Could you be a PI?

Thinking about becoming a principal investigator of a research laboratory at a university? Want to know how you stack up against your PI colleagues? A research trio has published a new study that examines the relationship between several publication metrics and the likelihood of becoming a PI. They found that:

  • the impact factor of the journals in which the authors’ manuscripts were published was the most predictive factor for who will become a PI.
  • the next two most predictive factors were number of publications and gender.
  • publications on which you’re a middle author don’t help your chances of becoming a PI, unless the manuscript is published in a “high impact” journal.

The authors conclude:

that currently, journal impact factor and academic pedigree are rewarded over the quality of publications, which may dis-incentivize rapid communication of findings, collaboration and interdisciplinary science.

You can test your own metrics at to predict your probability of becoming a PI. As of today, almost 50,000 people have tried out the model! I’m one of them.

The software told me that I had a 66% probability of becoming a PI. In fact, I was a principal investigator for 3 years at Northwestern University before I made the switch to medical writing. Because gender was found to be a predictor, I ran the code again and said I was male. This time I had a 76% probability of becoming a PI. Interesting to see how much of an effect gender had on the prediction.

Whether you should you become a PI is a question for another day.