Sunday, July 19, 2015

Citation Nation

As an undergrad, I didn’t fully understand what professors did.  I would like to say that now that I am a professor I comprehend this better, but I still can’t be sure.

At Hopkins, where I did my undergrad, to a certain extent the professors had a poor reputation amongst the undergrads.  That’s not entirely true.  We loved them.  But at times we also loved to hate them.  I remember having a conversation with some peers which equated to, “What does that guy do anyway?  He teaches one class a semester.  He lectures two hours a week, his TAs do all his grading, and he’s never on campus.  How do they justify paying him six figures?”

You know what obnoxious undergrads who say those nasty things become when they grow up?  That’s right.  They become THAT GUY!  And so, almost twenty years later I am THAT GUY.

If you aren’t an academic, or closely related to one, chances are you don’t fully understand what professors do. Let me give you a quick overview.  In theory we teach, but not really.  If a professor works at a community college, liberal arts college or “teaching” university, chances are they teach four classes a semester and don’t get paid particularly well for the massive amount of work they do.  When a professor is employed by a research-focused university, they teach less (perhaps only one or two classes a semester) and are expected to publish.  The more research intensive a university is, such as Johns Hopkins, the less they teach and the more they research.

The University of Queensland, where I recently began working, is one of Australia’s “Group of 8” universities.  Basically, it’s an Australian Ivy League school.  It is also ranked among the top 50 universities in the world. Suffice to say, they expect us to do a lot of research here.  I’m excited for the challenge of being a faculty member in a very research intensive university.  However, with that challenge comes a new set of expectations.

Those higher expectations affect our long-term careers in terms of promotions and tenure. Tenure is when an institution grants a faculty member job security for life for attaining a certain level of achievement.  Tenure at each university is a little different.  For instance, at a teaching institution, tenure is based primarily upon teaching scores.  At research institutions, your publication record is more heavily weighted.

I received tenure at my previous (U.S.) institution a few years ago.  When I chose to leave and come to Australia my tenure was not honoured (which is pretty typical), particularly because I was moving up to a more highly ranked and competitive university.  I don’t start from scratch, but I have a few more boxes to tick before I get tenure here.

At my previous institution (1st U), tenure was straightforward.  We had to have about 10 journal articles published within five years of our start date.  We could publish in any good journal we wanted related to hospitality and tourism.  There are roughly 100 decent hospitality and tourism journals.

Last year when I was doing interviews, I was at university X (a research university) where I was told to publish in their list of required journals.  If I published outside university X’s list (which consisted of about 18 journals) then my articles wouldn’t count toward tenure.  I was also told half of my publications needed to be in SSCI rated journals.  There are 11 SSCI journals in my field.  In case you are curious, I was offered the job at university X but elected to come to UQ instead.

Now that I’m in Australia, I’m expected to publish in journals ranked by the Australian Business Dean’s College (ABDC).  Ideally, I should be publishing in A and A* ranked ABDC journals.  Incidentally, there are about eight ABDC A and A* journals (which are also SSCI journals).  Do you see how this field has shrunk from 100 journals to fewer than a dozen?

However, now there is an additional hoop to jump through: citations.

A few years ago a grad student asked me how important I thought citations were.  I told him I had never heard anyone mention them as being important.  1st U didn’t care about citations.  University X never said anything about citations; they were focused on their own list and SSCI journals.  It now appears that citations are what separates the men from the boys.

Citations are when someone writes a journal article and they refer (cite, reference) to an article which I wrote earlier.  The point is, you can’t just do research and publish it anywhere.  You have to publish in good journals.  And now, you can’t just publish in good journals.  Now you have to publish in good journals AND get people to talk about your work in their articles.

And now for the burning question:

How many citations do you need for tenure Kelly?

Excellent question.  Drum roll please…. ONE THOUSAND!

Oh wow.  Kelly, that’s a lot.  How many do you have?

Not that many!

I basically have to increase my current number of citations five-fold.

So, to all those aspiring future professors out there, may I offer you a piece of advice?  Pay attention to your citations.  Every year the job market becomes more competitive and the requirements for tenure become more rigorous.  I can’t possibly imagine what the next benchmark will be for tenure and promotion, but chances are they will be even greater.  Since Ron Burgandy (Anchorman) makes everything better:


  1. Do citations include speeding tickets??:)

    1. Funny you should ask that. But I will save that for another blog post.