I just received an email from Google Scholar this morning telling me that one of my first published articles from 2013 had been cited. First I deleted the email, but then I got curious and looked for in the trash. I always think it is fun to see what the context for a citation is: Are you cited as one who sets the agenda? Or as one who seems to have a reductionist view of the world and therefore is used as the example of how not to do it? (For the record – you don’t want that).
This time I appeared as reference number two, which means I was mentioned in the introduction – I felt kind of honored. Now, I might come on to you as naïve, I know. But I would have expected not to appear before the literature review. But there I was mentioned in line number 9. The paper was only a conference paper, so it is not a big deal compared to if it was a scientific journal article. But nevertheless, I got excited because it means that at least one person who doesn’t know me has read the article. And as a researcher I think that the small victories also count in a realm where competition, rejection of papers and applications and the daily survival of your academic identity is a reality. So I actually started my morning getting excited.
What is an H-index?
But what does it really mean to be cited besides that someone actually took the time and effort to read your article and found it interesting enough to cite? Well, in the research community you are assessed on your H-index. The H-index measures your productivity and impact as a researcher. The H-index is determined by calculating where h number of articles has been cited h number of times or more. E.g. if your H-index is 15 you have 15 articles that each have been cited 15 times or more.
The H-index is also called the Hirsch index because it was Jorge E. Hirsch who first proposed the index as a tool for determining theoretical physicists’ relative quality. Although I am an engineer for a background and a bit of a nerd I will spare you the details for how to calculate the H-index. However, you are welcome to sneak peak at Wikipedia if you insist. You can find your H-index in the following databases: Web of Science, Scopus and Google Scholar, but you should be aware that your H index can vary a bit from database to database. This is because their coverage of journal publications, conference publications etc. vary together with how many years back they provide data. Here is an instruction made my Cardiff University on how to find your H-index.
So what can you actually use your H index for?
Originally, Hirsch suggested that the H-index could be associated with the researcher’s advancement in academia e.g. whether to expect to hold an associate or full professorship at a certain level of the H-index. However, the H-index varies across disciplines. The H-index is for an example in general higher in physics and biology than in social sciences. And this is where you as a researcher, especially if you are in your early research years and/or in the social sciences, need to calm down and forget about all the stories you have heard about professors with H-indexes at 60 and above and people spitting out papers in big bulks.
Of course the H-index can be of particular importance in your field or at your department (I know how tough research can be), but never let it get in your way of enjoying writing and getting your message and valuable research out there. The problem for some – including myself – is that you can get kind of paralysed if you start thinking of how many papers you have to write, how good the quality should be, how many times they need to be cited etc. And all that head spin including banging yourself in the head with a hammer because you haven’t yet finished the paper you started on last Christmas won’t make you productive and even less enjoy the writing process.
So what is my point?
My point is that writing papers whether it is for conferences or high ranked journals the process needs to be enjoyable and the overall aim should be to disseminate your research. The H-index in itself should not be an important reason to write. Writing is an integral part of your life as a researcher, so if you are going to throw up or be paralysed thinking about your impact every time you have to write, you are going to have some long years in research.
This blog post was initiated by my excitement of being cited and in the process I got curious about my own H-index, so I looked it up in Google Scholar and Web of Science, finding an H-index of 3 and 2 respectively – not very impressive, given my years in research. However, I won’t let it ruin my initial excitement that now I know that one more person has read my work.