We're a little crazy, about science!

Second paper submission

Well this is an unexpected post, but here we are. I’ve officially submitted my second paper, but it’s not the paper I was expecting, it was one that I thought was going to be a while. Instead I got an email from my former PI letting me know it was ready to submit and to go ahead and do it, thus as of yesterday afternoon, paper number two is now in review.

I don’t have high hopes for this paper unfortunately. It’s a good paper and I think it’s worth publishing, but apparently I’m the only one who feels that way (well besides my co-authors). This paper has been sitting in limbo for years, YEARS! With an s at the end. So since I’m ready to be hurt again, we might as well discuss the long, frustrating road, that has been this paper.

When I finished my Masters degree, my (at the time) PI and I agreed that we would submit my work as a journal paper. I had just graduated, moved, and was settling into my new PhD program, but we worked on it and before too long we had a paper ready for submission. It was rejected outright because the journal didn’t feel like it was a good fit. The technical term is desk rejection and that just means no one even bothered to read it because the abstract didn’t sell it as a fit for the journal so they didn’t bother continuing the process.

I’ve learned over the past few years that design papers are hard to publish, or at least mine is because no one seems to think it works for their journal. If we count the desk rejection (and I count it since we had to reformat the paper for the next journal), this will be submission number six. Each submission can take months before we get a response. That first desk rejection, that took almost four months before they said sorry, not a good fit.

Since then we’ve had several actual reviews, most of them ended the same way. Well all of them ended in rejection, but most ended with suggestions for other journals that would better fit the work or requests for us to do a whole bunch of very complex and difficult stuff to add to the paper. It wasn’t enough that I built a full robot, they wanted it to walk over difficult terrain, or show that it could be easily controlled, both of those things would be multiple papers on their own, never mind all the effort that went into designing the damn thing.

The last rejection we got was sometime last year I think. I’m not even digging through the loony bin to find the post because it’s just depressing. That ended the same way as the rest, rejection, request to add additional stuff (thankfully this one didn’t ask us to do additional testing), and a suggestion that we submit it to a different journal. Okay, I lied it wasn’t a different journal, it was for the same journal, different article type!

My co-authors think that’s a good sign so we made a ton of modifications, reformatted the paper, added the stuff the reviewers critiqued, and wrote a response letter. That took a long time, but over the summer I had made the final changes, wrote the response letter and sent it off to my former PI for review. That was a few months ago and I assumed it got buried under a bunch of other emails and work he has. Which was not a bad thing since I’m juggling several papers at the moment, so having one just sitting there wasn’t a bad thing from my perspective. It meant that I could focus on the two that needed to get done ASAP for my degree.

Well like I said, out of the blue my former PI emailed me letting me know he finally got around to reading it, he made several changes, modified the paper some, and sent it back to me. When I asked, he said to go ahead and submit it, so I did! Submitting a paper can be burdensome, but this particular journal didn’t have any really difficult additional steps for submission, which was nice. Sometimes you have to write a cover letter and that’s always incredibly confusing for me.

While I don’t want to get my hopes up (and I’m not going to damn it!) I do want to be done with this paper. It’s been the most depressing experience I’ve ever had to deal with in my short research career so getting it actually (finally!) published would be nice. Even if we don’t get it published, it would be nice just to be able to give up. I don’t think that would happen since we’ve put so much work into it, but some days it feels like we really should.

It’s not even a bad paper, it’s a design paper and the result was pretty awesome. I’ve had several reviewers say that the knee joint of the robot alone was a huge leap. Of course I’ve had reviewers who also suggested it was more for aesthetics, which couldn’t be further from the truth, but you can’t win them all I guess.

The last paper, the one I got accepted recently (here) was exciting. I was always happy when we sent it back for review and it was a tidy process. We submitted it, they asked for changes, we resubmitted it, they asked for a few other minor changes, then we submitted it a third time and they accepted it. Once they got back to us the first time the whole process took less than 6 months. It was very satisfying and now I have the first journal paper to my name in my new field.

This paper started off very exciting. It felt good to do something worth a journal publication. But as more time has passed that feeling was replaced with dread. Like literal why am I even doing this feelings. Some reviewers love it, some think we need to do more, some outright hate it. It’s so depressing going through this gauntlet of reviewers, then edits, then resubmissions, only to end in more rejections. I didn’t feel joy submitting this paper, I felt more disgust.

It’s like needing to get something out of an incredibly hot oven with nothing but your hands. The first time you reach in you may not understand it’s hot, but after the sixth or so time trying to do it you wonder, what the hell is the point? So the paper is off again and I’m left with a lump in the pit of my stomach waiting to get burnt again.

Yes, it will probably hurt, but what choice do I have?


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