As everyone on this blog knows, there is no single metric to evaluate a researcher. On top of that, it depends upon what you are evaluating them for…a postdoc? tenure? promotion? election to an honorific society? a grant? a prize? There are many metrics including …number of pubs, citations, journals used, people trained, prizes won, etc. During the course of my career I have observed that many of things that we scientists value and need to have to work, to be recognized and to be valued have become extremely political and based on whom you know and how well you are funded. Those with good funding (hard these days) those with the right cheerleaders, or powerful backers definitely have an advantage.
So what to do?
What do I do to "evaluate".
First of all, to be clear, in my mind, the QUALITIES that make a good researcher are;
1.The ability to ask important question that sometimes take you out of your technology-centric comfort zone. Don’t get stuck doing things' because you can'. Try to create a body of work that moves your field forward. Techniques are tools…nothing more…unless developing the technique is the subject of the work.
2.One’s dedication to conduct the research in an honest, carefully controlled manner. Make sure that methods are thoroughly described, detailed in writing and that the data are not cherry picked. To make sure that someone else can read the protocol (yes keep detailed written protocols) and get the same results. Ask people to give you feedback on your papers and grants.
3.Realize that people do compete, some do cheat and some do steal. This is reality Accept these as facts but remain as collegial and open as you can. Don’t spend your career complaining … be aware and move forward.
4.Learn to write your paper up clearly and honestly, even if takes 15 drafts. Papers are your "face" to the world of science. People need to understand what you did and to “read” not only your text but your tables and figures. Don’t hide things under the rug. Don’t be afraid to speculate in the Discussion. High impact journals are fine but not necessary. If the study is good, it will rise to the top. Don’t judge people by the journals that they publish in.
5.As a reviewer, evaluate what is in front of you not the “could have done, would have done, needs to do”. Is the study well conducted with all the controls, clearly presented and discussed?
6.Do everything you can to instill 1-5 above in your trainees. In addition, teach them how to deal with failure. Teach them how to READ papers, how to WRITE protocols, results of experiments, and papers. Stress the importance of citing and discussing the work of others. (Your work did not come out of the blue...it is built on the ideas and findings of others). Work with them on their presentations and rehearse them. Teach them how to answer questions THEY are your progeny!
Given 1-6 above, my preferred way to judge a person is to read their papers, pick up the phone and make confidential calls to mentors, collaborators, PIs etc. with whom this person has worked. I ask about creativity, dedication, honesty, bench skills, people skills, stamina, weak points and strong points etc. After reading and 4-5 calls I know everything I need to know. I hear common themes about strengths, weaknesses and how good the person is. Then it is up to me to decide. I agree that this takes time and thought but in the end its well worth it. All evaluations are subjective...so do your work.