We're a little crazy, about science!

Journal problems

I feel like I’m playing the how many journal papers can I have in review at once game and I hate it. Since there’s so much going on I think it would be a good idea to discuss a little bit on what I have up in the air at the moment, why I’m so freaking annoyed about the situation, and what comes next. Most of this is just me being frustrated and venting about the process, but what the hell, sometimes it’s okay to complain. I think that’s pretty much what grad school is anyway, getting better at complaining.

Since we’re talking about my progress, we should start from the beginning. I’m a third year PhD candidate in neuroengineering and I have a BS and MS in mechanical engineering. I’m researching how spinal signaling changes when spinal cord injury happens and I absolutely love what I do. With COVID and everything going on things have been slowed, but I should still (hopefully) be able to finish my degree in five years total meaning I really need to get some stuff done over the summer and that’s the topic today!

Way back in my mechanical engineering days I did my thesis on a bipedal robot (which I’ve shown off here). It’s pretty cool and I wish I could’ve taken one with me even though it was pretty expensive and I got to take a few pieces with me thanks to my former PI giving me the okay. Shortly after I started the PhD program I managed to get a journal paper submitted based on the unique way I came up with to design the robot. The great thing is the robot is still to this day the most advanced thing I’ve seen in research, so that’s the plus side.

The downside is that the journals we’ve submitted to keep giving us the same feedback, we should test the robot over challenging terrain, show that it’s easier to control, etc. Basically wear testing, range of motion testing, and torque testing wasn’t enough and even though the paper is on HOW we designed the robot explicitly, the reviewers want more. It’s been an uphill battle and since I am no longer affiliated with the lab doing more is sort of out of the question.

The last rejection we just got suggested that we resubmit it as a technical brief instead, so we’re going to give that a shot and hopefully since we addressed all the concerns from the latest batch of reviewers it will get accepted or at least accepted with minor revisions. It’s been a years long battle getting this done and every time we submit it it takes roughly 4-6 months before we hear back, once it was a flat out desk rejection because the editor said it wasn’t a good fit for the journal because it’s focus was design and not control, six months to be outright rejected hurt. Anyway we’re about to resubmit in the next week and I’m hopeful it will go smoothly this time.

The second paper we got better feedback on. They asked us to make revisions and submit. This is my “hello world” in neuroengineering paper which I’m the first author on as well (all the papers I’m talking about today I will be first author on). The feedback was good and the concerns reasonable so that shouldn’t be an issue and we’re hoping to have the resubmitted by the end of the month if all goes well. Thankfully that paper has been pretty drama free because it’s a large collaboration and the people I’m working with are extremely well established whereas my former PI is just starting out. It makes things easier because they know what to expect from the editors of the journal and some of them even know the journal editors personally so we can guess what they want to see from us without a lot of back and forth.

Unfortunately that’s not all! I also have the journal paper I’m just starting on for the experiment I finished at the end of last year. The same one I’m giving a talk on (here). That paper we aim to submit by the end of summer (ideally!) the previous paper (the one in the paragraph above) took almost a full year of writing and editing so this is going to go significantly faster and that makes me slightly nervous. This is the paper my main-PI wants me to finish before I move onto my dissertation proposal defense. The thing I need to do to start working explicitly on my project, which I’m excited to do! So fingers crossed that it happens soon and we don’t have the same headaches I had with my mechanical engineering paper. From my perspective the different fields have different requirements and I feel like the mechanical engineering bar is set significantly higher for what they consider publishable or journal “worthy” so I am somewhat confident that we won’t have a repeat of that here. Somewhat… maybe… hopefully.

But wait there’s more! My Co-PI has a “quick and dirty” experiment he wants me to do. Our Q&D experiments are fast(ish) experiments that don’t fall nicely in our funded work so they get put on the back burner and picked up when we can get to them. They need to be quick for that reason and we call them dirty because they don’t fall nicely into the work we’re doing, but they are important bits of information we want/need to do the work we do. My Co-PI offered me one of the Q&D experiments that I’ve been super excited about (more here). It comes with the chance to publish yet another first author journal paper! So for those of us counting, that’s four journal papers now all going to be submitted this year. My Co-PI wants to get this done and submitted by the end of summer (probably sometime late fall, December-ish time).

The bottom-line is that there’s a lot in the air (as usual). I want to get some of this off my plate, so hopefully I can get the first two papers out in the next couple of weeks and that will leave me open to focusing on the second two. Considering it’s been a few years now since I’ve had an actual publication, this is good news, but it’s also a bit much. I would’ve liked to have this spread out a bit more, but this is how it worked and with COVID it makes sense. If COVID hadn’t hit I would’ve had my main-PI paper done over last summer and we would be in the clear, but that’s how things work outs sometimes.

In any case, it’s nice to review the progress I’m making and I really want to get some of this published! Once that happens I’ll be feeling a lot better about things. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to keep trying.


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