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The Black Hole

Google Scholar "My Citations" – Useful tool or the height of narcissism?


Since I first read about it on the Piece of Mind blog by UBC Professor Nassif Ghoussoub, I have been trying to figure out whether or not Google’s new “My citations” is a useful tool for researchers.  Essentially, this tool allows a researcher to collate their publications  and the citations on those publications are displayed and analyzed.  It also updates automatically.

  1. Standardized profile with clear metrics – This will annoy some people that like to add flair to their profiles, but from the perspective of hiring committees and prospective students, standardization is a good thing.  Well designed personal or lab websites will still exist.
  2. Free without “premium access” options – many network/profile sites are free, but the beauty of this one is that there is no premium user, so all users get the same level of access to information and same level of profile exposure.
  3. Key word mining – after identifying a few key words for your area, you can click on them to see who else in your field is listed on Scholar and click through their pages.
  4. Easy to merge/add/remove citations – typical Google, they’ve made it reasonably intuitive and straightforward.
  5. Quick to set up – it took me an hour or so to get the thing up and running and I’ve not had to update it much at all since.  It seems to pick up new publications quite quickly too.


  1. Google Scholar inflation – Citations in Scholar are not limited to peer-reviewed journals and this means that you almost always have more citations than from any other tracker (Scopus, pubmed, etc).  The bonus is that it allows you to see the broader reach of your work, the drawback is that “popular” work can appear inflated.
  2. Equal value for “valley” publications – in biomedical science, the first and last authors tend to be the lead experimentalist (1st) and the lab head (last) and everyone in between contributes to, but does not typically drive, the project.  I call this area the valley, because it seems to be organized in a way that puts all students, postdocs, research assistants at the front in order of contribution and all “senior scientists” at the back in reverse order of contribution (the main group leader is at the end).  The problem with counting the “valley publications” is that minor contributions to a paper get full credit for all the citations of that paper.  My profile is a great example of this problem.  My top four publications (~2/3 of my total citations) are from papers that I was a co-author, not a lead author.  While I made substantial contributions to these papers, I think it’s a little unfair that they contribute equally to my h-Index, i10-index, etc.
  3. Useless without affiliation – if you have moved onto another position outside of academia, you have no way of validating your email address and do not get the same level of access to create/update your profile.

Other profile builders exist that have different strengths/weaknesses:

  • – it seems to be “Facebook for academics” except that instead of photos, you have followers/friends trawling over your paper output.  One of the neat things is that you get sent an email when someone searches for you (and comes to your page) via google and tells you what key words they typed in to find you.
  • – probably the most niche of those I’ve mentioned, but it does offer useful “updates from your network” allowing you to track publications of those you have previously published with and to quickly see how you (and other scientists) are connected to each other (again by publication).
  • LinkedIn – particularly useful for those wishing to cultivate relationships outside of the academy (either for jobs or for collaborations) as the business community is well-represented on this site.

This all leads me to ask a more fundamental question about the state of training:  “How much time is invested (or wasted) in building up one’s profile?”  There are many side discussions that I will not discuss here, but will certainly try to revisit in future posts (how much time do researchers actually spend researching?  what metrics should be used to evaluate researchers?  can the grant writing/receiving process be expedited?).  For now though, I want to explore briefly the usefulness of profile building.

Public exposure is good, especially in the international world of research.  These sites allow you to get your research out there, establish an identity for yourself and the types of questions your research asks, and link you to other researchers who do similar research.

The danger is that researchers start spending too much time building their profile and not enough time getting substance into their research.

I guess the same could be said of conferences, blogging, grant writing, teaching and a whole host of other activities.  Networks, in my opinion, are of critical importance to moving science forward as research become increasingly inter-disciplinary.  The science is paramount, no doubt about that, but getting your science “out there” and seeing what else is “out there” is also important to your future research.

For me, I think the most useful and minimally time consumptive combination is LinkedIn for non-academic relationship building and a Google Scholar citation page for keeping track of my papers and how they get cited.  On that final note, though, Id like to end on some suggestions for Google on how to improve their citation page:

  • Make it exportable (spreadsheets, graphs, pre-formatted publication list)
  • Introduce filters for 1st/last authorship and peer reviewed citations
David Kent
Dr. David Kent is a principal investigator at the York Biomedical Research Institute at the University of York, York, UK. He trained at Western University and the University of British Columbia before spending 10 years at the University of Cambridge, UK where he ran his research group until 2019. His laboratory's research focuses on the fundamental biology of blood stem cells and how changes in their regulation lead to cancers. David has a long history of public engagement and outreach including the creation of The Black Hole in 2009.
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  4. David Fernandez / October 10, 2013 at 13:54

    Regarding your remarks about 1st. and last authorship, you might be surprised to know that, at least in my field (pure mathematics) there is no such thing as first (or second, third,…,last) author. The consensus is that either you contributed enough to be an author, or you didn’t, but that it’s nonsensical to try to “quantify” who contributed “more” (in particular, we never have disputes over this issue). So all multi-authored papers list the authors in alphabetical order, and every author of a paper is considered to have equally contributed. So if/when Google Scholar implements a 1st./last authorship filter, it should include the option of turning off that filter as well!

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