Thursday, July 2, 2015

Do you want to be judged at the click of a mouse?

Then sign up for a Google Scholar account!

With one click people will not just see your publications but also how many times they have been cited. More problematic is that they will also see the values of different metrics such as your h-index and ten year h-index.

Recently, I encouraged someone on the job market to delete their account.

Unfortunately, there are people who will look at job and funding candidates and quickly dismiss them  if their metrics fall below certain threshold values. No consideration is given to scientific content, quality of publications, difficulty or popularity of the research field, career or personal history, .... People inevitably make unhealthy and unrealistic comparisons to "stars" and more senior people.
I have seen this happen.

I detest this and so I do not have my own account. Furthermore, I do not look at peoples pages just for the sake of it. I particularly think making comparisons with colleagues is very unhelpful.

So here are my reluctant and painful recommendations which some will disagree with.
Basically, unless you have "stellar" citations I would delete your page or not get one.
What are some rough numbers for h-index cutoffs? I would suggest.
Ph.D students should not have an account.
If you are a postdoc anything in single digits.
If you are junior faculty anything less than 20.
If you are senior faculty anything less than 30-40.

I stress I do not agree with this. I am just trying to protect you.
In an actual written application you can provide whatever citation information you choose. Furthermore, you have the opportunity to actually spell out your real scientific achievements and put your career in context.
Don't provide lazy evaluators with an easy option.

I welcome comments.


  1. You're perfectly right. Although let me briefly play the devil's advocate: it is certainly true that with the personal profile pages of Google Scholar, it has become slightly easier to keep oneself updated about a particular scientist's evolving interests, which is especially relevant if one has a strong overlap with that scientist's research.

    However, on the whole, I think that senior researchers, however accomplished or respectable or brilliant or moral they are, ought to be --- I hate to use such a strong word, especially in an academic context where we tend to be diplomatic in speech towards one another --- ashamed of themselves for propagating this. Because what else will young scientists do but follow by example?

    1. I agree the personal pages do have a valuable side for keeping up with the work on an individual or genuinely finding out what work they have done that has attracted the most citations and so by a crude measure has had the most "impact".

      I am not sure this is being propagated by senior researchers. Isn't it purely due to the commercial interests of Google wanting to compete with ISI/Thomson and get money (eventually) out of university administrators and other bean counters who are obsessed with metrics?

  2. Devil's advocate here: I found Google Scholar pages really helpful when trying to choose a graduate school and a research group. Having all the publications in one place made it easy for me to see how many publications had grad students as first author and so on. As a result of my snooping around, I am at a university and research group that I really like.

    1. I agree that they are very useful for that purpose. But, we need to acknowledge that their is a dark side to it, that is particularly unhelpful for junior people.

  3. It's a tricky situation. (Full disclosure: I do have such a page.) The information is all out there, and anyone who really cares can get it anyway via, e.g., ISI or Scopus. So, all google scholar does is lower the barrier to the information has been lowered by a few clicks or keystrokes. Is that really significant? Seems to me like it is better to focus our energies on trying to stop the worship of distorted, oversimplified metrics, rather than trying to obfuscate available data.