A new study has uncovered the self-promotion trick that men use to get ahead in academia

Me, myself and I. (Reuters/Francois Lenoir)
Me, myself and I. (Reuters/Francois Lenoir)
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A new study shows that male researchers are far more likely to namecheck themselves in academic papers than women—a tendency that may improve their chances of career advancement.

Citing previously published works to back up an assertion, provide context, or credit an earlier thinker is standard practice in academia. But in a study of nearly 1.5 million research papers spanning more than two centuries, Stanford sociology PhD candidate Molly M. King and her colleagues from Stanford, University of Washington and New York University found that male authors cite their own previous work far more than female authors.

The study draws on academic papers from 1779 to 2011 from the JSTOR database. After correcting for varying proportions of authorship by men and women, researchers still found that men who self-cited did so on average 56% more often than women. (The majority of authors never cited themselves in papers, but 31.4% of male authors and 21.2% of female authors did.) The study, currently under review, was submitted to on June 30, 2016.

The paper’s authors offered several explanations as to why men would self-cite more than women: Men tend to evaluate themselves more positively than women do, they often specialize and publish earlier in their careers, and can face fewer social penalties for appearing self-promotional.

Self-promotion in academia is key. Two key factors that influence how fast academics climb the professional ladder are the number of papers they’ve published, and the number of citations they’ve received. And because other researchers tend to cite from papers that are already well-cited, the effect of men citing themselves so much more than women multiplies. ”Thus, gender discrepancies in self-citation rates have notable consequences for academic careers,” the authors conclude.

The ivory tower is a male-dominant community for many reasons, but this study sheds light on one career move that could boost women’s recognition in research: Self-cite with abandon.