What is a good H-index for each academic position?

Navigating the complex landscape of academia often involves decoding a series of metrics and benchmarks.

Among these, the h-index stands out as a critical measure of a scholar’s productivity and influence.

But what exactly constitutes a “good” h-index? And how does it vary across different academic positions and disciplines—from PhD students to full professors in fields as diverse as Life Sciences, Engineering, and Humanities?

On average and good H-index for a PhD student is between 1 and 5, a postdoc between 2 and 17, an assistant professor between 4 – 35 and a full professor typically about 30+.

Our comprehensive blog delves into the nuances of the h-index, its relevance in academic promotions, and the challenges it presents. 

Here is a quick summary of h-indexes that could be considered typical in different fields:

Academic StageLife SciencesPhysical SciencesEngineeringSocial SciencesHumanitiesComputer ScienceBusiness & Economics
PhD Student2-52-42-51-30-22-41-3
Assistant Professor12-2510-2312-259-224-1413-2610-23
Associate Professor20-4018-3820-4017-3510-2621-4018-36
Full Professor32-60+30-60+32-60+29-55+20-40+33-60+30-56+

What is the h-index metric?

The h-index is a metric designed to quantify the productivity and impact of a researcher, and increasingly, groups or journals.

Developed by physicist Jorge Hirsch, this index is computed as the number of papers (number of publications) with citation numbers larger or equal to ‘h.’

For instance, if a researcher has four papers cited at least four times each, their h-index is 4.

The metric comes in handy when comparing scholars within the same field but has limitations when used across disciplines. This is due to factors such as the average number of references per paper, the typical productivity of researchers in the field, and the field’s overall size.

Several databases, like Google Scholar, Web of Science, and Scopus, offer h-index calculations. However, it’s crucial to note that your h-index may vary between platforms due to differences in their database’s scope and what papers they include.

The h-index has become a crucial factor in academia for promotions, with assistant professors often striving for a ‘good h-index’ to become a full professor.

The h-index is not without its challenges:

  1. it may not accurately reflect the impact of scholars with fewer but highly cited publications. In such cases, the h-index may paint an incomplete picture of an author’s impact, favoring those who publish more frequently regardless of the quality or impact of their work.
  2. it is heavily influenced by the field’s norms. For example, in disciplines where papers usually have fewer citations, even established researchers may have a relatively low h-index.

Despite its limitations, the h-index remains a widely-used metric for assessing the influence and productivity of researchers, offering a more nuanced picture than simply counting the number of papers published or the number of citations.

How to calculate your h-index score

Calculating your h-index is a straightforward process, especially if you use academic databases that track citations. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide:

Manual Calculation

  1. List Your Publications: Make a list of all your academic publications that have been cited.
  2. Count Citations: For each publication, find out the number of times it has been cited. You can use Google Scholar, Web of Science, or Scopus for this, or you can manually check academic journals.
  3. Sort by Citation Count: Arrange the list of publications in descending order based on the number of citations each paper has received.
  4. Find the H-Index: Start from the top of the sorted list and look for the last publication where the number of citations is greater than or equal to the position in the sorted list. That position number is your h-index.

For example, if you have papers cited 10, 8, 5, 4, and 2 times, then your h-index would be 4 because you have 4 papers that have been cited at least 4 times.

Using Google Scholar

  1. Create/Log into Account: Go to Google Scholar and create an account if you haven’t. If you already have one, log in.
  2. Add Publications: You’ll be prompted to add your publications to your Google Scholar profile.
  3. View H-Index: Once your publications are added, Google Scholar automatically calculates your h-index and displays it on your profile.

Using Web of Science

  1. Access the Database: Go to Web of Science and log in or access it via your institution.
  2. Search for Author: Search for your name in the author search.
  3. Check H-Index: Your h-index will be displayed along with other citation metrics.

Using Scopus

  1. Access and Search: Go to Scopus and use the author search to find your profile.
  2. Locate H-Index: Your profile will display your h-index along with other metrics.

Calculating your h-index is an essential part of understanding your academic impact, and these steps should help you determine yours.

