Monday, December 20, 2010

How to get over rejection: Publishing is my new best friend

I got the dreaded email last week. The one we all fear. The Rejection Notice.

Yep, my first rejection notice for a manuscript. And it won't be my last; it is a normal process for a scientist. Being a 'Scientist in Training', I took it on board as a learning experience.

However, what I have also noticed as being normal is the lack of comprehensive information on how to get published in each individual journal. Of course, there is plenty info on how to write, how to get a a paper together, but not preparing for that specific journal. Given this, I decided to start a list of helpful tips that people have given me. I plan to add this over time. And because I believe that all good relationships are two sided, I have also listed a few ways that I think Editors of Journals can also improve their chance of receiving high level and good quality manuscripts.

Helpful Tips I have been given (so far)

Email! The Editor is your best friend
Instead of allowing me to submit to a lower level Journal (in fear!), my supervisor encouraged me to email the editor of the journal he likes. I sent the Editor my abstract, author list, title and asked if it was appropriate for consideration and if not, why and what journals I should try. I have done this several times now, and 50% of the time I have recieved fantastic responses from the Journal with some really useful feedback (which was also not on their online page!). 

Just be wary; this does not always work. I did this again today for a different Journal, and had a pretty dismal response, that included '... your co-authors should be determining the appropriate journal, not myself.'

If you do get rejected and decide not to resubmit to the same journal, as courtesy thank the Editor for the comments that you used when resubmitting to another Journal. They will hopefully remember this when you try for next time (and that you aren't all bad).

Young Scientists need to focus on...
This advice was from two Editors of two different Journals that I happen to know personally. They said that these things are some of the biggest mistakes that young or new scientists make when writing manuscripts:
  • Making sure they interpret their data correctly;
  • Getting a conceptual model or framework out of their data;
  • Telling a story - beginning flows to the end, and that everything you do/said matches and constructs that story.
All of these things may mean the difference between a low or higher level journal, or how you can turn a dull review into a Journal delight!

If you are unsure about your paper, send it out to someone for review before submitting! I have sent most of my papers out to either Journal Editors or experts in the field that I know and trust. This has really helped with getting the papers spot-on and I have recieved some really helpful feedback. 

Seven Tips for Post Rejection Hell
These are from one of my supervisors:
1. Walk away, they are bastards
2. Come back a week or two later and look at the comments
3. Make a list of what you need to change
4. Make the changes, methodically
5. Have all your co-authors look over it, and even consider external review
6. Resubmit to a same/different Journal
7. The bastards become useful

Don't skip the small stuff...
One of my friends was asked to Peer-Review two papers by the same authors. She rejected them both and gave them alot of constructive feedback. She then recieved these two papers again (for review) from a different Journal. When she started to read them, she realised that they had made none of the changes she suggested. Always make sure you address all the comments/criticisms, even if you do send it to another journal or don't entirely agree with all the comments. The chances of the paper going to the same reviewers is pretty high; just think about how many people are in your field? Making sure you address all the criteria ensures you don't waste your and their time and increases your chances of getting published.

... Saying this, I have also have another friend that keeps on getting rejected by whom she believes to be the same person. This is more an issue of Personality (below).

Journals are random
Just because it has high Impact Factor doesn't mean it is more difficult to get into. Each journal has different rejection rates and different requirements. Try and find someone experienced in publishing or editing to get some advice about the Journals you are interested in.

Also consider what Journals you are referencing in your work. Try and aim the paper at these Journals or make sure you include some references from your Target Journal in your work, where possible.

Just remember to not take the criticism and the rejection personally. A highly respected scientist that I know has been publishing in the same journal for 20 years. All of a sudden he has had several rejection notices. Why? A new Editor. Ludicrous! Try to focus on the science and not on the personalities. 

There are some good Peer-Reviewed-Published Review Quotes lolling around the internet that demonstrate the issues of personality. Check out Boing Boing and Twisted Bacteria for a few laughs and some tears.

Helpful Tips for Journals/Editors (from a young scientist)

P-Plates and constructive criticism
Many young scientists use the publication opportunity to contact Editors and to go through the painful rejection/reviewing process to learn. Constructive criticism is always welcome, particularily when it is sought/asked for, and it can be done as part of the reviewing process. After all, we want to learn how to get our work published, how to do better and how to make sure we meet the Journal guidelines (and not waste your time!).

Lists, Lists and Lists
Many of the Journal websites really have little information about what the Journal really wants. Sure, they often have broad aims, but nothing really concrete. A more comprehensive guide with very specific wants and requirements for the Journal would be very useful for both Authors, and waste less of the Editors time as well. This could include scope, breadth (local/international), types of assessments, how the topic should be defined in terms of the Journals scope, case study use etc.

I hope these tips help you, whether you are an Editor or a writer or a young/new scientist. And if you have any more tips, I would love to hear them. Please send them in or leave them in the comments section below.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Waffles are not Soil

I was planning to celebrate World Soil Day by writing about some iconic female soil scientists. Instead I spent it eating waffles with my garden loving friends, walking around a highly turbid lake, and cleaning the floors from all the mud that was dragged in from the recent and unusually torential rain...

 Turbid (brown soil stained) river in Santiago, Chile

So I guess, I did celebrate World Soil Day after all!

Happy digging.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mystical Fungi

A big thanks to Kelly Rae Burns, an Austin TX artist who drew a request for me: mystical soil fungi.

You can check out this and other art on her blog: Foxes in the Graveyard