Author evaluation: Meeting an academic visitor

Do you recognize the following scenario? You are due to meet an official guest of some standing, but you do not know the academic in question very well and hence do not have a clear idea of what he or she is well-known for. You have been running around all day and only have 5-10 minutes before the meeting. How do you ensure you are well prepared and don’t blunder your way through the meeting?

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Web searches vs PoP searches

You could of course start searching on the web for the academic’s university staff page. However, these are not always easy to find, especially if the academic has a relatively common name. Moreover, not all universities allow their staff to create their own web pages and even if they do, they often are out of date as most academics are not very diligent in maintaining them. Publish or Perish offers a quick solution. If you know the academic’s given and family name you can use these for a very quick author search, which can allow you to deduce quite a lot in just a couple of minutes.

What are you best known for?

Even though the quick-and-dirty search might not give you fully accurate citation statistics, looking at the most cited works will give you a very quick idea of what the academic in question is best-known for. It might also give you some insight into their publication strategy.

  • Do they have a large number of papers that have gathered a reasonable number of citations? That might point to a more diversified publication strategy.
  • Do they have one or two papers with a huge number of citations and other less cited work? This might point to a very focused publication strategy.

Who are you working with?

By sorting on the author column, you can quickly find out the academic’s co-authors. Maybe you have an academic acquaintance or even collaborator in common? Nothing is better to get a conversation going than talking about people you both know. Looking at an academic’s earliest collaborators might also give you a clue about who his/her PhD advisor was. Finding that someone mostly publishes on his/her own is also useful to know. You might not bring up collaborative work in that case, certainly not in a first meeting.

collaboration

What are you working on recently?

Sorting on the year column helps you finding out what the academic in question has been working on most recently. Most academics don’t like it if you talk only about a paper they published ten years ago (even if it is a classic). The research in question might be more than fifteen years old and they might have moved on to completely different topics by now.

How long have you been in the business?

Reviewing the years active statistic gives you some feel for how much academic experience the person you are meeting is likely to have. Of course this might not be of great importance, but again it might change what you will be talking about with this person. Knowing this ahead of time might be helpful. Your conversations with someone in a mid-career stage might be different from those with someone who is close to retirement.

What journals have you published in?

Sorting on the publication column will allow you to find out which journals the academic has published in, giving you an idea of their disciplinary orientation and publication strategy.

  • Have they published in general or specialized journals?
  • Do they publish mostly conceptual or empirical work?
  • Have they published in the top journals in their field?
  • Have they published in lots of different journals or focused their output in a small number of journals?

Worked Example: Rabi Bhagat

In July 2010, two of my colleagues had organized a 2-day workshop on Global Teams. One of the keynote speakers was Rabi Bhagat. Although I had seen his name in press before, I could not recall clearly in what context and I had never met him before. I therefore ran a quick Publish or Perish Author Query. The results for his most cited works are below.

tip54a

Influential work on culture and knowledge transfer

It was immediately apparent that he had done influential work on the impact of culture on transfer of technology & knowledge across borders. This is most likely where I had seen his name, having done some work on transfer of management practices across cultures myself.

OB/Psychology scholar rather than Strategy scholar

However, I also noticed that he has a fairly large body of work related to stress and stressors in the workplace, stretching from 1985 to 1995. This made me realize that his disciplinary background might be in Organizational Behaviour or even Psychology. His work on technology transfer had led me to the erroneous assumption that he was a macro oriented Strategy scholar.

Working with a varied group of co-authors on mostly conceptual work

The results also showed me that he has worked with a fairly varied group of co-authors, and acted both as first and second author. The titles of his papers led me to conclude that he seems to prefer conceptual work to empirical work as most of his papers are about building theory, creating frameworks and providing an integrative perspective.

Recent work on Asia and global mindsets

Sorting the results by year (see below) showed me that he recently became interested in the role of Asia in management theories and in global mindsets. I also noticed that he has maintained his interest in stress, but has added a cross-cultural element to it.

tip54b

Recent leadership on multi-country projects

Further, I noticed that although his most cited (older) work is mostly conceptual, his recent articles seem to include empirical work, with data collected in a lot of different countries. Given that he is the first author on these articles, I conclude he was leading those projects. As I have led several multi-country projects myself that might be a nice conversation topic.

Journals published in

Sorting the results by journals showed (amongst others):

  • four articles in the Academy of Management Review (a journal that only publishes conceptual work),
  • three articles each in Human Relations (two of which theoretical) and Journal of Management, and
  • two articles each in Journal of Organizational Behavior and Journal of Vocational Behavior.

This confirmed my earlier impression that my counterpart was strong in conceptual work. It also confirmed that he was more of a micro Organizational Behaviour scholar than a macro International Business scholar.

In less than 10 minutes, I was ready to meet our keynote speaker. As it turned out, we only talked about Melbourne (the conference location) and Publish or Perish. But at least I felt prepared for any conversation about his academic work!

Conclusion: PoP helps with academic detective work

Even a simple 5-10 minute author search can give you a quick impression of another academic. Obviously, you could do the same type of search in a more rigorous fashion if you were meeting up with someone who could be a potential co-author or if you are lucky enough to have a meeting with your “academic hero”.

The point is: there is much more to Publish or Perish than finding out someone’s h-index or citations. With a bit of detective work you can easily reconstruct a fairly good picture of someone’s academic career in a very short space of time.

And finally...

Another neat function of Publish or Perish with Google Scholar as the datasource that I only recently discovered myself is to figure out "citation connections" between you and the visitor. Google Scholar searches for keywords in the entire text of full-text document.

Hence, a simple General citation search for your own name in the author field and the visitor's name in the any of the words fields will quickly list the articles in which you have cited the visitor's work. Of course this works the other way around as well: you can find out if the visitor has ever cited you. What better way to find out common interests?

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