What is a good h-index for a PhD student?

determining what constitutes a “good” h-index for a Ph.D. student can vary greatly depending on the academic field, the number of years the student has been in the program, and other factors like collaborative work and the prominence of the journals where they’ve published.

Here’s a table that attempts to provide some generalized benchmarks:

Academic FieldEarly-stage PhD (1-2 years)Mid-stage PhD (2-4 years)Late-stage PhD (4+ years)Notes
Life Sciences2-33-55-7Publication norms and citation rates vary widely, so these are approximations.
Physical Sciences1-23-44-6Experimental work may take longer, thus affecting the h-index.
Engineering1-33-55-8Collaborative work, especially with professors, can boost the h-index.
Social Sciences1-22-43-5Books and book chapters may not be counted in traditional h-index calculations.
Humanities0-11-21-3Much work may be published in book form, affecting the h-index.
Computer Science2-44-66-9Frequent conference publications can boost the h-index.
Business & Economics1-22-43-5Varied types of publications, including case studies, can count.

It’s worth noting that while a “good” h-index can be indicative of a productive and impactful research career, it’s not the only metric to consider. Quality of research, contribution to the field, and other factors like teaching and community service are also important.

What is a good h-index for a Postdoc?

A “good” h-index for a Postdoc will typically be higher than for a PhD student, given the additional years of research and publications.

Again, the numbers can vary depending on the field, the productivity of the researcher, and other variables like the rate of collaboration and the types of journals in which they’ve published.

Here’s a generalized table:

Academic FieldEarly-stage Postdoc (1 year)Mid-stage Postdoc (1-3 years)Late-stage Postdoc (3+ years)Notes
Life Sciences6-99-1212-16Interdisciplinary work or high-impact journals can significantly influence these numbers.
Physical Sciences5-77-1010-13Experimental work may take longer, thus affecting the h-index.
Engineering6-99-1212-16A higher number of collaborative projects can boost these figures.
Social Sciences4-66-99-12Multi-author papers and impactful publications in high-ranking journals can contribute to a higher h-index.
Humanities2-43-54-6Books and long-form publications, not typically captured in h-index calculations, may slow these numbers.
Computer Science7-1010-1313-17High frequency of conference publications can lead to a higher h-index.
Business & Economics4-77-1010-13A wide range of publication types including journal articles, conference papers, and case studies can influence the h-index.

Remember that while the h-index is a useful metric, it’s not the end-all measure of academic success. Qualities like the impact and innovation of one’s research, mentorship, and broader contributions to science and the academic community are also vital aspects of a successful Postdoc experience.

What’s a good h-index for an assistant professor academic position?

The h-index for an Assistant Professor would usually be higher than for a PhD student or Postdoc due to more years of research and publications.

Like in previous cases, the “good” h-index varies significantly based on academic field, years in the role, and other variables such as the type of institution, rate of collaboration, and types of journals in which the researcher has published.

Here’s a generalized table:

Academic FieldEarly-stage Assistant Professor (1-2 years)Mid-stage Assistant Professor (2-5 years)Late-stage Assistant Professor (5+ years)Notes
Life Sciences12-1616-2020-25Publication in high-impact journals can significantly influence the h-index.
Physical Sciences10-1414-1818-23Long-term experimental work may take more time, potentially affecting the h-index.
Engineering12-1616-2020-25Collaborative work and applied research can contribute to a higher h-index.
Social Sciences9-1313-1717-22Diverse types of publications, including policy papers, can boost the h-index.
Humanities4-77-1010-14Books and non-journal publications may not be captured in traditional h-index calculations.
Computer Science13-1717-2121-26Frequent conference publications can contribute to a higher h-index.
Business & Economics10-1414-1818-23A wide variety of publications, including case studies, can contribute to the h-index.

It’s worth mentioning that although a “good” h-index is beneficial for career advancement, including promotions to Associate or Full Professor roles, it’s not the only metric of importance.

Peer review, teaching effectiveness, and service to the academic community are also critical factors in evaluating an Assistant Professor’s performance.

What is a good h-index for an associate professor?

