Citation Censure: When your peers don’t cite your research

There’s nothing more painful than watching your child getting rejected. A few years ago, I took my son to an on-campus early childhood education center. While I was signing him in, he walked up to a classmate and asked her if he could be her friend, “I’m sorry, Tino. I already have a friend.”

My son is a relentless person, he kept his head up and rushed to the next person. And the person said the same thing, they already had a friend. As my son walked to each person in the room, I watched his countenance changing as a feeling of rejection took over. No one wanted to be his friend.

Sometimes, actually most of the times, a career in academia feels like a day in my son’s life. All the people you walk up to do not have time for little you. As rejection begins to mount, you can’t help it but notice how different you’re from the in-group. It becomes easy to blame your point of difference as the cause of your dilemma – may be it’s because I’m an African.

My postdoc is going to be up in a year and I have started looking for positions in other places. I’m looking specifically for an assistant professor position. I know that sounds crazy considering the dwindling job market, but a man gotta have some faith.

The main reason I am focusing on assistant professorships is that I have a young family. My kids need stability. My wife needs to get her career back on track. My wife sacrificed her career for me: early career researcher confession. She has sacrificed a lot for me. One-year and two-year contract jobs won’t bring stability in my family.

Citation Censure and the crazy demands of academia
A faculty job posting at Jinan University

I recently came across a job posting for an assistant professor. They wanted someone; with at least 2 publications in top tier journals, I had 6; who studied at a university ranked in the top 200 by Times Higher Education, mine was at 198; and at least one year experience teaching undergrad, I have four.

But there was one caveat. They wanted someone with one paper that had at least 50 citations. I have 8 papers with a total of 37 citations on Google Scholar. In grad school, I worked in a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-discipline that had only two labs actively working on it. And I don’t think any of my grad school papers would ever surpass 25 citations in my lifetime. I’m just being realistic.

I’m glad I came across the job posting. Without it, I wouldn’t have noticed how researchers in my sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-discipline of chiral pharmaceuticals in the environment view my work. They don’t think it’s valuable. How else would you explain that after four years of actively publishing in the discipline none of them has ever cited my work?

The only time one of them cited my work was when I reviewed their papers. There was a special issue and they submitted two papers which I reviewed. In both instances, I had to write the editor informing her of the apparent censure. I hate self-promotion but I had to do it because I just had to do it.

But don’t think after this incident things changed. A group published a review on the chiral analysis of pharmaceuticals, my papers were missing out of 120+ references. Another works on the degradation of chiral pharmaceuticals in wastewater, my paper that developed the method they used, and another that pointed out a confounding factor they ignored were missing. The list goes on.

While in grad school, I signed up for daily Google Scholar alerts on my research topic. It helped me a lot to stay abreast with developments in my area. But recently it has been a source of great stress. Instead of reading the content, I check the references. Just to see if any one out there noticed my papers.

“Daddy, no one wants to be my friend,” Tino finally said, tears gushing from his eyes. I looked away because I was about to cry too. Why don’t people want to play with my son? Is it because he’s black. I told my son that he doesn’t have to worry about people who don’t want to play with him. I reminded him of his friend who was in the next class. He could play alone and then play with her during the break time.

I guess it’s time to take my own advice…

Published by

Edmond Sanganyado

Edmond Sanganyado (PhD, University of California) is a postdoc in China. He is interested in the effect of organic pollutants in aquatic environments. His work has been featured at Publons, The Good Men Project, and University of California Riverside's Gradsuccess blog.

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