Personal Impact Factor 5: Metrics

[Last post in the series]

A brief review of the Personal Impact Factor: I have contended that we should articulate and write down our own Grand Ideals, which inspire and motivate us to work. Second, we should write down our ends—the goals we are trying to accomplish with our work. Third, we should make a list of the means at our disposal to help us accomplish our ends. Fourth, and finally, we should develop Metrics that tell us how we are doing.

In previous posts I have argued that most universities measure our production of means, and not whether or not we are accomplishing any particular ends. Hence, the paper that gets written but never read is still rewarded, especially if it appears in a decent journal. Rather than measuring my means, I have decided on a different set of metrics for my professional life.

  1. Extension papers. By this I mean papers that extend research I have done—a much higher standard than just a citation. When someone writes an extension paper of your work, you can be sure you affected his or her thinking.
  2. Implementations in practice. It is one thing for practitioners to appreciate your work; it is quite another for them to do it. This metric is not appropriate for all researchers, I realize, but for an industrial engineer it must be considered.
  3. Emails, phone calls, and blog comments. Such active correspondence is a sure indication that others have read or heard of your work, and that they are thinking about it. Bingo.
  4. Youtube views and paper downloads. These metrics are different than emails and phone calls because we can’t be sure that the person who accessed the material actually consumed it. We’ve all ignored or clicked away from a Youtube video, and some papers get downloaded but never read. Nevertheless, views and downloads are indications that others are probably being affected by your work.
  5. Web site and blog hits. I put these metrics in a separate category because I cannot be sure anything meaningful was consumed, and therefore have no guarantee that an end has been realized. Nevertheless, it is possible that someone’s thinking was affected. Certainly large numbers of hits suggests impact. (For those considering a blog as their website, WordPress has a marvelous statistics page to let you know how you are doing.)
  6. Students and practitioners taught. Those fortunate enough to be teaching about their research can track how many students are exposed to their work.
  7. Citations. As everyone who has written a paper knows, citing another paper does not mean that paper had any influence on one’s thinking. It may not even mean that you’ve read the paper! I give this metric less weight than the others, but I don’t give it no weight.

So, what to do with all this information? Is it possible to compile it all into one “rating,” so I can declare that I’m a 79.4 professor? I haven’t figured out a way yet, and I do not intend to. Instead, I am keeping a personal journal in which I record events that suggest I am accomplishing ends. If a logistics analyst from Company X calls to ask me about aisle design, I make an entry. If someone sends an email to say they’ve been reading my blog, I make an entry. The goal is simply to provide for myself a record of how well I am accomplishing my professional purposes—that’s what the Personal Impact Factor is all about.

I have been recording these events for about six months, and I’m already noticing that my work habits are changing. I am thinking more about how to communicate the results of my work, and slightly less about doing new work. That’s good to a point, but I also realize I must do both—I must innovate and communicate.

Finally, please note that if in the long run I “maximize my PIF,” I will also do fairly well on traditional measures (papers and money). Yes, devoting myself to wide dissemination of my results may keep me from producing a paper or two or three in my career, but in the long run I will have been truer to my Grand Ideals and will have accomplished more of my real goals.

I wish you the same success.

Questions to Ponder

  • What is the difference between measuring our means and the metrics described above?
  • Which of the metrics above resonates with you? Which would most clearly indicate that you are accomplishing your true ends?
  • Are other metrics more appropriate for your situation? How might you track them?

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