Academic dream: My research, my citations, my h-index, and the "True Impact"

Colleagues have been sharing their experiences as academics in Nigerian universities with several reactions. The essence is not to discourage people from going into academia but to know what lies ahead of you if you want to go into academia. Just like most colleges, I had no idea of the challenges in Nigeria's academia when I was so eager to join. I never knew the job is for 24 hours and that promotion is based on research output that you will fund from your pocket.

After graduating in 1999, I was looking forward to being part of the academia. During my youth service in Kano, I went to see the HoD of Physics, ABU Zaria, Prof I. B. Osazuwa to discuss my "academic dream". He directed me to the late Prof. N. I. Hariharan. I met him and he advised I should enroll for MSc. In 2001 on my way from Kano, I stopped over in Zaria, purchased the PG form, and left for Lagos.

As we were job-hunting in Lagos, I remember my friend and Brother, Yusuf Osafore, saying it appears I was not taking the job hunting seriously but was more concerned with going for a Master's degree. My looking forward to becoming an academic was so obvious to people around me. Then, I eventually got hired in March 2005. It was a dream come true. I have finally joined the group of intellectuals. The "most revered" group in the society. A group of knowledge generators. A group of reservoirs of knowledge.

A few months in the university revealed to me the reality of Nigerian academia. The reality I had no prior knowledge of. There are, of course, viable ideas but the ideas die within the walls of the university because the political class ain't interested in them. The ideas are been published but it is just for promotion's sake. I paid N7,000 or so to publish my first paper in a Nigerian university-based academic journal in preparation for the next promotion to Lecturer II. These made me begin to meditate on "my academic dream".

In 2007, I had the opportunity to visit ICTP for a 2 weeks workshop, and my interaction, over there, revived my academic dream. Then, in 2009, I got lucky and left the country for my PhD and that strengthens my revived "academic dream". My joy knew no bounds when I published my first research paper in an Elsevier indexed journal, a Q1 journal, in 2011. From then on, the papers kept coming.

There are two publication options. You either publish in close access journals where publishers are paid for access to your research work or you pay between $1,500 to $3,500 to publish as open access for everyone to have access. I remember paying some dollars in 2014 to publish the last paper from my PhD work in Elsevier's Sustainable Materials and Products journal as open access. That money came from my salary in Norway.

We were told that research impact is based on the number of citations one has. Something they called h-index was brought to classify our research impact. I began to monitor my citations and h-index on Scopus, ResearchGate, and Google Scholar. I usually wear a smile on my face whenever I receive citation alerts. I count my number of publications as promotion period approaches and I was excited as my number of citations grows. We began to use Scopus h-index to rate academics. We got carried away so much so that if you talk too much, we ask "What is your Scopus h-index?" 

The irony is that you look for money (either grant or personal fund) to do research and get it published in a reputable journal after rigorous reviews (reviewers work for free). Excited for an additional paper to your credit, brag that you have so and so number of papers in indexed journals, and get promoted for a peanut added to your salary. In Nigeria, you become a Professor to earn about 440 USD (N325,000) per month. You proudly go around with the title (Prof). Meanwhile, a multi-billion dollars cooperation makes money from your sweat and the knowledge you have laboured to create.

And all that we are happy with are citation alerts, a growing h-index, and promotions that come with peanuts. 

The best publication time is during our youthful age. As we grow older, our students take over the writing. The university will start asking why you are the first, second, or last author of a paper they have got no idea how it was funded. The academic dream can truly be defined as spending our entire youth creating knowledge and then, paying a billion-dollar corporation to take it from us in exchange for career capital that you can then use to buy meaningless promotions from other exploited individuals.

Sometime back, I log into the university network and the research output of a senior colleague on Google Scholar was highlighted on the university webpage with thousands of citations and a high h-index. I decided to follow the link to check mine. Mine was very much below his, but wasn't that bad. Then, I sat down and began to question the true impact of my research work beyond what Google Scholar has evaluated.

Do a mere citation of our publications truly translate into research impact? Research is a global thing but you should see your work to be impactful to your immediate environment. We have Professors with thousands of citations that can't present an inaugural lecture, faculty colloquium, or even a departmental seminar, So, what is the impact of our research on our immediate community?

I tried to reflect on our impact, especially as Professors and Farooq Kperogi came to my mind. I remember checking on him on Scopus when he became a Professor in the US. When I later reflected on his writeups on Nigeria's sociopolitical scene and the healthy discussions he had generated towards repositioning the country, I began to realize that Farooq has made much impact on Nigeria than many of us with better presence on Google Scholar, Researchgate, and Scopus.

Let me now introduce myself properly. My name is Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik. A Professor of Physics with a specialization in dielectrics and high-voltage electrical insulation. I have 33 research documents indexed in Scopus and an h-index of 11, 13, and 14 in Scopus, Reseachgate, and Google Scholar respectively. I have about 585 citations on Google Scholar. My published research articles are on high voltage insulation but the articles and the citations, put together, have not impacted on our electricity network in Nigeria which is on a breakdown spree. So, what then is my impact?

Universities are identified as keys for innovation both from the point of developing new ideas and providing state-of-the-art facilities. They are engaged by industrialists and managers of the countries in keeping the work flow with full of new ideas. But in Nigeria, our university system has been made to be the most insignificant institution that has been reduced to just lecture rooms. We only publish not to perish.

Everywhere in the world, academics are respected and they are heard when they talk. But in Nigeria, especially during the Buhari government, they are tagged as enemies to crush. Our universities were once places where policies evolved. Ideas that shaped the country were generated by academics. Discussions in academia use to shape the policy development of our nation. The golden time of Bala Usman can never be forgotten. What happened to those intellectual discussions? Who killed it? We now chase appointments within and outside the universities, especially after we become 'Professors'.

Nigeria is in a messy mess for the last 8 years and Nigerian universities are in the worst state ever. But the government of Buhari used 8 years to run away from education stakeholders' engagement. The political class are educated people that have no value for the education of the people. The best gift that Buhari gave to the people that so loved him was to strangulate the public universities for the people.

Rather than having a public engagement on how to salvage the situation he was well aware of, before his appointment, the outgoing Education Minister, Adamu Adamu described the backwardness that they have imposed on us as "self-imposed backwardness" and their idea of the solution is by approving the establishment of more substandard private universities in the North.

The incoming government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu needs to come in with a clean and open mind to engage the academia with sincerity. They should look at ASUU as partners in progress rather than enemies to crush. The solutions to our problems are right in our hands if we are willing to engage each other. The academia, on the other hand, needs to start looking beyond publishing not to perish. We need to start thinking beyond journal publication impact that has no impact on our immediate constituency, Nigeria. We need to wake up and revive the golden days of Bala Usman on our university campuses.


Prof. Abdelghaffar Amoka Abdelmalik

Copyright © Amoka

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