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Last year I did some work to help out my friend and his supervisor on a project that they were working on. I wasn't very involved with the project, but the work that I contributed was important for them to be able to find the main results that they were interested in. I asked at the time if they would they be happy to include me as an author on the paper based on this contribution, and they said they would be happy to do that.

I think it's quite likely that the paper might not get very many citations. The most closely related paper to the one they will publish soon was written by my friend's supervisor, and it has only one citation. It was published in 2015, and I think it's in an area that doesn't have so much research interest in general.

I've been wondering what different people think about whether being an author on this work would look better or worse for me, with respect to future positions in academia. I'm hoping to look for a postdoctoral position in the near future, in a different but related field.

I feel like it might look better: I would have more publications and it's showing more of my skills. I could put it on my CV. Or it might look worse: I know there are different metrics which take into consideration how many citations papers have, and having a paper with no citations might reduce my score on them.

I'm currently at the end of my PhD and I have 6 publications, one has 4 citations and the rest have between 10 and 25. I think at this point it would be reasonable to ask them to include me only as an acknowledgement on the paper, if I decided that was the best option for me.

Any opinions/perspectives on this appreciated. I appreciate that it's my choice whether I put the paper on my CV or not, if I choose to stay as an author.

Thanks

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    Which field are you in? – user151413 Sep 8 '20 at 17:06
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    All papers start with zero citations. – user2768 Sep 8 '20 at 17:10
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    Is it common in your field to list # citations on your CV? – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 8 '20 at 17:55
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    @user151413 True, but it would seem unlikely to me that people sorting through applications that a newly minted PhD would be applying for would go to the trouble of checking citations for individual papers – Azor Ahai -him- Sep 8 '20 at 18:31
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    One of the most amusing referee reports I've seen read "The question considered in the paper has a long story and there were many partial results. The main theorem in the paper resolves the conjecture in full and closes the subject, so it will probably have no citations" (quoting from memory, so the original wording might be different but the meaning has been preserved). In other words, decide based on the quality of the work, not on the number of references. If you feel proud of it, most likely other people will like it too even if it doesn't contribute much to your h-index yet. – fedja Sep 9 '20 at 5:11
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No, this is not a problem. Everyone has papers on their CV which have few citations, including older papers. If this were true for all your papers, in particular even all of those which are several years old, this could be an issue - but this does not seem to be a problem at all in your case. (Note that the distribution of citations vs. papers is somewhat similar for everyone, reflected e.g. in the fact that there is a clear relation between the number of publications and the h-index.)

Moreover, if you really feel later on that a given paper does not represent you well, you can always omit it from your publication record - you are not obliged to list everything you ever published there, in particular if you feel it is not relevant.

So I would go with being a coauthor of the paper, if the others offer coauthorship to you, and you feel it is deserved.


Edit: To follow up on your updated title, a paper with a low number of citations will not have a negative effect on citation metrics: Typical metrics are either the total number of papers, the total number of citations, or (most importantly) the h-index, none of which gets worse if you add little-cited papers. The only indicator which would be affected is the number of citations per paper, but this is rarely used - and even then, a single little-cited paper will not have a big effect.

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    Mostly I agree, but I believe in at least some contexts (which may include some academic job applications) it is expected that your CV includes every paper you've ever published. In that situation, if you omit a paper and it's found out (which is unlikely, but still), it might raise questions about what else you might be trying to hide. – David Z Sep 9 '20 at 1:30
  • @DavidZ I'm not sure that's the expectation. (For instance, it would be quite natural to omit papers which might be on a different field, done e.g. during undergrad work.) But I agree, omitting papers might people wonder why that happened. What I would find more disturbing, however, is someone listed "selected papers" and then listing all but one, this would look to me like trying to give the impression there are many more papers while there is only one. – user151413 Sep 9 '20 at 12:49
  • Thanks, this answer was really helpful fo rme – anon Sep 9 '20 at 16:59
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I probably don't have the best perspective, having been out of academia for a few years, but as far as I know, anyone who cares about citation metrics will be using a standard widely-inclusive data source (e.g. Google Scholar) to get their data. So as far as the metrics are concerned, it doesn't matter whether you put any given paper on your CV or not.

More generally, I think it's quite rare that it would actually hurt to put a paper on your CV. The only case I can think of where you would actively want to not be associated with a paper is if the paper was retracted for some reason having to do with academic fraud, or something similarly serious, and in that case leaving the paper off your CV isn't going to keep people from finding out about it. Having no or few citations certainly isn't a reason to not want to be associated with a paper. It's quite a normal situation, especially as an early-career researcher.

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  • Having a coauthor with a very bad reputation (scientific fraud, supporting outlandish scientific theories or extreme political views, etc) could also reflect poorly on you even if the paper itself is clean. It is unfair especially if the coauthor acquires such a reputation later on, but you can become "the guy who published with X". – UJM Sep 9 '20 at 11:12
  • Ah yeah, that's true. But I think that'd probably be another case where people will make the connection on their own regardless of whether you put it on your CV. – David Z Sep 9 '20 at 11:21
  • You can remove publications for your google scholar profile. – user151413 Sep 9 '20 at 12:47

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