If I were to ask you what would be the most likely contributors to successfully landing a job as a principal investigator, what would you say, number of publications, impact factor of your manuscripts, gender, university? Well, Dr. David van Dijk, a postdoctoral scientist and computational biologist at the Weitzmann Institute in Israel along with two collaborators set out to answer that very question. He drew on data from some 25,000 scientists and looked across approximately 200 factors. In doing so, he developed a model that can predict, based on your metrics, the likelihood you will become a PI. The results were published in a recent issue of Current Biology .
So, what are the best predictors? They found that the three best indicators of success were number of publications, the impact factor of the journals, and the number of papers that receive more citations than average for the journal in which they appeared.
Interestingly, the actual number of publications is less predictable than the journal impact factor. Is that quality over quantity? Well, only if you think the quality of the science and the impact factor of the journal in which it was published are highly correlated; and not everyone does.
But then it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe that to be the case, publishing in high impact journals increases your likelihood of becoming a PI. However, they also found that the number of first author pubs per year can, at least partially, compensate for an absence of high impact publications.
But, as you might predict, publications are not the entire story, just most of it. Gender and rank of the scientist’s university are also relevant.
Are there surprises in this study? Did we learn anything new? Not really. Perhaps it just confirms what we kind of already knew, it’s all about the pubs. If you are interested, the functional model can be found at pipredictor.com. Pop up there and give it a try. But remember what Einstein said, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”