Do you know your h-index and what does it tell you?


Academic achievements are often equated with publications. The scientific excellence of these publications is usually measured by recognizing the publishers – and the attention it achieved in the academic community. For papers, one well established measure, especially in STEMM fields, is the h-index, it refers to the number of publications which have been cited at least h-times (Hirsch, 2005). The h-index is reported on most scientific platforms (such as google scholar, web of science, or scimago). It is obviously not comparable across disciplines, because it depends on the publication practices (papers vs. books) and the size of a scientific community (number of scientists who might cite the paper).

When referring to the h-index as measure for scientific excellence, scholarly productivity is reduced to writing papers only and other relevant achievements, such as teaching or management skills, are disregarded (van den Brink/Benschop, 2011). More even within a specific scientific community, the h-index varies between women and their male colleagues because women and minoritized groups are cited less often. One explaining factor for such differences is homophily, a tendency to preferably work with others (and in this case cite and support others) who are similar to ourselves (Dworkin et al., 2020).

This raises the following questions:

  • If the h-index of a person is lower, does that mean he or she is less excellent then colleagues with a higher index?

  • What does the h-index thus really tell you?

  • Did you make similar experiences concerning publication pracitices or collaboration with others (cf. homophily)?

van den Brink, Marieke/Benschop, Yvonne (2011): Gender practices in the construction of academic excellence: Sheep with five legs. In: Organization , Vol. 19, No. 4, p. 507-524. DOI: 10.1177/1350508411414293.
Dworkin, J.D., Linn, K.A., Teich, E.G. et al. (2020): “The extent and drivers of gender imbalance in neuroscience reference lists”. In: Nature Neuroscience , No. 23, June 2020, p. 918–926.
Hirsch, Jorge E (2005): An index to quantify an individual’s scientific research output. In: PNAS , Vol. 102(46), 15 Nov 2005, p. 16569-16572. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0507655102