Dr. Mom, My Adventures as a Mommy-Scientist

Discussion of my journey from grad school to postdoc to tenure with two kids, a husband, (and a bit of breast cancer) in tow.

Monday, August 15, 2005

H Numbers: Can you boil down my career to a number?

Recently a physict, has suggested that the success of a research can be measured by a single number, the h factor. [Science Magizine on the H factor] The number is derived by determining the number of articles that the author has published and the number of citations each article has received. Then find the largest number of papers n, with c citations, where n <= c. I have several papers, but most of them have no citations because they are too recent. So the c = 0 and they do not contribute to my h factor. I have 1 paper with 31 citations, so my h number is 1. [1 paper with 1 or more citations].

The idea is that some faculty publish many papers that are not read, while others publish only a few papers that everyone reads. In the middle, are faculty who publish several, well-read papers. While I agree that publishing many papers with no value is not good, I don't think that the people who publish only a few well-read papers are not good scientists. There are many who think carefully about each piece of work exiting their lab. They publish thoughtful accounts, but may not be as prolific as other labs, particularly the postdoc factories that may have 20 members or more.

I am sure that this will be a subject of debate over the coming months. It is extremely difficult to validate the succes of a scientist. It is easy to see who is the best, but much harder to determine the difference between the middle and medioctry. In many ways, this system will be difficult for new faculty who by nature have only a few publications. Even if the papers out are high quality, it will take time to get the number of publications to approach the citations. I would hate to think that I have been reduced to the number 1.


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