A little over three years ago, back on my original blogspot blog, I wrote a post titled How Many Papers for Tenure? [I reposted it here when I first moved to Scientopia.] This remains, I believe, my all time most read post.
Now I haven't paid much attention to my old blog for a while, but recently went back there to look for something I had written. Turns out the How Many Papers for Tenure? post had garnered a couple more comments. I was struck in particular by one:
Impact Factor and Citations are far more important. Quality over quantity. But quantity doesn't hurt.
Saturday, December 31, 2011 3:44:00 PM EST
Yes and no.
Well, actually, mostly no.
Certainly quality matters. So does quantity. Your tenure decision is partly in the hands of bean counters. One could certainly get past them with fewer than expected papers if the ones you had published made a positive impact on the field. Hopefully the letters written supporting you would make that very clear.
But Impact Factor and Citations?
No. Most emphatically, no.
It's widely accepted by all but some bean counters and the glamour hounds that journal impact factor correlates rather poorly with actual long-term impact upon the field. I've certainly read many, many society-level journal papers that have had a much larger, longer-lasting impact than many Glamourmagz papers. Sure, you don't want to come up for tenure with all of your papers, or even any of them, in sub-sub-sub-basement IF level journals. On the other hand, coming up for tenure with a single Glamourmagz publication isn't so good either. You want sufficient good quality publications to show that you have established a research program. One Glamourmagz publication doesn't do that.* Even worse, there are those of us that might think you're doing your trainees a great disservice funneling all of their work into a single high profile publication from which only the first and senior authors will garner credit.**
And citations? Puh-leeeeeze. Your tenure decision should ride on what you did during tenure-track. We're talking 5-6 years here, likely with most of your publications coming in the last 3 or so years. Hardly enough time for any but the rare immediate-large-impact publication to garner more than a few citations. The impact of your work should be judged by those who have been asked to write letters of support, particularly those within your sub-field, not by how many citations you might have gathered in a couple of years.
Focus on publishing X number of good quality publications pre-tenure, where X > the average number of publications the last few people in your department had coming up. If you land a Glamourmagz publication, good for you, but don't screw yourself over by focusing solely on that. And don't worry about citations. If your work is good, they'll come along eventually.
Next thing you know someone is going to suggest h-index as a measure of tenure-track success...
* And doesn't do your chances of landing a grant as much good as you might think.
** If you want to offer up the multiple equally-contributing first author Kool Aid, go elsewhere.