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While I'm fortunate to have two publications already as a master's student applying for PhD programs, I'm still learning the full impact of research. Having a strong CV is important, but beyond that, I'm curious what the bigger significance might be.

My supervisor just excitedly messaged me that our paper was cited twice at a conference this week! I'm happy about it, but I'm also not sure how I should feel. I also don't quite understand why it's such a big deal.

Can you explain why these citations are so important?

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    because there's no point in doing research if nobody reads it :)
    – ACarter
    Apr 3 at 16:00
  • 2
    Why do you do research, and why do you write papers? Whats your motivation for doing so? Do you want to make an academic career, or is the PhD just your meal ticket to a nicely paid industry position (nothing wrong with that, btw). Answering that will tell you a lot about your own and possibly others motivations.
    – Polygnome
    Apr 4 at 13:34
  • Because in general, no one cites master's theses? Most masters theses are honestly not of citation-worth quality, mines included :-) You should be really happy that some people actually considered your master's thesis to be useful, you're doing a great job at the master's level!
    – xuq01
    Apr 7 at 16:17

4 Answers 4

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You should feel however you feel. That said, citations mean that someone read your work, thought that it was interesting enough to build on or at the least draw attention to. Well done.

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For someone at the early career stage, being cited means that your work is having an impact in your field. That in turn is an advantage in seeking your next job. The market is tough in many (most?) fields. Everything positive helps.

For later in your career it probably means less until it comes time for promotion. At some places citations of your research can help in tenure decisions or for later promotions.

Some universities give awards of various kinds to faculty (Professor of the Year). Again, the committees or others giving the awards might look at citations.

Personally, it can just be a warm and fuzzy feeling that what you have done is appreciated and valued by colleagues.

I was actually surprised that my dissertation work was cited as it was so esoteric that only a few people in the world had much interest. Once I was a full professor I never thought about it.

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Because you asked for the bigger significance: Science is a collective endeavour to build and improve the house of human knowledge, and publishing a paper is like laying a little Lego brick. Getting cited typically means someone built upon your brick. It's a necessary step for your contribution to become a relevant part of the building, rather than a dead end, which many (most?) of our bricks turn out to be.

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Other anwers also missed an important value of citing - it affects your h-index. This index is a metric used to quantitatively compare impact made by researchers, and indirectly can affect your influence in academia or in job search.

The h-index is defined as the maximum value of h such that the given author/journal has published at least h papers that have each been cited at least h times.

So e.g. if you publish 1000 papers with 1 citation, your h-index is 1. If you publish 1 paper with 1000 citations your h-index is still 1. Yet if you publish 50 of papers with atleast 50 citations each, you get score of 50, and you'll be considered a very distinguished researcher

The h-index can be seen for other people on scholar.google.com, e.g. https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=WLN3QrAAAAAJ&hl=en

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    While I consider h-index is part of the problem in academia, not the solution, and hope it's use perishes, your answer is arguably the most pragmatic answer to the OP's question. Apr 4 at 15:09

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