Thursday, March 02, 2006

Yes, you need a high-impact paper

Finally got some honest feedback on my job apps.

Got in touch with a professor at another university, who works in another area altogether, through a random acquaintance. She basically said the following:

You need a high impact paper.

You have to explicitly say what your contibutions were to middle-author papers that are submitted but not yet in press.

You have to say very explicitly how you'd fit into a department, e.g. you work on flies (I don't, but just as an example) and they need a fly person.

Oh yeah, and you need a high impact paper.

Really wishing someone- anyone?- had been honest enough to just tell me that a year or two ago, when I was struggling to figure out whether to continue to battle to get my 'big' paper into a top journal, or just get it published somewhere and get it over with. I went with option 2, and I guess now that would have made all the difference.

Too late now.

Oddly enough, even just a couple months ago, I was ready to quit science. But my stuff is getting very interesting again, so there is another chance to get a big paper, if I can finish this project. It will be a while yet, and I think it won't be in my current lab. But it is so strange how these things happen. I guess you have to quit when nothing is working, or you're really stuck.

And always the same carrot.


At 4:02 PM, Blogger ArticulateDad said...

A few honest words make all the difference don't they? So, work on. Plan for that high impact paper.

I just followed your option 2 myself. Granted, I'm not in the hard sciences, directly, though I cite a good deal of work from the Neuroscience literature, and am working towards some more engaged collaborations.

But, for me, I just needed to write up an article based on my dissertation (with some more recent work mixed in), and send it off, submit it, get it published, somewhere. It was a clearing my desk, clearing my mind sort of thing.

I think the hardest thing for all of us is realizing that (even after the long drudgery of getting the PhD) we might be in for a long wait before the career takes off, before we're PIs ourselves.

Like you said, I guess you have to quit when nothing is working, or you're really stuck.

At 8:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A high impact paper will help you wedge your foot in the door. But I think that's all it will do for you. Don't think that just because you might eventually have a high impact paper you will land a faculty position. It just puts you in that tier of candidates who also have a high impact paper. And many candidates will have more than one of those, and they will come from the lab of someone as well regarded as your mentor. So at that point its all personalities and intangibles.

But with regard to the high impact paper... I recently attended a seminar that discussed experiences during postdoc that were correlates of later success in terms of receiving research funding. There were exactly two factors that met statistical significance (and neither of them was the total number of postdoctoral years): 1) applying for (not necessarily _receiving_) grant support during your postdoc and 2) total number of papers during your postdoctoral period. The ratio of first author to other authorship was approximately 1:1, but the total number of papers was hugely different 9 vs. 4. Sure, there was a single exception to this rule one individual had three papers during their postdoc - this individual now has two R01 equivalents (7 years later), but the remainder of the population stratified pretty tightly.

Maybe your field is radically different from mine. Or maybe your criteria for where you want a faculty position are really narrow. Or maybe it does really honestly take 4-7 postdoctoral years to get to the top of your game, develop a reputation within your niche community, and then sell the story to a department where it is possible that no one in the audience cared about your niche area before they met you.

At 10:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the advice.

Are the results you listed above (concerning factors during the postdoc years that correlate with future funding success ) published anywhere?


At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having served on a dozen or so search committees at Research-1 institutions, I would say that a "high impact" paper is not a requirement for getting on a short list. You need good first-author pubs, good recommendations, and a good research proposal. A high impact paper is always great, but it's not a litmus test (at least in my field).

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess it's time to look for that staff scientist job you mentioned that all those other whiners and complainers should have taken.

after your 6 years of postdoc, of course..

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First anonymous here again. The data I saw were at an internal presentation at my current institution, top-tier graduate + medical school. The presentation was in preparation for a national meeting (later this year) so there will also be a paper, but as of Wednesday when I saw the presentation, it had not yet been submitted.

At 8:45 PM, Anonymous Polly Anna said...

--------Oh yeah, and you need a high impact paper.

Oh, my. High impact papers, unless the candidate is the senior corresponding author (last position), are the most risky indicator a search committee could ever choose to predict the independence and long term success of a new faculty member?

Except for rare exceptions, it generally means that everything and every step from concept to execution to writing has been done with major oversight of the lab group leader because of its importance to the status and funding of the laboratory and the leader’s reputation. The glamour publication first author is much more likely to be a good technician without the added skills of dealing with collation of data, presentation, publication, peer review, revision and persistence on ones own.

Candidates with such publications are much more likely to be “flashes in the pan” rather than sustained independent competitive investigators.

It is much more likely that the first author of mid-range or lower journal publications has been given freer reign to publish the study with minor oversight by the superior thus receiving a broader experience in the publications game than the former described above.


[Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart--Anne Frank]

At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Polly Anna said...

>>>>Oddly enough, even just a couple months ago, I was ready to quit science…….And always the same carrot.

Oh, my. Everyone feels this way in our business, no matter if in the first ten years, or up to 30 or 40 years or so. Ask them sometime. It’s 99% negatives, only that 1% carrot revitalizes and keeps you in the game, most often until you drop dead.

----I guess you have to quit when nothing is working, or you're really stuck.

No, as usual you have it backwards. You should quit when you are at your pinnacle which is very hard to do, otherwise it will go on in endless cycles of 99% valleys and 1% mountain tops forever until you drop dead.


[Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart--Anne Frank]

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a pd for 2 yrs
and no other pdoc in the cancer bio dept has left in that time! Some of them have been there since 2001.

Interestingly, many of these older pds are so focused on their next Nortern blot, or chasing some lame-ass hypothesis, that they fail to see the larger picture: career trajectory, job search prospects-- what they will be doing in 10, 15 yrs.


At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


True. True.

I've been a PD for a few years now and I believe my shelflife is expiring for landing a faculty position. I asked a full professor if I should continue as a PD or leave the academy. His comment: "You should be careful. The faculty in the department of medicine use people like you."

I agree. You've got to look out for yourself. Academics is big business and they'll use you like anyone else.

It may be time for me to accept the truth and leave.

Thanks everyone for all of the great posts.


At 1:12 AM, Blogger Badbugmama said...

Academic job searches are a really difficult and discouraging process, but hang in there! I went through this a few years ago and having gotten a job (that I love), have now been on a few faculty searches myself which is very illuminating.

There is not 1 factor that really counts here. Certainly a high impact paper helps but is not a requirement. You have to have either a high impact paper or multiple solid papers to show productivity. Getting a grant helps because it proves that you are fundable. A clear and focused research plan is important. Recommendation letters can really make a difference, in the absence of high impact papers. Lastly, networking, e.g. your interaction with people at meetings can give you a foot in the door. This doesn't mean you have to kiss up to them, but it's a good idea to introduce yourself, talk to them about their work and about yours. Other avenues to network include asking your dept if postdocs (i.e., you) can invite a seminar speaker or to meet or have lunch with seminar speakers in departments of future interest.

I very much hope for your success this year! In the meantime, don't forget that there are many factors that dictate a search committee's decisions about who to invite that are completely beyond your control, like area of interest, junior vs. senior, etc. Rejection unfortunately is a major part of science at every level: papers, grants and jobs so try not to take it too personally. If you truly enjoy your work and think that this is the right career for you, stick with it. You'll find the right job eventually. Best of luck -

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Matthew said...

I am curious whether you are lumping or splitting "high-impact" and "controversial" papers.

At 11:56 PM, Anonymous Term Papers said...

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