Changing institutions is an integral part of an academic life. Yet little is known about the mobility patterns of scientists at an institutional level and how these career choices affect scientific outcomes. Here, we examine over 420,000 papers, to track the affiliation information of individual scientists, allowing us to reconstruct their career trajectories over decades. We find that career movements are not only temporally and spatially localized, but also characterized by a high degree of stratification in institutional ranking. When cross-group movement occurs, we find that while going from elite to lower-rank institutions on average associates with modest decrease in scientific performance, transitioning into elite institutions does not result in subsequent performance gain. These results offer empirical evidence on institutional level career choices and movements and have potential implications for science policy.
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