Can researcher identity be captured with a single number?

Of course not, the title is just click bait 🙂 But, what I was thinking of a characterization that could be informative.

We have two little voices in our head, driving our self-esteem. On one hand, we seek the approval of others. We need that paper in Nature, we want that big award, we want that big recognition. We yearn for it as it forms our opinion of ourselves: if I get a paper in Nature, then I am a great researcher. If not, I’m so-so.  And we all want to be great researchers.

On the other hand, we have an internal barometer of our self-worth as a researcher. We have standards for what a great paper is: maybe it’s a discovery or a tool that gets used by others, or it greatly improves something impactful. It is fair in its treatment of previous work, it is thorough in its presentation, etc etc. The point is its our OWN standards and when we write papers that meet those standards we think of ourselves as great researchers — regardless of where the paper is published or what the reviewers say about it.

These two little voices pull us in different directions, and perhaps we can think of ourselves as what percentage of the pull goes to which voice (be honest!). After that, we can also think of others this way, and it can help us understand them. It can be helpful when mentoring also, since if you’re trying to support someone, it helps to know what drives their self-esteem.