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Okay so I thought I would write a brief line to about how we are assessed as academics. Most of this should be very obvious however from my experience many of us postdocs have limited understanding of how the assessment matrices work and therefore have limited understanding of how we can operate so as to maximise our score when it comes to our assessment. I am writing this in the hope that one day fairly soon somebody with far more experience than me will come and correct what I’ve written and share their opinions to.

Obviously the first thing that we are assessed on in terms of a ranking is your publication list. This is made up of two key factors:

  • Number of publications
  •  Impact factor of the journals in which you publish.

Clearly “more is more” therefore a post-doc with three publications is “not as good” as a post-doc with 30 publications. However if the post-doc with three publications has three nature papers and the post-doc with 30 publications has 30 Journal of shipped science publications then there is a clear understanding that this is not so good ranking is not appropriate in this case. With this in mind the solution to being a “Good” post-doc is to publish, publish, publish. Some academics will argue that you need to have high impact publications and that any low impact publications are worth nothing, however other academics would argue that numbers are numbers and while high impact is great a few low impact papers aren’t going to hurt. For what it’s worth this is my opinion.

There are some other factors that you should also consider. Some postdocs work on projects where there is a ban on publishing this is usually in light of patent filing. In this case getting your name on the patent makes up for the loss of publications. If you are working with an academic who is not letting you publish your work on the argument that it will impede a patent then it is not unreasonable to request that your name goes on the patent so you can put the patent filing down on your publication list.

One of the interesting metrics that is used to assess and rank all academics, especially in the field of chemistry, is that of an H-factor. Your H-Factor is a square matrix based on the number of publications and the individual citations for each publication. A high H-Factor is better than a low H-Factor. This is best explained as a set of examples.

Johnny the post-doc has five papers. When ranked in order of citations Johnny’s most cited paper has 30 citations, his second most cited paper has five citations, his next most cited paper has three citations and the last two only have one citation. In order to calculate Johnny’s H-Factor we are looking for a square matrices so one paper with one citation gives Johnny and H-Factor of one. Two papers with two citations each gives Johnny and H-Factor of two. In this case the highest square matrix that Johnny can make is three as his top three papers each have a citation count of three. Notice that Johnny does not get credit for the extra 27 citations that is most popular paper has nor does he get credit for the extra 2 papers that both have less than 3 citations.

Understanding how your H-Factor is calculated allows you to deliberately build on your H-Factor for instance if Johnny in the example above wanted to improve his H-Factor then his priority would be to get 3 new citations on the two papers that only had one citation and one new citation on the paper that had three citations he may wash to consider this when talking about his work and forming collaborations. Self citations are allowed in many cases but there is also nothing to be lost by the “trading citations”. This is where one researcher actively cites his friends work and in return his friend actively cites the researchers work. (A little naughty but not illegal.) In some cases your H-factor can be worked out with self citations ignored.

If you are keen on an academic career then these two numbers might be of significant interest to you. It is well worth bearing in mind which papers you need to cite or get cited in order to raise your H-Factor. Rising through the initial H-factor numbers is fairly easy but as you get higher and higher your job gets harder and harder. Some researchers really work their H-Factor and as a result look impressive on paper. To put the numbers into perspective and H-Factor of 20 is often, (depending on the institution) one of the prerequisites for a professorial job.

In order to track your H-Factor it is well worth having a Researcher ID account and an ORCID account. Both of these are free and allow you to input your publications and anyone in the world can then check your publications and your citation matrices. You can find these websites with a simple Google search. Researcher ID also allows you to trace who you collaborate with and where in the world. Again it is just an opinion but there is a huge emphasis at the moment on collaborative research from the funding bodies.

Personally I keep a very close eye on the number of papers that I have published, the number of citations I have received in total and my H-Factor. With that in mind I always know which papers I need to get cited in order to raise my H-Factor as high as I can get. 

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