Success! Journal paper 1 of 4
Psst, hey you! I got good news! I’ve officially had my first journal paper accepted for publication! I’m literally crying I’m so happy right now. My inbox has been flooded by emails from my collaborators congratulating everyone on this. It’s been a long, hard, and often painful journey, but I’ve finally, FINALLY, gotten something finished once and for all. Since this is the end of the story, let’s tell it from the beginning, one last time, so you know how we got here.
No story would be complete without my semi-usual introduction. I’m a FOURTH! (still getting used to saying that) year PhD candidate in neuroengineering with my BS and MS in mechanical engineering. It was a painful transition, but I made the jump to a new field all the same. I work on a lot of things these days, but mostly my focus is on understanding the way the spinal cord communicates with the brain and how that communication changes when there has been a spinal cord injury. I’ve come up with a new way to study this, which I call my “super secret” technique and I hope to collect THE dataset to prove this works. THE dataset is the one I will use to get my PhD and whether success or failure, I’ll know once and for all if this technique does what I hope. If you stick around, we’re starting that data collection in the next few months so results should be coming quickly, well next two years quick at least.
Which brings us to the topic of the day! Over a year ago I took a class, which I loved, from a teacher who I hope to be like one day. She is brilliant, resourceful, creative, and an incredible teacher. Everything I would like to be and more. To say I look up to her is a huge understatement. During that course we were given a project that would turn into a journal paper. The goal was to do the project for the class, write the draft paper, and hopefully submit it shortly afterward. That wasn’t quite how it worked, but hey nothing ever goes exactly to plan.
Of course the pandmeic slowed things down slightly and I had a horrible experience with the person who was supposed to be my co-first author (more here). I didn’t want to take over the project and do the whole thing myself (basically), but that’s exactly what ended up happening (more here). That was particularly painful because I really didn’t want to have to the bulk of the work and I’m really not that smart (no really). It was a lot, but hey got it done at least and we had the data, the paper and after a long review and edit process — almost a full year — we submitted the paper for the first time earlier this year (here). Since I did the bulk of the work, I even got first author spot all to myself.
The first submission came back with major revisions requested. Some of the points were not great (in my opinion), but there were a few issues brought up that really should’ve been addressed and we were thankful that they were brought to our attention (more here). The edits that time were pretty tedious. It was a lot of back and forth with our co-authors and so it was a lot of hurry up and wait style work. It took roughly three months to address everything, but it only took me a few days to address the stuff that was brought up (more here). All in all I thought that would be the end of the story and I would have already written this post, instead the paper came back.
This time one of the authors had some minor changes that they wanted to see be made to the paper. This time the edit process was much faster. The minor changes didn’t require us to have the co-authors review it, so I made the changes pretty much the same day they were brought up (more here). About a week later we were ready to resubmit the paper and I hoped that would be the last of it since we tried to be thorough about addressing the minor changes (more here).
That was just a few days ago and I assumed the turn around would be a few weeks at least, which meant that if all went well I would have my first journal paper since I’ve started my PhD! I’m happy that I was wrong and it only took a few days. The paper was accepted for publication last night and as I said I woke up to a bunch of emails from all the co-authors congratulating everyone on the accomplishment. Getting a conference paper out of a class is pretty impressive, but getting a journal paper is mostly unheard of. I don’t know how many people have had that experience, but I know from our school at least, it’s incredibly rare.
I’m excited to have been a part of this project and to finally have something finished and ready for the world to see. For those not in academia, there are two major avenues for us to share our science in a formal way. The first is conference papers. Conference paper standards are lower because the work is considered ongoing, not completely finished, but progress worth sharing. It’s a way to share progress without having to complete everything because sometimes projects can take years or longer, so conference papers are a way to give people a look at what is coming more than what is already there.
Journal papers on the other hand are typically considered “completed” work. You’ve hit the end of a project or at least what appears to be an end. There are always alternative directions for the project to go, but for the most part the solution you’ve come up with is a good final solution. Journal paper standards are a lot higher for that reason. For example I had several conference papers about my robot, but the journal paper I wrote (which is STILL being worked on… ugh!) was about the completed design start to finish and not just the steps in between. This paper was an expansion on a conference paper, but it was a more final version than the conference paper and there isn’t an easy way to continue the work, thus we submitted it as a journal paper.
When it comes to academia, journal papers are what typically get looked at. I was specifically told by one of the lecturers in my future faculty program course that they didn’t even look at the number of conference papers a person had published, instead they look at the number and quality of journal papers. Unfortunately the pandemic has slowed a lot of things down and whatever the reason I have had zero first author publications (journal or otherwise) since I started my PhD. Assuming all goes well, I hope to have at least one more done this year, which should be a major boost for me from an academic standpoint.
I’ll be frank (when am I not?) a PhD is hard. It shouldn’t be such a bloodbath, but it is and I hate it. I can see why so many people drop out or kill themselves over this, it’s hard. It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done with my life and I’m not even finished yet. I constantly question myself, if I’m smart enough, if I’m good enough, if I should even be alive. That last one is particularly hard to argue since I don’t feel like I deserve life, much less want it.
This project and all the other first author papers I’m working on have been exhausting and just flat out depressing. Nothing ever seemed to be finished and no matter how hard I tried it wasn’t ever good enough. I was never good enough. However, for today at least, I can’t stop crying. Not because I’m sad, but because I’m just so fucking happy to have something be good enough for once.
I don’t know if getting my PhD will be worth it, ask me again in like ten years, but for now at least, this is enough. For now, I’m enough.
Now excuse me while I go ugly happy cry some more.