The h-index for an Associate Professor would typically be higher still, given the further years of research and publishing, as well as the likelihood of having guided PhD students and Postdocs, which often results in collaborative publications.

Here’s a generalized table:

Academic FieldEarly-stage Associate Professor (1-3 years)Mid-stage Associate Professor (3-6 years)Late-stage Associate Professor (6+ years)Notes
Life Sciences20-2626-3232-40Leading large-scale research projects and publishing in high-impact journals can significantly influence the h-index.
Physical Sciences18-2424-3030-38Continued experimental work and high-quality publications are key to a higher h-index.
Engineering20-2626-3232-40Interdisciplinary and applied research, often cited in industry, can lead to a higher h-index.
Social Sciences17-2323-2929-35A broader influence, including policy papers and high-impact journals, can contribute.
Humanities10-1616-2020-26Books and other forms of long-form publications may not be counted in traditional h-index calculations.
Computer Science21-2727-3333-40Leading conferences and having high-impact papers can quickly raise the h-index.
Business & Economics18-2424-3030-36Journal publications, case studies, and policy influence can result in a higher h-index.

Again, while a strong h-index is beneficial for career advancement and often required for promotion to Full Professor, it is not the sole indicator of academic success.

Qualities like innovative research, excellence in teaching, and meaningful service to the academic community are also critical in evaluating an Associate Professor’s overall performance.

H-index required for an academic position – Full professor? 

A Full Professor is generally expected to have a high h-index, reflecting a long career with significant contributions to research.

It’s important to recognize that the h-index will vary by academic field and will often be influenced by a range of factors such as international collaborations, research funding, and the impact factor of journals where the work is published.

Here’s a generalized table for what might be considered a “good” h-index for a Full Professor:

Academic FieldEarly-stage Full Professor (1-5 years)Mid-stage Full Professor (5-10 years)Late-stage Full Professor (10+ years)Notes
Life Sciences32-4040-5050-60+Established researchers with significant grants and high-impact publications will likely have a higher h-index.
Physical Sciences30-3838-4848-60+Professors involved in long-term experimental projects and collaborations tend to have a higher h-index.
Engineering32-4040-5050-60+Those engaged in applied research with real-world applications often see higher citation rates, boosting their h-index.
Social Sciences29-3535-4545-55+Work that informs policy and public debates can significantly affect the h-index.
Humanities20-2626-3434-40+Humanities often rely on books and other forms of long-form publication, which are not always counted in traditional h-index calculations.
Computer Science33-4040-5050-60+Leading roles in influential conferences and research cited by the tech industry can contribute to a high h-index.
Business & Economics30-3636-4646-56+Impactful research that’s cited in both academic and industry publications can boost the h-index significantly.

A Full Professor’s career is also evaluated based on other achievements, such as securing research grants, publishing influential works beyond journal articles, mentorship, administrative roles, and service to the academic and broader community.

Wrapping up – what h-index is considered good?

The quest to quantify academic productivity and influence has led to the widespread adoption of the h-index as an evaluative metric.

While this index offers a useful, albeit simplified, snapshot of a researcher’s impact, it’s crucial to understand its nuances and limitations.

Notably, what constitutes a “good” h-index can vary dramatically depending on several factors, including the academic discipline, stage of career, and other variables such as types of publications and rate of collaboration.

This blog has provided a comprehensive guide to the h-index, outlining its significance, methodology for calculation, and what might be considered typical scores across various academic stages and fields.

The h-index should not be viewed in isolation.

Other qualitative factors like the quality of research, peer review, teaching effectiveness, and service to the academic community are equally vital in evaluating an academic’s overall performance.

The h-index faces challenges such as not accounting for the quality or societal impact of a researcher’s work and not translating well across different disciplines.

As a result, while the h-index can serve as a useful tool in academic evaluations, it should be used in conjunction with other metrics and qualitative assessments for a more rounded understanding of a scholar’s contributions.

So, whether you are a PhD student or a full professor, it’s important to not only be aware of your h-index but also to engage in a broader reflection of your academic goals and contributions. 

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.