HELLLP! I’m doing way too much writing and it’s the scientific kind, which is to say soul sucking! Okay, it’s not that bad, but for the past month it’s been a mad rush to get several different papers written. Today I plan to go over all the papers I’m working on, the progress I’ve made, and why I really hope I’ll never have this happen again. Far too much writing! It has to end eventually though, right?
I blog daily, but blogging isn’t the same as scientific writing. Sometimes you can spend hours on one sentence because you need to hunt down citations for the statement you’re making. Anytime you claim something in a paper, you need to have a citation, anytime you find something that confirms previous work, cite it! Anytime you find a UFO, sighting! Okay, that last one has nothing to do with scientific writing, but seriously if you see a UFO or bigfoot, or whatever, clean your lens and get some good photos of it! (haha)
Hunting down citations isn’t just about googling and referencing the first thing that pops up, you need to read the paper and make sure it’s (1) good science, (2) applicable to what you need, and (3) actually helps you make your case. That’s a lot of work and a paper can have dozens of citations, the current one I’m working on is up to 70 right now. That’s 70 papers I’ve had to read over the past two months and I’m not quite done yet, I’ll probably end up closer to 80 or 90 citations in this paper.
The R21 grant I wrote (well mostly wrote), that had over 120 citations. There’s a lot of effort that goes into curating all those citations and the life of an academic means reading current research so you have that information ready when you do your writing. Of course not all your citations will be read before you need them, sometimes (a lot of the time) you need to hunt down stuff and well that’s where the hard part comes in. Point being, it’s not so much the writing that takes time, it’s the citing that takes the longest (for me anyway).
This month alone I’ve had four papers. Okay if we’re being technical three papers and a grant. I’m first author on all the papers and I wrote the entire grant myself with my main-PI giving it a review. Basically I’m the one doing all the writing. The first paper is in review currently, we had it sent back for some minor changes and we’re expecting it to be accepted for publication in the next few months (finally), that paper I’ve been working on for over a year and a half now (including the four or so months they took to review it the first time), so it’s nice to get it off my plate again.
The second paper is the one I am doing with my Co-PI based on the summer data I analyzed (here), 6 to 12 hours of analysis was what he told me, it’s been three months or so now. I think he meant 6 to 12 weeks. Anyway, that paper has been written, mostly. My Co-PI takes a more hands on approach to the writing process than my main-PI mostly because my Co-PI is early career so there’s a lot at stake for him. I’m meeting with him later today to go over the latest draft of the paper and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time doing the analysis and making super cool figures since he said to think outside the box (which he’s finally on board with, he thought they were “too out of the box” at first).
The third paper has been the longest most complicated process of my life. I feel like this could’ve been my PhD it’s been so difficult. It was a hard dataset to work with, there was a whole lot of learning new things, and in the end it’s been just one giant mess. It’s the paper for the “I’m not thrilled with this experiment, experiment” and to be fair it’s good science and I won an award for it (here), but it just wasn’t something I was super interested in doing. Anyway point being, for the past two years almost exactly it’s been a long and trying road. Technically I didn’t even finish collecting the data until last November due to COVID and the analysis has been difficult, but I’m finally done!
The paper isn’t finished quite yet, I’m ~95% done with writing it, I just need to make a few figures, then I can send it off to my main-PI for review and my Co-PI. I’m actually not sure who’s reading it first, probably my main-PI since this work is directly in his wheelhouse. My Co-PI will have a lot more to say about the introduction and conclusions than the analysis itself because to him (like it was initially to me) it’s black magic, forbidden knowledge and evil science! Okay, not that bad, but I showed him some of the results and he was very confused on how I got that solution. My main-PI was more excited about it though since he knows the analysis.
Anyway all this to say that for the past month I’ve been writing my blog, then transitioning to writing one of the papers. It’s been (on occasion) 12 hour work days and it felt like we would never reach the end of it, but I’m close! Sure reviewing the papers before submitting isn’t the finish line, but it’s a lot easier to revise a paper than it is to write it. I’m very excited to be submitting all these papers and finally getting some publications under my belt.
Since I’ve started my PhD I’ve only had one publication in a conference and I wasn’t even first author. I helped edit a book chapter, but that hasn’t been published yet (although it’s about to be… I think!?), but that’s not exactly the same as publishing research. So basically for the past three years now I’ve had zero real publications and that is not good. I’m hoping the flurry of papers that will hopefully be coming out this year and next will make up for it, but we’ll have to wait and see. Journal paper reviews (for those who’ve never done one) can take months before you hear anything back, sometimes it’s outright rejection, sometimes it’s heavy edits that are needed, and sometimes it’s minor edits. Rarely it’s just accepted outright and I’ve never seen it happen, but I’m sure it does on occasion. So since each review can take 4-6 months and there could be multiple reviews, it can take literally years for a paper to get published.
In fact, if the first paper I wrote (the one under second review) gets accepted it and published before the end of the year, it will have been at minimum 10 months since we submitted it and almost twice as long since I started writing it. I highly doubt it will get reviewed and published that quickly, but it could happen. So yeah, papers are a process and even after it’s written the result isn’t instantaneous. It’s a publish or perish system though, so I’ve been very stressed out about the lack of publications to my name.
I’m hoping that won’t be the case for long.