Promotions and Academic Scholarship, Part III – Measuring Scholarship (publications)

Todd P Chang
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Todd P Chang

DIvisional Director for Research & Scholarship, Associate Fellowship Director, Division of Emergency Medicine at Children's Hospital Los Angeles
Todd is the Director of Technology for the INSPIRE Network with David Kessler & Marc Auerbach. Todd was formerly the Faculty Advisor and Head Site Administrator for the website's predecessor, pemfellows.com. He lives in Pasadena, CA, with his partner and 2 ridiculous cats that are probably sitting on his head as you read this.
Todd P Chang
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Question: How many publications do I need to be promoted to assistant professor – associate professor – professor?

Answer: Enough.

This is a frustrating question to answer.  Part of knowing how scholarly you are means you have to keep track of publications.  Even though we know that multiple forms of scholarship exists, in the discipline of academic medicine, publications are still the gold standard.  We also know that not all publications are counted, ranked, or considered equally.  But most places do not offer specific guidelines, and your ability to be promoted (or at least know that you are doing fine) is still based on ‘gut feeling.’  This blog will not clarify everything for you, but it is an attempt to look at metrics that are likely to be used in your academic institution.

Some articles I will point to you that is relevant to PEM and EM as specialties is Carpenter et al.’s article in 2014 in Academic Emergency Medicine entitled Using publication metrics to highlight academic productivity and research impact.  I’ve written about measuring scholarly output using h-index in a previous post, but there are others:

  • h-index (and its variations)
  • g-index
  • total citations
  • total publications
  • impact factor-related algorithm
  • Eigenvalue

And a lot more.  Basically, if a bunch of academic eggheads can measure it, they did.  (SideBar:  Happy Pi Day!)  And a caveat:  there is no perfect index, of course. Lest you think this is just stupid bean-counting: part of being an academic is to contribute to the science of pediatric emergency medicine as a whole, and your contribution (Scholarship of Integration) is directly related to how much visibility you – and more importantly, your ideas and your work – have gained.

There is literature to show h-index is a fairly powerful index despite its flaws, and has better predictive ability for promotion than total publications for academic plastic surgeons (Gast et al. 2014), radiation oncologists (Choi et al. 2014), and academic EM physicians (Babineau et al. 2014).

In Babineau’s study, the mean h-index of academic EM full professors was 14 (IQR 9-22, range 0-63). The median number of publications reported in Web of Science was 36 (IQR 18-73, range 0-359).  I’m not sure about the EM professor with 0 publications in Web of Science, but again, not a perfect index.  Google Scholar & Web of Science publish h-indices and they differ a bit.

To conclude this part, you need some time for people to search, find, and recognize your work, to build an h-index.  We know h-indices favor those who have been around long enough, but also consistently provide new insights into academia.  If you enjoy contributing to the science of your profession and your colleagues, this will be a worthwhile path to take and track!

Todd P Chang

Todd P Chang

Todd is the Director of Technology for the INSPIRE Network with David Kessler & Marc Auerbach. Todd was formerly the Faculty Advisor and Head Site Administrator for the website's predecessor, pemfellows.com. He lives in Pasadena, CA, with his partner and 2 ridiculous cats that are probably sitting on his head as you read this.