Submissions for Rejection Watch have dropped off, which doesn’t really surprise me; the traffic on this blog isn’t quite strong enough to sustain a feature like that (yet!), though I don’t regret the attempt. The submissions I did get were fantastic and if anyone out there still wants to send me material, I’ll be happy to resurrect it whenever they do. In the mean time, though, a couple of relevant posts from around the web have cropped up in the last day or so, and I feel like they make great supplementary reading for those of you reeling from academic rejection.
Rosie Redfield (she of debunking-#arseniclife-fame) over at RRResearch posts her rage over a crappy review of her postdoc’s paper:
We finally (after two months) got the reviews back for the postdoc’s manuscript about DNA uptake bias. It’s a rejection – the reviews were quite negative. The first reviewer was very unfair; they didn’t find any fault with the methods or data or analysis, but they attacked our brief discussion of the functional evolutionary context of uptake bias. This is all too common for my papers. The reviewer is so hostile to the idea that bacteria might take up DNA for food that they don’t focus on the science. Because the paper was rejected we don’t get to do an official response to the reviews, so I’m relieving my frustration by responding to them here.
She goes on to do a detailed, blow-by-blow response to the objections of the two reviewers. The whole thing is a great read, even if you’re not in this field; the feeling of ‘oh, that happened to you too?’ is too good to pass up.
Meanwhile, over at The Bug Geek Crystal has found a new pit of despair:
So you know that I handed my draft manuscript in to my advisor last week. He sent back a document covered in red ink. Then my labmates pointed out all the dumb things I did, and showed me all the cool things I COULD have done but didn’t.
My advisor, a real funny guy, said, “You should make a new graph about the revision process,” and I was all, “Ha ha ha that’s so funny.”
The graph she makes is pretty awesome, but one of the things that struck me was that even the most well-meaning revisions from people close to you (advisors, labmates, colleagues you respect) can cut deeper than the blunt hammerings of an anonymous reviewer with a grudge. I think that this is because it inspires different emotions, rage for reviewers and despair for labmates. When we have a personal relationship with those who have dripped red ink on our work, it’s hard to avoid the attack on your sense of self: this person knows me, and didn’t think my work was perfect, so there must be something wrong with me. I should have done better, I screwed up. These are people that you (usually) like, that you want to look smart in front of. Contrast Crystal’s feelings of despair with Rosie’s feelings of rage; when anonymous reviewers trash our material, unless we think that they’re right we can work up a really good mad and use it as fuel to revise. In the academic setting, it feels to me like rage is a more productive emotion, a provocation to defiant action (‘I’ll show you Mr. Anonymous Reviewer who will never read this paper again!’) while despair has a soporific effect that leaves us drained and dragging ourselves through the revisions.
Of course, this is just a sweeping generalisation based on my own experience that is almost certainly wrong in some fashion. But hey, maybe you can leave an anonymous review? Then I’ll show you.