9.4 Citation impact can differ substantially by discipline

As already discussed briefly in Chapter 7 (Section 7.1) and explained in great detail in Chapter 16, citation behaviors can vary dramatically within disciplines or even within sub-disciplines. Differences between disciplines are exaggerated when using the ISI Web of Science or Scopus, as they have a far better coverage in the Sciences than in the Social Sciences and Humanities or Engineering and Computer Science.

However, even within disciplines differences can be vast. The area of Human Resource Management as a sub-discipline of Management includes scholars working on industrial relations and labor unions as well as scholars working on more psychologically oriented topics such as motivation or job attitudes.

The latter academics might be able to publish in a mainstream Psychology journal such as Psychological Bulletin. The former academics would praise themselves lucky if they published in the top US journal in their field: Industrial Relations. At 12.85, the journal impact factor of the former is six times as high as the journal impact factor of the latter (2.05).

Moreover, many Industrial Relations academics will not be able to publish in mainstream US-American Industrial Relations journals as their research is very contextual. Hence they might need to publish their work in even lower impact journals such as British Journal of Industrial Relations (1.38), European Journal of Industrial Relations (1.00), Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources (0.78), or the Australian journal Labour History (0.15). Hence, any articles in the area of Industrial Relations can be expected to be cited far less frequently than articles in the area of organizational behavior, which is more closely related to psychology.

Generic norm scores are normally a bad idea

It is not advisable to set a general “norm score” of the number of citations that an academic needs to achieve for tenure or promotion to the next level as these typical scores can vary dramatically even within a discipline.

If your university insists on these benchmarks, make sure that they are established by referring to what is the norm in your field. I have seen many administrators pick a “round number” of out thin air (say 50 citations or 100 citations), without any proper reference to what could be expected in the field.

Further if you do decide to apply these norm scores, have the sense to perform a quick reality check. Find out how many academics that are currently at the level the candidate applies for met this norm score when they applied for that level. You would be surprised at the number of academics who do not meet your norms scores even 5-10 years after tenure or promotion.

If you are an academic at the highest level of the hierarchy yourself, be brutally honest and evaluate your own record at the time you went up for tenure or promotion. Most senior academics have rather short memories and have a tendency to project their current publication and citation records back to the time when they applied for tenure or promotion.