Henys Cake



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I will write about citations again today because I was reminded of an incident from my postdoctoral days. I had finished a draft of the first paper related to my postdoctoral research and had given it to my supervisor to read. He was rather notorious for taking a long time to read manuscripts and then not having many comments. Another postdoc had warned me not to expect to see the manuscript again for weeks (if I was lucky) and then to be underwhelmed by the input.

So I was shocked when, later that same day, my office phone rang and my postdoc supervisor said "I just read the draft and I need to see you RIGHT AWAY. There is a SERIOUS OMISSION in the paper."

Another postdoc was visiting me in my office just then. He said "This can't be good." We shook hands, and he wished me luck in my new career, whatever it might be, and said it had been nice knowing me.

With a staggering amount of trepidation, I went down the hall to see my supervisor, whom everyone called "The Big Guy". The Big Guy had the print-out of the manuscript on his desk, and he was shuffling through the pages. When he saw me, he said

"HERE! LOOK HERE! On page 7, there is a problem. You should cite my 1984 paper."

He handed me the page in question, which had the place for the missing citation noted. I just stood there, waiting for what came next. But all he said was:

"That's all. Submit it after you add the citation."

So I lived to tell the tale. And I added the citation. And I asked my postdoc-friend: "Will we be like that someday?"

Our assumption was that since we were not like that (in our 20's), it must be something that happens to you later in your career.

So now the question is: Am I like that?

I am probably not the best one to answer that question, but I would say that I developed a strong interest in seeing my work cited (appropriately and accurately, of course), BUT I don't think that it has become a singular obsession that supersedes my interest in the Science in a paper. I'd like to keep it that way, but who knows.. I'm only at mid-career and there's plenty of time for me to become a raging citation-monger.

Does anyone think there is a generational aspect to citation-obsession? It is perhaps most important for early-career people to have good citation numbers, but does that mean they are actually the ones who tend to be more obsessed, or is it we more senior people who tend to be fascinated with our citation metrics? I fear that the real answer is "All of the above".
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