This semester, I’m running an experimental “course” called The Art of Research Seminar. This not-for-credit structure will meet seven times over the course of the fall, and we’re about halfway through. In The Art of Research Seminar, we’re learning about the larger landscape of research through the lens of a single journal article – getting to know how it was constructed, published, and made discoverable, as well as thinking about attributes like trustworthiness, influence, and impact. The article we are using is:

Lauricella, S. (2014). Mindfulness meditation with undergraduates in face-to-face and digital practice: A formative analysis. Mindfulness, 5(6), 682-688. doi:10.1007/s12671-013-0222-x

In our most recent meeting, we constructed a citation network of our journal article and seven related articles to see if there were any connections – any works that might have been cited by multiple authors, across time, and whether or not that indicated a higher degree of impact.

To do this, we created an editable Google Sheet. We listed out every citation (by last name and year) used by our journal article. We then took several cited works from that article and repeated the process – listing out each of the items that those authors had cited. Finally, we repeated the process with several articles published after our central article, but on the same general topic (use of mindfulness training in undergraduate education).

This experiment had several key limitations. First, we didn’t have enough time to work with books – too many citations for an hour’s work. Second, we were limited to full-text journal articles we had immediately available, which eliminated some relevant articles which we would have needed scanned from the stacks. Third, we used a small sample – eight articles total. The articles we chose weren’t necessarily indicative of the entire field of mindfulness in education. The idea behind the exercise was just to identify one or two potentially influential connections, so we accepted these limitations.

I have to say, the whole group was pleased with our results. We found that most of our articles were little worlds unto themselves, with few linkages between them. But the linkages we did find were fascinating!

networked-graph
The entire network graph of eight articles. There are a few lines connecting more than one article hub: those represent items cited by more than one author in our sample.

One in particular: BrownRyan2003, which was cited by not one, not two, but three of the journal articles we had mapped out. The full title of Brown & Ryan, 2003 is actually
“The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being,” but we used abbreviations to make our citation mapping easier. After looking up Brown & Ryan in Google Scholar, we found that it had been cited by over 8,000 works. Google Scholar citation counts certainly aren’t the only measure of influence, but the fact that it had been cited by three of our eight articles, in tandem with the high citation count, made us want to look further.

Would I recommend dutifully typing out citations by hand, then mapping them in Gephi, as a useful method for identifying important works in your field? No! There are other, more reliable methods, such as getting guidance from a trusted faculty member, looking at published literature reviews and bibliographies, and reading critical editions of texts. Another methodology, though, is that inexact science of paying attention to who is frequently cited when reading through journal articles. One starts to see the same names again and again, the same journal articles or books being cited. That pattern recognition is something I wanted to highlight and validate, which was the purpose of this exercise.

 

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