I am in the process of advisor searching for a PhD in mathematics. I came across this site called Google Scholar which lists nearly all the publications of a professor. I found that many professors don’t have any citations of their papers in the first three years If at all, it is two or three citations per paper.

Does this reflect that their publications are of poor quality? If yes what are the parameters other than Google Scholar to know about research work of the professors? Are there any alternatives to Google Scholar which serve the above purpose?

  • What's the field?
    – user68958
    Feb 11, 2019 at 18:49
  • 2
    The main thing you should be looking for in a potential advisor is their success as an advisor, not their "quality" as a researcher. Those two are correlated, obviously, but they are not the same thing.
    – JeffE
    Feb 13, 2019 at 8:15
  • @JeffE;what things contribute to quality as an advisor
    – user100969
    Feb 13, 2019 at 17:15
  • @Join_PhD Happy and successful students, in that order.
    – JeffE
    Feb 15, 2019 at 14:56

3 Answers 3


This would vary by field, of course. But there is more to selecting a good advisor than just their output, even the recognized quality of that output. In fact, having a superstar as an advisor can be a mixed blessing/curse. They may be so focused on their own research and career that they give you little direction in your own. If you are especially self motivated and can find and develop your own research this is less of an issue than if you are like most students, needing guidance in finding problems and developing solutions.

But the citation count of a person gives some, but not the final, measure of their quality as a researcher, not necessarily as an advisor. If you want an even better measure (IMO) get the citation count of the students that they have advised. Even just the number of "produced" students and where they wound up in their careers is a good, but not perfect, measure. It is more likely to be useful for a senior professor than a junior one, of course.

If you are already at the institution, student scuttlebutt is actually a pretty good indicator of an advisors "quality" as an advisor, if not as a scholar.

  • 1
    TIL a new word :) The citation count of students is a surprisingly helpful criterion indeed. Some big-shots never teach their students how to write publishable papers; for example, they personally get their own unreadable stuff published thanks to name recognition, but when their students try the same, they get rejected. Feb 11, 2019 at 18:42
  • Thank you very much for the advice.Can you kindly say how to know where the students a professor has adviced got placed in his/her career?Also the field concerned is Mathematics(Pure)
    – user100969
    Feb 12, 2019 at 3:19
  • Though the advisors have a personalized web page,many students of an advisor dont have any web pages
    – user100969
    Feb 12, 2019 at 3:19
  • @Join_PhD Labs will often have their former postdocs and phd students listed along with where they are at. Another good metric is to check out the recent dissertations from the department and see who ended up where. If all of a professors students are ending up in R1 universities, you have a really good idea as to the quality of the adviser. My own former adviser consistently has produced students who end up at R1 institutes. She is not the most cited person in the field, but she is very good at producing students with strong publication records at graduation.
    – JWH2006
    Feb 12, 2019 at 13:23
  • For starters, in Mathematics you can explore the Mathematics Genealogy Project, which lists many mathematicians, their advisors and students.
    – Buffy
    Feb 12, 2019 at 13:29

It's an important metric for evaluating research production. Of course no metric is perfect, blabla. But it is a decent one. Despite the people who hate this, it is normal to see h-indices listed (even as a field) in nominations for rewards for instance. And hiring and compensation committees look at it.

Again, it's not perfect (can be gamed, other metrics may show things it doesn't). But it is a very simple reasonable first cut. But I think talking to scholars in the field is actually the superior metric. People know who the big/medium/small wheels are. And which are tires that fell off the car and are sitting on the side of the highway.

Finally while being with a big name is ceteris paribus, a very reasonable variable to raise, it is not the only one in looking at advisors. I.e. research production =/= good advisor. You need to consider other things like is the fellow a jerk or nice, how fast do people graduate, is it a huge lab group or tiny, current funding, etc.

For instance, I would be inclined to avoid professors working on tenure (they may not get it, or may need to be slave drivers to get it) and would prefer someone who was a big wheel but is winding down (maybe 60 or so in age). Even the jerk, slavedriver big wheels tend to get a little more kind and grandfatherly towards the end. And reputation has a long dwell time, so it's not as critical for an old, established scientist if he goes emeritus shortly after you worked with him (might even be an opportunity for you to sneak under the wire).

  • More-or-less this is sensible advice. However, I'd be cautious about professors 60 or so in age: I've met a number of them, and while some are great people and scientists, there's a high probability that they don't care anymore, or – even worse – they are not open to new ideas: "we've done it like so for the last 40 years, and all people claiming it's wrong are wrong". So indeed talking to scholars in the field is actually the superior metric. Starting from any metric is better than wondering in the dark, but it's crucial to know what the metric actually measures and says about one
    – user68958
    Feb 11, 2019 at 18:58

As others have pointed out, research output for your advisor may not be as important as other qualities in the supervisory relationship. Having given that caveat, if you are going to measure research level by citation count then it is important to at least adjust this for basic things like the number of authors on papers. For a measure of total citation for an author, it is preferable to use the author-adjusted citation count, where citations to papers with multiple authors are shared between those authors.

If you do not adjust for this then the citation count will tend to be much larger for authors who do papers in research groups with many co-authors, and this will not accurately reflect the research output of that single author. For example, if five academics each write one research paper and each paper gets 10 citations, then their citation count would each be 10. If those academics put each others names on those same papers, without any further change, then the raw citation count for each academic jumps up to 50, without having produced any additional research.

  • Then does there exist any software/website where I can judge the impact of a professor?\
    – user100969
    Feb 12, 2019 at 3:52

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