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At the early stage of an academic career, it can be that the researcher's h-index is largely driven by self-citations. It is the case for me at the 1st year postdoc stage. I've got a few peer-reviewed publications that are only beginning to gain momentum in citations coming outside of me. But I've also had a chance to work with advisors that created many opportunities for me to publish review papers or book chapters in which I self-cite whenever appropriate.

When applying for TT faculty positions, do the hiring committees typically look at the h-index that includes self-citations, such as the one reported on a researcher's Google scholar page? Should I worry if at the point of my TT application my h-index is mostly driven by self-citations? In the end, it also means that I keep publishing and keep developing a research line, which might be looked at favorably (?).

My field is STEM and I will be applying for TT positions in Europe (within EU).

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    About how high is your h-index, with and without self-citations? I should think it is hard to drive the h-index into higher regions by (mainly) self-citing, at least if you do not follow a plan. Jan 3, 2023 at 14:30
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    My field is math and, when hiring, we hardly ever look at the h-index. Jan 3, 2023 at 15:32
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    Be aware that many EU institutions are signatories of DORA (sfdora.org) and as such pledge not to use raw numeric metrics in hiring decisions. Jan 3, 2023 at 15:47
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    Basically, the only thing your h-index says is that you (most likely) do not have a long history of publishing papers. Which probably is obvious from the rest of your application anyway. In your case, there is really no relevant difference between h-index with and without self-citations, so it is probably also irrelevant which one is assessed. Jan 3, 2023 at 16:59
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    I was a member of my department's hiring committee for over 10 years and I don't recall h-indices ever being considered. Jan 3, 2023 at 18:19

3 Answers 3

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Hiring committees typically do what they want. Actually, it is the individuals on any hiring committee that do what they want. Some will do this, some will do that. Some will ignore such numbers altogether.

Note that if you avoid self citation you may be open to charges of self plagiarism, so it is often necessary to self-cite. Someone hiring will understand that.

People aren't algorithms and don't typically use a completely algorithmic process to hire. Especially a process driven by a few numbers. They want to know how you fit into an organization and want to know about the significance of your research.

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Self-citations are a very situational thing. Sure, they are generally frowned upon because often there is a piece of research covering the topic better, and both ignorance or deliberate deceit of the reader reflects poorly on authors... But what if you are a part of one or two labs in the entire world having bespoke equipment to work on a specific problem? Or, less drastically, you might well be discussing a branch of science narrow enough and with enough specifics it warrants referring your own old results. It depends.

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  • I don't think it's self-citation which is the issue here, it's whether to include those in the h-index when applying for a job Jan 4, 2023 at 17:48
  • For me, the slightly ''fishy'' thing is when a person's h index including self citations is a great deal higher than their h index without self citations.
    – Tom
    Jan 4, 2023 at 20:38
  • @Tom oh, for sure. But if the difference boils down to a couple of papers describing experiments/datasets/methodology, it still looks pretty benign to me (and highlights the intrinsic problems of h-index as a metric). This scenario is mostly an issue for early career researchers, too: padding the h-index is usually very obvious for people who are in academia for 20+ years, less so for someone who just started like OP. Relevant discussion is under the question comments as well.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 5, 2023 at 2:38
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Self-citations themselves are not a problem. To me that would be a bit of a red flag if someone's h-index with self-citations is a lot higher than their h-index without self-citations.

It's subject dependent, but as I understand it, in pure mathematics h-indices are rarely considered, whereas in physics, applied mathematics and engineering there is a bit more emphasis on it. So, for example, when making a ''rough assessment'' of how good a researcher is in applied mathematics or engineering, it is indeed quite common to look them up on Google Scholar or similar website and see what their h-index is, whereas in pure mathematics, this practice is much less common.

But even in the applied mathematics setting, this is really a very rough heuristic and I do not think it would sway a decision by a committee, since that committee probably has its own rules and ideas about who they want to hire and how they will fit into the work being done by other members of the research group.

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