Is publishing in high impact journals the key to career progression?

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05 Dec 2014

Economists working in academia are being advised to think twice before publishing in high impact journals.

That’s according to new research led by Professor Dan Rigby, of The University of Manchester, and published in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics, which examined whether careers were most enhanced by publishing in high impact journals.

The key findings were the lack of relationship between journals’ impact factors and the perceived career payoffs from publishing in them.

Professor Rigby and his team of economists also found that authors don’t believe that publishing in journals with a high societal impact will best advance their career, despite recent attempts to incorporate impact into research assessments.

He said: “While many exponents of citation-based approaches argue that they have the advantages of being robust and objective, we found that impact factors also bore little or no relation to the hierarchy of journals, as perceived by researchers themselves. The only citation metric which did correlate with the perceived career impacts of publishing in journals was ‘Article Influence’.”

The findings culminates research carried out with over 900 environmental and agricultural economics researchers, internationally, to directly elicit their perceptions of the relative standing of 23 leading journals using two criteria:

  • enhancing career progression,
  • impact beyond academia (ie. on policy makers, business community etc) 

Researchers were asked to use the best worst scaling (BWS) approach in which respondents were presented with different combinations of journals and each time chose the one which would have the most, and the least, impact on their career progression.

Even when the samples were split into six different segments, based on differing journal preferences, the journals’ scores against either criteria still had no significant correlation with their impact factors. The assessments were markedly influenced by researchers’ geographical and institutional locations, eg. N.America vs Europe.

Professor Rigby continued: “But there was still marked variation over and above that with two segments with similar characteristics considering a paper in Science top and bottom respectively, in terms of career payoff

“Impact Factors are widely regarded as a good measure of the overall standing and prestige of journals. “

He said: “While journal impact factors were prohibited from being used in the UK higher education institutions’ Research Excellence Framework, many are concerned that universities are using them in their internal processes of appointment, promotion and research assessment. 

“Our findings show that despite the greater emphasis on real world impact in research assessments, there is no connection between the journal’s scores based on the two alternative criteria of career progression and impact beyond academia.

“Researchers do not perceive that publishing in journals seen as having a broader impact will best advance their career, despite recent attempts to incorporate impact into research assessments.”