Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Manuscripts: reviews, rejections and acceptance

I am still a very early career academic being only two and a bit years through my first postdoctorate (and 5.5 years on from the start of my PhD). As such I don't have the ability to write an amazing CV of failures like Johannes Haushofer did that hit the news recently. However, it did inspire me to go through my publication list and my record of revisions I've had to help remind early researchers and PhD students it's not all bad.

  • Diversity of chondrichthyans since the K-Pg mass extinction. Reject with lots of corrections Palaeontology. Sadly I never found the time to get back around to it as it was a literature review as part of my undergraduate third year and would require more work and time than I had to learn the techniques. A PhD project on the topic appeared during my time as a PhD but I remain unsure what happened to it.
  • Feeding Mechanics in Spinosaurid Theropods and Extant Crocodilians. Major corrections at PLoS one (functionally a rejection)
  • Feeding Mechanics in Spinosaurid Theropods and Extant Crocodilians. Major corrections at PLoS one (functionally a rejection)
  • Feeding Mechanics in Spinosaurid Theropods and Extant Crocodilians. Minor revisions and then accept in PLoS one.
  • Validation of a finite element model of an ostrich (Struthio camelus) skull. Reject with encouragement to resubmit Journal of Anatomy
  • Functional anatomy and feeding biomechanics of a giant Upper Jurassic pliosaur (Reptilia: Sauropterygia) from Weymouth Bay, Dorset, UK. Reject from Proc. Royal Soc. B. Minor, minor then accept at Journal of Anatomy.
  • Complex rostral neurovascular system in a giant pliosaur. Minor corrections and accept Naturwissenschaften.
  • Validation of a finite element model of an ostrich (Struthio camelus) skull. Reject and don't resubmit Journal of Anatomy.
  • Big cat, small cat: reconstructing body size evolution in living and extinct Felidae. Reject and accept Journal of Evolutionary Biology.
  • Retrodeformation and muscular reconstruction of ornithomimosaurian dinosaur crania. Major, major  and accept PeerJ.
  • Validation experiments on finite element models of an ostrich (Struthio camelus) cranium. Major and accept PeerJ.
  • Cryptic complexity in felid vertebral evolution: shape differentiation and allometry of the axial skeleton. Reject, minor Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.
  • The scaling of forelimb, cervical and thoracic muscles across cats (Felidae). Major Journal of Anatomy
  • The scaling of hindlimb and lumbosacral muscles in cats (Felidae). Major Journal of Anatomy
  • The endocranial morphology of the extinct North American lion (Panthera atrox). Major Scientific Reports.
  • New record of Egertonia (Elopiformes, Phyllodontidae) from the Late Cretaceous of South India. Moderateaccept Papers in Palaeontology. (Only out in 2016 though)
  • Cryptic complexity in felid vertebral evolution: shape differentiation and allometry of the axial skeleton. Accept Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society
  • The scaling of postcranial muscles in cats (Felidae) I: forelimb, cervical, and thoracic muscles. Accept Journal of Anatomy
  • The scaling of postcranial muscles in cats (Felidae) II: hindlimb and lumbosacral muscles. Accept Journal of Anatomy.
So there you have the list so far. 30 decisions, 10 publications and 1 dead paper. The longest time between submission and acceptance was the ostrich validation, first submitted 26  August 2013, published 13 October 2015. For those of you counting that is 2 years, 1.5 months or 778 days. In that time, there were reviews that took 3 months and 4 months which is ridiculously long especially to just get rejected. It was good data, just wasn't the for the journal as the results were negative.
What have I learnt from all of it?
  1. Publishing remains an enigma. In some ways it gets easier with experience, in others it never does. Your publications are your work, and it is always a little hard when you think you've done an amazing piece of work to get back reviews saying you've got lots to do. My spinosaur paper had pages of revisions! At the same time you get used to it, and with experience paper writing gets easier so generally there are fewer corrections as you avoid falling into the same pitfalls, and the time to turn around revisions decreases even with major corrections.
  2. Reviewers, whilst the bane of my publishing, are very good at making sure the science is good and the methods are up to scratch. Sometimes they get things wrong or miss things, but for the most part they give incredibly useful suggestions that will improve your paper. Listen to them.
  3. Reviewer two always seems to always dislike my papers...
  4. Reviews should only take 1-2 months. I've had some really short ones that are returned within a month (PeerJ was 3 weeks normally) and some shockingly long reviews (see above 3-4 months), but after about two months you are well within your rights to chase it up.
    1. A follow on from this is that if you are unhappy how long reviewers are taking, you can't be fussy and turn down the chance to review for journals (assuming you are qualified to review the paper). I have now reviewed for PLoS one and Naturwissenschaften, two of the journals I've published with.
    2. I also remain unsure why I seem to acquire 3 reviewers regularly for papers when 2 normally suffices.
  5. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Whether it's revisions, refocussing, or sending to a different journal where your paper might be better suited. In the case of the ostrich validation paper, it needed to go to a journal that accepted negative results.
  6. Some journals have really harsh standards for what constitutes reject, major and minor corrections. I've never had such minor corrections as I did for the Big cat, small cat paper, but that was a rejection, and similarly minor corrections for the muscle scaling papers were major corrections. This is never personal, but I'm informed sometimes the decisions to reject are made to keep the journal's time between submission and acceptance down (as a resubmission from a reject resets the clock). It's annoying, but the quicker you turn around corrections, the quicker you get it back into review.
"Publish or Perish" remains an awful motto of academia due to the never ending requirements to keep publishing, and this being the standard to which most academics are judged. It is something that gets easier and the longer you spend in academia the more avenues for collaboration and publication appear (I think at any point in the last 2 years I've had at least four papers on the go, with up to 7 at one point). I was told during my MSci that any work you really are doing at that point you want to be trying to publish and ultimately that helps guide ongoing work and decide on what future work I do. At the end of it saying all of that, find what enthuses you, what works for you, and get on with it!

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