Researching your CV
July 31, 2007
Dr. Shellie discusses the semi self-destructive habit of analyzing your publication numbers, types, citation hits, etc in a recent post entitled “Citation Envy”. Key point is:
A public service message, from me: checking your citations is not a good way to determine if your life has meaning. Neither is comparing your publication list to that of other people you know. However tempting, it only ends in distress.
You can, however, benefit from checking your citations (as well as other people’s publication lists) IF AND ONLY IF you view it as an educational exercise. Try to see how other people have built upon and developed their early work in order to make progress in their field. How can you do it too?
I want to underline the part about viewing this as an educational exercise and point out that this is a critical step in career success. How so?
Despite what we would like to be the case, despite what should be the case, despite what is still the case in some cozy corners of a biomedical science career….let us face some facts.
- The essential currency for determining your worth and status as a scientist is your list of published, peer reviewed contributions to the scientific literature.
- The argument over your qualities between advocates and detractors in your job search, promotions, grant review, etc is going to boil down to pseudo quantification of your CV at some point
- Quantification means analyzing your first author / senior author /contributing author pub numbers. Determining the impact factor of the journals in which you publish. Examining the consistency of your output and looking for (bad) trends. Viewing the citation numbers for your papers.
- You can argue to some extent for extenuating circumstances, the difficulty of the model, the bad PI, etc but it comes down to this: Nobody Cares.
My suggestion is, if you expect to have a career you had better have a good idea of what the standards are. So do the research. Do compare your CV with those of other scientists. What are the minimum criteria for getting a job / grant / promotion / tenure in your area? What are you going to do about it? What can you do about it? Don’t misunderstand me- nobody is going to hand you a job / grant / etc just because you hit the modal publication numbers. But it will be very easy for you to be pushed out of the running if you do NOT hit the expected values. So do what you can to keep your CV as competitive as possible.
Publish or Perish: Everyone knows the mantra because it is true. It is an essential component of just about any biomedical science career that you will go about publishing original observations on a consistent basis. So the first key is, at each and every stage, to do what you can to assure a bread-and-butter stream of data that is going to allow you to publish something on a regular basis. What does this mean? Varies by stage and subfield of course. But at least one publication each and every year is a decent starting point. Grad students should be discussing very frankly with the mentoring investigator how and when they are going to get on publications. Your CV research is used here to convince the well meaning but perhaps old fashioned PI that times are a changin’ and you need pubs. Post docs, even more so. The point is not to be obnoxious or demanding just to be fully knowledgeable of the current standards and expectations of your field. Newly minted Independent Investigators? This analysis shapes your choices and balance of collaborations, pedestrian work and risky ventures.
Journal Impact Factor: The higher impact the better. Yeah, yeah. This is a stupid system of quantification, the actual structural science of the highest impact journals is bad, journal factors are driven by highly skewed citations rates, number depend on field size, etc, etc. But it is a reality. So know a little something about the impact “level” that is expected. Is the 2-4 range for your Society journal enough? Do you need to hit one in the 6-9 range consistently or occasionally? How about the tradeoff with the above yearly rate? Does a Science or Nature paper make up for a 4 year drought? This will shape your decisions about where to send papers. Is it worth the risk to shoot high with every manuscript and then step down the impact factor food chain? Are you at best going to go from a 2 to a 4 and nobody considers this relevant? Does your field “expect” you to publish regularly in the society’s journal even if the impact factor is less than exciting? Do your promotions committees think that because a journal is tops in the ISI category in which it resides this is better than a much higher impact factor that is way down the, say, general Neuroscience list? You need to know this. And, especially for trainees, you need to understand what it takes, scientifically, to get into a given level of journal. [As a sidebar, you want to understand the typical timeline from submission to acceptance to in-print publication for your usual journals. This helps with a consistent output. Which journals do you have a good chance of getting published with a given calendar year pub date if you submit it in Sept? Remember, you can’t go back and fill in publication year holes, better to plan a bit in advance.]
Cites: The ISI is a wealth of data on your citation performance and you need to keep an eye to actual citations of your papers. [Of course you are doing this anyway because it is a good way to ensure you look at papers of interest to you that might be outside your usual PubMed searches, right?] How many cites do your top papers have? What is your h-index (h papers with at least h cites is the h-index)? Total cites? “Yes but surely there is nothing to be done about this, right” you say. Wrong. To quote a mentor, “If you don’t cite your papers why would anyone else?”. So first and foremost cite yourself liberally. Is this cheating? Perhaps. But ISI has some ways to parse this if someone is really interested. And most people won’t be going this far. Less sleazily this is part of advertising your science- if someone is reading one paper, might they not be interested in another one? Well, make it easy for them! Other direct marketing techniques vary in effect and usage- it is worth mentioning that every so often I get an unsolicited reprint or email with “Hey did you know we’re working on this” which I interpret as “Gee, would you cite us already?”. I don’t think I would ever do this, not my type of style. The other technique is to use the manuscript review process to insist that an author cite your work. Everyone has stories of the review that comes back with “The authors should cite X, Y and Z publications from CompetingLab”. There are, of course, subtler ways to do this. It is fairly common and occasionally it works. Me, I tend to reserve this for only those cases in which the scholarship of the manuscript really demands it. I suppose the take-home here is simply that you shouldn’t avoid suggestions that your work be cited when reviewing, given that such citations are appropriate.
Papers “in preparation” or “submitted”: Don’t do this if you can possibly avoid it is my advice. I don’t like this type of vapor-ware. I mean, crikey, don’t most investigators have a half dozen or so things that are almost papers that they just haven’t gotten to yet? …perhaps this is just me. But let’s be honest, eh, Drugmonkey? People do this. Why? It must have currency somewhere. All I can say is you better have a half-decent manuscript ready to show someone if they ask for it…
A final note on motivation. Maybe not all of you are chronic procrastinators, chronic ball jugglers or in terminal need of deadlines. My experience suggests many, if not most, scientists express these traits. Think of some of the above considerations to be giving you the extra deadlines that you need. As in “Oh crap, I’m not going to have a pub in 2007. Okay, I better spend the next couple of days on that almost-paper that I’ve been neglecting and just grind it out”. Or, “Okay, I really have to initiate that collaboration so that I can upgrade this story to a 8-10 impact factor journal”.