Nerdgasms and other insights from inside the “publish or perish” process

The plane’s wheels kiss the runway. As we roll onto the tarmac, I switch on my cell phone, congratulating myself on such a productive 6 a.m. flight and thinking about the day’s jam-packed schedule. As my Droid sputters to life, I start scanning my inbox. One email jumps out at me. I feel my heart start to thump as I select the message entitled “Decision on Manuscript MCQ-11…”

Since August 22, I’ve waited, keeping track of the time, knowing that the decision should come around Thanksgiving time. You see, I’m in the middle of a “revise and resubmit” cycle. It started way back in late February with my second-ever submission to an academic journal.

As I described in “Life Lessons: You can’t win the lotto if you don’t play,” the publishing process is an important, stressful, and time-intensive part of the academic game. It starts when someone like me takes a research paper they’ve written, polishes and pretties it, and sends it in to a journal. The editor does a quick scan to see if it’s worth further scrutiny, and if it is, sends it on to several anonymous reviewers. These reviewers then put the manuscript through its paces–questioning assumptions and claims, making suggestions, judging whether or not the paper makes an important enough conceptual contribution to the discipline, etc. etc.

It’s strange how exhilarating nerd work can be. When T woke up this
morning, I couldn’t wait to tell him about the theoretical construct I’d been
developing/slaving over the night before.

In early June, I received my first “revise and resubmit.” The reviewers offered helpful but mixed feedback on my paper, suggesting I had good raw material that needed further development before it would be ready for the light of day. I was invited to revise and resubmit my paper for another round of review. I admit, I was excited but somewhat daunted. Although the feedback was largely constructive and not as aggressive as I’d imagined (really, I’ve heard horror story about scathing reviews), it still spelled significant work on my part. I gave you all my smarts and now you want more??! After scrounging up some additional smarts and working diligently over the summer, I turned in the draft mid-August and did the waiting thing once more.

If I’m being honest, I’ll admit praying about, fretting over and obsessing about this publishing process. Remember how I’m no good at patience? So when I saw that decision email last week, I held my breath, hoping. Scanning quickly through the lengthy preamble, I got to the editor’s final decision: Revise and resubmit round two. This time, the language was a good deal more encouraging with the reviewers and editor recommending eventual publication provided I make good on the second round of suggestions.

When I let out the breath that was burning my chest, I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or not. More smarts? You want moooooore??? I just wrote comps, I don’t think I have any left! I started calculating how long it would take me to complete the revisions keeping in mind the other 50 things on my to-do list and then, factoring in the holidays, how long the next review cycle might take. Thankfully my advisor offered such enthusiasm about the news that I sloughed off my pessimism and got to work right away.

Nerd alert: She who writes hearts on her reviewer comments *might*
be a dork of the highest degree.

Cue the nerdgasms!

To begin, I printed comments from the editors and reviewers, and sorted through the general reflections and specific requests/suggestions. I may or may not have written margin notes back to the reviewers like “Yes!”, “Are you kidding?!”, “You did read the paper, right?” before numbering each suggestion.

One of the most challenging parts of revising is acknowledging every suggestion, incorporating as many of the requests/adjustments as possible, and justifying each choice. Sometimes (I’ve heard) one reviewer may make suggestions that are completely the opposite of another reviewer’s, and authors are left to decide whether to make concessions for both camps, or side with one over the other. Yikes.

Luckily for me, the reviewers’ suggestions were mostly synergistic. In fact, I found myself quite elated that in attending to one person’s comment that I hadn’t justified clearly why my context was unique, I was able to address another reviewer’s note that my findings sections seemed disconnected. Further, I just about jumped for joy when I realized that the constellation of reviewer/editor comments helped me to develop an idea that was clear in my head but only implicit in the manuscript. Oh, the joys of nerdness!

I still have a bunch of work to do on the manuscript but I’m hopeful that the third submission will the charm. We shall see!


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