High impact papers, h-indexes and pedigree. These are all things I have been forced to think about lately. I have recently completed two grant applications. For each of them, I had to write the cringe-worthy section on myself and how great I am (and my research and my training). I had to delineate my h-index* and pedigree – yes it is called this, even though I am not a Cocker Spaniel.
Tongue firmly planted in cheek, I wrote this bit and even had many other people read it for me. (TIP: No matter how shy you feel about this, it is a very,very good idea to get other people to read your grant applications; especially the personal track-record bit, as this section is hard to write and having others help you is imperative). A few of my more helpful senior colleges sent me their ‘track record’ sections, which blew me away; high-impact papers and h-indexes to die for. It also left me with the feeling of this is what I must do to make it.
Regardless of whether the high-impact factor journal imperative is fair or will even be used in the upcoming research assessment framework (REF); it certainly feels like high-impact papers are of the upmost importance. You can feel it in the water and I suspect there are many academics out there who truly believe that 40 papers in Nature are the only mark of a good research career.
I have really enjoyed many recent blogs by senior, established academics out there about the problems with impact factors, the REF and h-indexes. Athene Donald, Stephen Curry and Dorothy Bishop have all written about this extensively and thoughtfully. Which is soothing and I find myself nodding my head in emphatic agreement.
But I am an early career researcher. I still feel the imperative to try and put my papers in high-impact journals and that that will *make* my career and that these papers will send me stream-lining past the ‘Track record’ assessment barrier for any grant funding I might apply for. Discounting my PhD research, in my own research I have a relatively few papers in what some would consider *high impact* journals; and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about this. Even though in my particular case the least highly-cited of my publications are in higher impact journals; I still feel the pressure to try and publish in Nature, Science and PNAS. I have no solid evidence for this – only anecdotal evidence at best, but it seems to me that the people with the most high impact papers are the most likely to be permanently employed and funded.
I think to be a healthier, happier researcher I would just disregard this pressure and publish all of my research only in lower-impact journals as it is quicker and easier, in my opinion. On the other hand, writing up work for a higher-impact more general publication can be really exciting as – at least for me – you have to work much harder to place your work into a wider scientific context for these journals which is fun and exciting, even if they do get rejected in the end. I think it is worth noting that not all work published in high-impact journals is horrid, there are good papers in Nature, Science or PNAS – which are general enough to be interesting to all.
Rightly or wrongly, I am under the impression that high impact does matter and it matters very much and that high-impact publications are most important kinds of paper to have when looking for funding, plaudits and the most successful scientific career – and a permanent job.
*an h-index is a measure of citations versus number of publications. For instance if you have 25 publications all of which are cited 25 times your h-index is 25. Also if you have 500 publications where 25 of them are cited more than 25 times your h-index is 25.