A past Q&A discussed the importance of citation counts for academic hiring decisions, particularly for tenure decisions and fresh PhDs. However, the same citation count or h-index could in theory represent (1) a researcher with just a few highly-cited publications, or (2) a researcher with a few highly-cited publications plus numerous infrequently-cited publications.

Do hiring committees care about this distinction? Holding constant total citation count and h-index, does the presence of multiple infrequently-cited publications (say, papers making incremental "workmanlike" advances or peer-reviewed Letters to the Editor or response letters) reflect poorly on a candidate? Or does it not matter much, conditional on overall impact?

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    Based on my own limited experience hiring, or being hired, I think this is a secondary issue and would depend on the particular behind-the-scenes details at the place considering the application. It would matter slightly as a tie-breaker but I think generally speaking it is safer to have more publications, not all of which are highly cited, rather than to have a small number all of which are highly cited. However, this may be dependent on my own field (mathematics) and the places where I've been hired or been on hiring panels (Canada/UK)
    – Yemon Choi
    May 21, 2016 at 20:02
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    @YemonChoi My understanding is that many other fields care about citation counts much more than pure mathematicians do (which is virtually not at all for tenure-track hires).
    – Kimball
    May 22, 2016 at 1:39

1 Answer 1


In my experience, those who like to evaluate by counting are happy to count citations and to count publications. Thus, in their eyes you are generally better off with more publications, regardless of citation counts.

On the other hand (at least in my field of applied mathematics), when evaluation is done by actually looking at your body of work (and what others in your subfield say about it), papers that are rarely cited can still be very important if they are highly regarded. For instance, perhaps you solved a major open problem so thoroughly as to leave little room for follow-up work -- such a paper is likely to be considered very important but not often cited except in reviews.

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