Scientists typically self-organize into teams, matching with others to collaborate in the production of new knowledge. We present the results of a field experiment conducted at Harvard Medical School to understand the extent to which search costs affect matching among scientific collaborators. We generated exogenous variation in search costs for pairs of potential collaborators by randomly assigning individuals to 90-minute structured information-sharing sessions as part of a grant funding opportunity for biomedical researchers. We estimate that the treatment increases the baseline probability of grant co-application of a given pair of researchers by 75% (increasing the likelihood of a pair collaborating from 0.16% to 0.28%), with effects higher among those in the same specialization. The findings indicate that matching between scientists is subject to considerable frictions, even in the case of geographically-proximate scientists working in the same institutional context with ample access to common information and funding opportunities.
Collaboration between pairs.
Randomly varied search costs induced by the experimental design yielded a significant increase in incidence of collaboration on subsequent grant proposals by 75% relative to the baseline probability of collaboration between pairs of researchers. The magnitude is equivalent to about a third of the effect of working in the same hospital or clinical area. Therefore, the effect is large, despite the small and focused nature of the treatment. It is notable that any effect is detected in the context of scientists who are already geographically proximate and working within a common institutional context, where online resources and information systems already exist to facilitate collaboration.