Confession 1: No, I do not have publications in Cell, Science, or Nature. In fact, I’ve never submitted to any of those journals. And I don’t plan on it. Why? Because they’re not open access and the publishers don’t have a good history of supporting open science. Are there more nuanced reasons? Sure, but plus or minus details, that’s pretty much it. Of course, I realize not having publications in these journals puts me at a competitive disadvantage. Am I worried? Yes, but mostly because it speaks to how incredibly flawed our current system of evaluating scientists really is. It’s a symptom of a far bigger problem. But I refuse to be part of that problem, even if it costs me.
Confession 2: No, I do not have publications in any high Impact Factor journals. None of my published articles has appeared in a journal with an Impact Factor much above 3. One was published in a journal that has yet to receive an IF. Do I care? Absolutely not. Studies have shown that IF is not correlated with scientific quality or impact. In fact, it’s highly correlated with retraction rate. Do other people care? Unfortunately, yes. Hiring and tenure committees consider journal IF as a proxy for the quality of a scientist’s work. It’s absurd. Unscientific. And it has to change.
Confession 3: Yes, I have “only” four published articles in total. Since graduating, I have published 1 article per year. I have done this while not having a permanent position. Or a lab. Or any research funds. Or a fixed home for the last two years. Oh, and I also have two kids. So, you can call that low productivity. You can ask me, where is the exponential increase in publication rate? You can complain that my h-index is only 2 and my i10 index is only 1. Or, you can stop for a moment to think about what it took to get those publications out. You can realize what I would be able to do with a permanent position, a lab, research funds, a fixed home, and some decent affordable childcare. And then, maybe you can ask instead how you can help.
Confession 4: No, my publications don’t yet demonstrate a single, unified line of work. Why? Two reasons, one academic and one practical. Academic reason? I’m interested in many things, and I’ve found ways to apply my love of physiology, neuroscience, and mathematics to different research problems. You think that’s a bad thing? Sue me. I think it’s a beautiful thing. New problems keep me interested and my perspective fresh. I may enter a new subfield with less background knowledge than the expert, but I also enter with less prejudgements. Maybe I can see a tired, old problem in a new way that breaks it open. And the practical reason? Survival. There simply aren’t enough jobs in academia to go around, and even less if you stay in one small subfield. Being able to work on a variety of projects using different experimental or theoretical tools gives me options, opens more doors. Adaptability, plain and simple. Maybe I don’t work full-time on the problems I envisioned myself working on when I started out in science. But I do work on fascinating problems and I enjoy it.
This is usually where someone would ask for forgiveness. But I don’t think my sins are that great. The fact that academia views them as sins is more telling. I’m not sure I’m the one who needs to clean up my act.