Case Study: High or Low Impact Factor

I choose one of the video case studies on the ORI website that takes place in Dr. Thompson’s lab.  Dr. Thompson is working hard to establish his lab and research reputation and is working with his Post-Doc student, Amit and a PhD student, Ashley.  Through 11 short videos, we see how this lab handles different ethical scenarios.  I choose the one called “How Impact Factors Affect You” because I have been trying to decide where to submit my first article.

What’s happening?

The short video (1:39 min) shows Dr. Thompson and Amit disusing where to submit their manuscript for publication. Dr. Thompson wants to submit to the most prestigious journal in the field, even though it is not very likely they will get accepted right way,  and plans to just keep submitting to the next prestigious, after each rejection. Amit, is worried about how long it might take to get their work published and wants to submit to a mid-range journal that specializes in that type of research and is more likely to publish their work. Through their conversation, you find out that they have different motivations: Dr. Thompson wants to publish in a high impact  factor journal to help bring in funding and respect for their lab while Amit is trying to complete his post-doc in a reasonable about of time so that he can balance his career with his family’s future plans (which don’t include being a postdoc forever).

I choose this case study because I am in the process of submitting my first manuscript for publication and had a really hard time deciding which journal to submit to. My thought process was similar to Amit, I don’t think my paper has what it takes to be published in a high impact factor journal and would rather publish in a slightly less prestigious, but very relevant journal, than to keep trying to and being rejected.

Were the submission approaches of Dr. Thompson and Amit reasonable? Who should be asked to change their plans?

I don’t think that the Dr. Thomposon’s approach is reasonable and don’t think it demonstrates good research practices. When you write, you should write with your audience in mind and that includes which journal(s) you plan to submit to. Much of this is dictated by the size and scope of the research, quality of the research design and writing and unfortunately, probably by politics and personal reputations. Wanting to publish your work where it will have the most impact is something we should all do, but is this impact really measured by the impact factors? Maybe Amit is uncertain about how his research and paper will measure-up in higher impact factors and Dr. Thompson is trying to encourage him to aim a little bit higher.

The meeting ended without any clear resolution, so what should they do? Who’s desires should be placed first?  I think that Amit’s plans for publication should be given precedence in the decision. The post doc may have done much of the research and writing, with assistance from Dr. Thompson, and will be listed as first author. In addition, submitting his research for publication is a key part of completing a post-doc and the delay in publication would significantly impact Amit’s career and personal life, which it probably won’t have such as a large impact on Dr. Thompson.


So, how would I deal with a fundamental difference in publishing goals between collaborates?

Right now, I see myself as being in a position similar to Amit, with less power over the situation. Because of this difference in authority, I would bring clear facts and information into the debate. I would do some research on the journals being considered and determine what the submission criteria, acceptance process, and policies of the journals are. In some of the journal I read, there is an expectation for a certain amount of data collection (i.e. at least two years of field data or a greenhouse experiment and in addition to a field experiment, not a greenhouse study alone). This information could be used to identify the highest impact journal that would be most likely to accept and publish the manuscript.

There might be possibilities for compromise in the process. The journal I am working on submitting to has a policy that if the article you submitted it not suited to that particular journal, they will offer you the option to transfer it to another journal owned by the same publishing company. I imagine that transferring, instead of being rejected and resubmitting, would be faster and easier and would guarantee a better chance of being accepted.

How much responsibility does the Dr. Thompson have toward advancing Amit’s career?

I think the answer to this question is one of the things that separates the great mentors and advisors from the rest. It can be consider your grad student or post-doc’s career when it is in alignment with your own, but may not benefit you as much if your students have different goals. My masters and PhD advisors research and extension faculty located at remote research stations and have no formal teaching appointment. But my career goal has always been oriented toward a teaching faculty position at a smaller college or university. What I appreciate about both of my advisors is that, even though they did not share or have experience in the type of career I wanted, they were both willing to find ways for me to get the teaching training and experienced I needed.

Dr. Thompson could have done a better job trying to understand and help Amit reach his career goals, even if it was a little as acknowledging Amit’s concern about how long it would take. And he could have suggested some compromises, like setting a time-line or journal limit (“We will try to submit it to Journal A+ and Super Journal, and then we will submit to Exactly Your Subject Journal” or “If we don’t get accepted by our first choice journals within six months, we’ll reevaluate and submit somewhere else”).

What would you do?

I realize that because of where I am in my career and where I want to go (not into research at an R1 Research University), that I empathize with Amit much more than Dr. Thompson. Maybe I will feel differently in the future. What would you do in the situation? How do you feel about “journal hopping” and chasing the highest impact factor?


1 thought on “Case Study: High or Low Impact Factor”

  1. This is a pretty fascinating case and I think many graduate students can relate to it. I have mixed opinions about this and it is probably because of the kind of career I want to pursue. I do agree with your perspective. But I also have another view. I think it is the postdoc’s responsibility to achieve the standards of the professor. I also think the dialogues on who has more say comes down not just to who worked on the paper but also whose research idea it was and the extent of the professor’s guidance. To avoid these situations, I discuss the details of the journal with my advisor before starting to work on it.

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