Dr. Beth Mitchneck is a Professor Emerita in the School of Geography, Development, and Environment at the University of Arizona. She also was the lead program officer for the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE program to promote gender equity in academic STEM.
Mitchneck is a member of the second ARC Network Virtual Visiting Scholar (VVS) cohort. The VVS program provides a unique opportunity for select scholars across disciplines to pursue research meta-analysis, synthesis, and big data curation on topics crucial to STEM faculty equity.
She applied to the program because she felt she was in a position to really engage with conducting research as a primary activity. Additionally, she says, “I wanted to do it under the auspices of the support of the ARC Network, which is really effective at engaging people both in and out of the ADVANCE community.”
Mitchneck’s VVS research focused on citation analysis, which is often used and often misunderstood as a potential metric for impact of research and productivity. “It can be misused to measure performance and to shape a faculty member’s reputation, and I wanted to analyze the degree to which this was accurate,” says Mitchneck.
“What I found was information suggesting citation analyses can be more dangerous to use than I had really imagined.”
Mitchneck believes that, while there are good uses of citation analysis to understand the impact of someone’s research, citation counts and other metrics should be balanced with other sources of information about the attention research receives. Two examples from her research are the use of citation concept analysis, which traces how a researcher’s ideas find a way into other published peer review articles, and content-based citation analysis, which looks at where and how a citation is used, since some citations merely suggest an article is read, while others suggest real impact of work.
She hopes people will come away from her research with the understanding that there are many embedded gender and racial biases in citation analyses that are most likely unintended and unknown but are suspect enough to suggest minimizing the use citation counts and indices and to include additional metrics. “In the academy today, peer review published articles are one way we disseminate and demonstrate impact of research. It’s so simple to calculate, we can’t do away with its use, so we have to find more equitable ways of using it.”
Mitchneck is currently serving as PI on an NSF project to develop metrics for Hispanic Serving Institutions along the path towards servingness and consulting with universities on equitable faculty reviews, both projects which allow her to make use of what she learned as a VVS scholar.
She credits the VVS program with giving her the time to get back into doing research. Mitchneck also discussed her work in a webinar for the ARC Network community.
“There are built-in advisors and supporters who help while you’re in the middle of your project and who then help you get visibility after it’s done. You really feel like you’re a part of a community.”