Metrics, Metrics, (Alt)metrics

By Amy Atchison


If it sometimes feels like success in academia boils down to metrics, that’s because in many US institutions it does (sadly) boil down to metrics. We all know that it isn’t just the number of publications you have. It’s also the impact factor of the journals in which those articles were published, the citation count per article, and your h-index score. (And don’t get me started on the non-research metrics, like course evaluations—which we all know are notoriously flawed. See here, here, and here.) Those are all pretty common measures that are widely used. But a recent Twitter thread indicated to me that some political scientists may not be aware of a new(ish) measure that can help to quantify use of your non-publication outputs as well as your social media reach: altmetrics. This is helpful if your institution puts a premium on public engagement.

Altmetrics are simply alternative measures of scholarly reach/output. They include measures like the number of downloads of your work from your institutional repository or number of mentions on social media. The usage metrics provided by or Research Gate are also considered alternatives to traditional metrics (use the latter with caution, though).

In this post, I focus on Altmetric Badges from because they aggregate many sources of attention and because many leading journals have started adding Badges to their sites. I give a brief overview of altmetrics, including how they can be used in promotion and tenure (P&T) applications, as well as the pros/cons. I end the post with a brief overview of the problems inherent in many of the traditional measures we use to evaluate scholarship (citation counts, journal impact factors, etc.) since I have found that almost no one tells people these things in grad school. (But they’re helpful to know!)

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#WPSA17 Award Winners


Thank you to our conference community and the city of Vancouver, BC for a successful #WPSA17! Below is a list of those scholars who won an award at the 2017 conference for their exceptional 2016 conference papers. If you would like to submit a paper from WPSA17 to be awarded at next year’s conference in San Francisco, please see the information toward the bottom of this post.

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Failure and Success in the Academy

By Susan Sterett, Jennifer Diascro, and Judith Grant

The Western Political Science Association’s Status on Women in the Profession Committee is pleased to introduce a new feature here at The New West blog, geared toward discussions of professional development and reflections on the academy, for seasoned, aspiring, and new political scientists. Our own experiences at different institutions and with different job searches, position us to reflect on the field honestly and openly.

For this series’ inaugural post we aim to contribute to the renewed discussion on success and failure in higher education. In this context, there are several important themes that we touch on below, and we encourage contributions from the WPSA membership on these issues by emailing your ideas to Meredith Conroy ( As we’ve been thinking about current discussions of success and failure, we find room for four different dimensions that are easy to forget in thinking about success and failure as attributes of individuals. These include pressures: (1) on higher education to deliver more while diversifying funding; (2) on individual faculty to produce, and teach students in more complex ways; (3) on institutions to support the health and success off students, and address multiple needs; (4) on faculty to integrate our work with our responsibilities to our families and communities. Below we think more about all of these, and invite stories from members of WPSA in an effort to continue this conversation.

And in this spirit, we would like to encourage you to register for our short course at the APSA conference in Philadelphia in September on Unlocking Success with Failure.  This half-day short course will focus on unlocking our success – as individuals and institutions – by exploring the failures in our personal and institutional stories. We will do so in the context of the many interdisciplinary intellectual frameworks that illuminate failure as inevitable and necessary for achievement.

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