjects of this 20-year study (on the "gifted" side), and it's neat, after answering many surveys over the years, to see some of the results.  The authors didn't include law students in their graduate student sample, so it's not necessarily clear how one might extend these findings to, say, the AALS meat market.  A prior study noted, unsurprisingly, that those of us from the talent search who have gone into law or law teaching have done well. 

I'm reminded of the documentaries from Michael Apted's "7 Up" series, which track a number of subjects every seven years from the 1960s to the present day.  "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man," says Apted (based on a Jesuit motto).  The SMPY study suggests that here in the US, give the child an SAT at age 12 and I will show you the best professors.  Any theories as to why this is so?  Is it nature?  Nurture?  Class?   This high percentage of gifted/talent search participants with at least one immigrant parent suggests to me that it's nurture

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