New research is always exciting, but in order to spread the word about new findings, papers need to be accepted and published in academic journals. The number of citations a researcher has under their belt from these publications is one way they’re judged when it comes to academic opportunities like grant applications. Despite the wide-spread use of citation metrics, they’re often misused and there’s a lot of confusion around how they should be interpreted.

A newly developed database has attempted to address this issue. Published in PLOS Biology, the searchable database lists over 100,000 of the most-cited researchers in the world in all fields of science. Members from the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health (DMCBH) are well represented in this database, with 64 members ranking in the top 100,000 authors. Worldwide, there are a total of 6,880,389 scientists who have published at least five papers, which places these 64 DMCBH researchers in the top 1.5% of cited researchers globally.

“Academia can be tough—there’s always some kind of rejections that we face—for example your grant didn’t get funded or your paper didn’t get accepted into a journal you were hoping for—so I think it’s really important to celebrate these kinds of wins,” says Dr. Liisa Galea, Professor in the Department of Psychology. “I think it clearly shows that UBC is doing some really great work.”

Dr. Galea appears in the list of top 100,000 researchers, placing in the top 1% of citations worldwide, for her work on sex and stress hormones and how these affect brain and behaviour on both normal and diseased brain states.

Several members of DMCBH ranked within the top 25 percentile of the top 100,000 authors, placing them at the forefront of the more than six million researchers published worldwide: Drs Luke Clark, Ann Marie Craig, Pieter Cullis, Adele Diamond, James Enns, Matthew Farrer, Stan Floresco, Sophia Frangou, Liisa Galea, Ruth Grunau, Michael Hayden, Ian MacKenzie, Brian MacVicar, Edith McGeer, Patrick McGeer, Robert Molday, Dessa Sadovnick, Steven Vincent, Janet Werker, and Lakshmi Yatham.

While there are other databases that measure citation metrics, many challenges come along with them. The authors of this database note that Google Scholar allows scientists to create their own profile, but because not everyone does so results are often skewed. Clarivate Analytics also creates a Highly Cited researchers list, but the authors say it only includes 21 scientific fields and roughly 6,000 scientists. The goal with this database was for it to be comprehensive and take into account a large number of scientific fields.

The paper presented the data in several different ways. The first, was taking papers published between 1960-2017 and including the number of times these papers were cited between 1996 and 2017. The data was then analyzed on a single year term—just citations in 2017—to eliminate some biases that exists when comparing scientists who have been in the field for a long time versus younger ones who have been publishing over a shorter time span. Data was also presented in terms of scientific discipline and included various calculations, including the number of self-citations.

“It’s a way of looking at citations that’s a bit more inclusive than what we might normally see,” says Dr. Galea. “Scientists also often put a lot of emphasis on the top journals like Nature, but having something like this may be more equitable because it’s not just about who published in the highest impact factor journals.”

The large number of DMCBH scientists who appear in this citation database mirrors UBC’s success in a broader context. UBC ranked high in many 2020 metrics, including the Times Higher Education World Rankings, where it placed 34th in the world—in the top 3 per cent—and was deemed the second-best university in Canada. UBC also joined the ranks of some of the most elite schools in the world when it comes to psychology, having the tenth best psychology program worldwide according to the Times—the only Canadian university to make this list. In Maclean’s 2020 University rankings, UBC took third place in terms of best medical and doctoral universities.