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Use Case: Software Citation Impact on Careers #3

rayi113 opened this issue Jan 16, 2015 · 0 comments


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commented Jan 16, 2015

Use Case: Software Citation Impact on Careers

  • Contributors: Kes Schroer (@kesschroer)
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Goals and Summary

A PhD student has authored an R package that provides several functions for studying the size and shape of fossils. The package is an improvement over existing programs – it is faster, simpler, and free. Although she has already constructed a manual to accompany the package, she knows she cannot cite this manual as scholarly material in her field. She spends additional time preparing a traditional journal article describing the package and its use cases. However, the article is rejected from her discipline journals for being too technical and outside the scope of paleontology. Instead, she publishes it as a short piece for a software journal. Although she lists the paper on her resume, senior scholars in her field ignore the paper because it is not in a journal they recognize. The PhD student is further discouraged because although she has posted links to the manual, article, and package on her personal website, she finds few colleagues are switching to her improved method. The PhD student seeks advice from her dissertation advisor. Her advisor recommends that she should focus more on “real” material for her dissertation and drop her programming interest. Before she spends more time on her R-package, her PhD advisor wants to see proof that it is paying off for her academic career.

Why is it important and to whom?

Consistent, meaningful software citation is important to three actors in this story – the PhD student, her advisor, and her academic discipline. The PhD student wants to receive recognition for her work, but not just any audience will do. She wants to receive recognition from within her discipline – from like-minded peers who might use her new package and from senior scholars who will evaluate her job applications. She needs a way to tell her software story that will convince other members of her discipline that her approach has merit.
The needs of her advisor are similar. Her advisor wants her to succeed and knows a traditional dissertation and traditional resume will serve her well on the job market. Her advisor has a responsibility to dissuade her from spending time on activities that might delay her career goals.
The motivations of the PhD student and her advisor are intrinsic. However, the importance of this user story for the academic discipline is external. It exposes the rigidity of academic disciplines and the limited ways in which new members of a discipline are evaluated. Although more institutions are moving to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary centers, most institutions and most academic jobs are still limited by their disciplinary boundaries. Senior scholars often do not know how to evaluate software and data citations in their discipline, and they may have to evaluate dozens of candidates for a single job position. Senior scholars may be naturally inclined to ignore contributions they cannot place, even though they may simultaneously recognize that this approach impedes the progress of research within the discipline.

Why hasn’t it been solved yet?

There are several barriers to solving this problem, some of which can be resolved by improved software citation methods and some of which cannot. The barriers which cannot be resolved by improved software citation methods include academic hierarchy, the tenure-track process, the low availability of academic jobs, and the historical inheritance of academic disciplines. However, improved software citation methods could work within these existing systems to provide new ways of recognizing research contributions. To benefit the actors in this story, an improved software citation method would include:

  1. Discipline integration: the citation standard needs to include information about how the PhD student’s contribution relates to other contributions in her field. Are her data and use cases novel and interesting? Does she have other, more traditional papers that mention her package in their methods sections? Who else is using her package – are they in her field or not? How does her work compare with existing software that senior scholars might recognize?
  2. Promotion: the citation standard needs to show how the software fits within the PhD student’s career story and provide “selling points” for like-minded researchers to use the package. The power of the software for synthesis and research progress needs to be made self-evident.
  3. Easy evaluation: the citation standard needs to be simple and comprehensive enough that senior scholars will use it for job evaluations. The H-index, albeit rift with its own troubles, is a good example of an easy evaluation. Scholars can quickly compare job applicants by looking at one metric. Like the H-index, the citation standard must be easily derived, include comparative information between scholars of the same discipline, and reflect research output.

Actionable Outcomes

Additional Information and Links

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