Ridiculous thesis requirements: impact factors (again)

The thesis: a culmination of your years of hard toil as a PhD student, representing a significant original contribution to your field of study. So sayeth the dictionary (probably; I haven’t checked), but one can go about structuring a thesis in various ways. Some universities offer the option of submitting a collection of published papers, together with an introduction and conclusion to tie-together the various works, as an alternative to writing a thesis from scratch and having to reformat your data and ideas from your papers into a new entity that few will ever read. This seems like a sensible compromise to me – if you’ve proven that you can produce research of suitable interest and originality to be published in peer-reviewed journals, it seems somewhat superfluous to have to spend further effort writing a thesis (though of course there are good arguments for writing a separate thesis, which I won’t go into now because I’ll lose the impetus behind my indignant rant).

A friend of mine doing their PhD at a university in East Asia is allowed to submit a thesis in this form, and is currently finishing writing up several papers to include. However, the regulations from their university demand that the combined impact factor for the articles be 10 or more. The problems with impact factors have been well documented elsewhere, and it’s really worrying that this is being asked for as a requirement for a PhD degree when it makes little sense to apply impact factors for journals to individual papers from those journals, let alone to the researchers themselves. These kinds of demands are apparently quite common across universities in the country my friend is working in (apologies for clumsy anonymiserating…), resulting in instances of research fraud – I’ve heard of a supervisor who submitted a review article to a journal with their student listed as first author, though they hadn’t worked on the article, just to bump up the student’s impact for their thesis.

Hopefully my friend won’t have too any problems meeting this ludicrous requirement, as they are doing good research in a “high impact field”, but I wonder how many students, having published good work, can’t achieve this target simply because the good journals in their specialism don’t have comparatively high impact factors.