Potential indicators of success in science

When discussing success in science, there is a huge number of success parameters that are mostly incompatible with each other.  I have listed below – in random order – several success indicators in science which may help to characterize a person, a group, or an institution as “successful in science”.

Research success in science

  • Producing exciting results
  • Having a high number of citations, high impact factors, h factor, m factor
  • Having a very long publication list
  • Having many/excellent patents

Social success in science

  • Being an expert
  • Having an impressive publication list
  • Having a lot of international collaborations
  • Being a board member or chairman of commissions
  • Being a member of editorial boards of scientific journals
  • Being a board member or president of scientific societies


  • Having high responsibility
  • Exerting power
  • Being responsible for a high number of (excellent) staff members
  • Having a huge research group
  • Having a high hierarchical position in academia or industry
  • Getting regularly invited as (keynote) speaker
  • Being present in the media (TV, press, social networks)
  • Receiving important prizes
  • Being a “science star”
  • Receiving the Nobel prize

Financial success in science

  • Having a highly-paid position
  • Being rich
  • Having highly-paid industry collaborations
  • Raising vast amounts of funding
  • Creating a blockbuster product


  • Having a permanent position as a senior scientist, group leader, or professor

Life quality

  • Enjoying my work
  • Doing a lot of different things
  • Being socially well-integrated and working well together with my colleagues
  • Being happy and fulfilled


  • Following my passion
  • Doing what I really like

Societal impact 

  • Doing research with a substantial societal impact (new and better therapies, technologies, etc.)
  • Being a source of inspiration for my students and/or for future researchers
  • Doing significant “pro bono” and charity work
  • Making a substantial contribution to the world and leave a legacy

Integrated success in science

  • Having most of the above *and* a healthy family life

Without a doubt, you may criticize the appropriateness of some category titles, and several indicators may belong to multiple categories. Discussing these success criteria in science with your peers and becoming aware of the unspoken rules and beliefs within yourself and your institution/company is helpful. This is an essential first step to understanding what it means for you to pursue a “successful career” in science.


What to do with your PhD?

Get clarity about your career! Find your dream job in science!

Career in academia?

Learn the rules and become a professor!

Similar Posts


  1. What about being a source of inspiration, not only for your own students but also for the researchers of the future?

  2. A very thorough list. Success can mean so many things to so many people nowadays and that is what I found good and interesting about this list.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.