“We need to get this resubmitted,” Penguin noted when we all sat together to go over paper revisions some months ago, “before Editor bolts when his term is up.” I glanced up from the pages of the comments he printed and my pages of data I’d brought to address those points.
“Is that how this got accepted?” Dr. Icing asked, looking both curious and smug.
“I think so, at least partly,” Penguin grinned. “We ran into each other and had drinks at the last meeting. I was talking about how much trouble our last paper had and mentioned some of the ridiculous complaints we’d seen in the past. So I’m assuming that when he saw some of the same comments here,” he waved his hand at the pages and pages of reviewer problems we had to face, “he accepted it anyway. He likes this kind of work.”
“Nice,” Dr. Icing said while I thought that this didn’t seem quite fair. In some sense, it was fair, of course. We had five reviewers on that paper, made substantial changes according to their requests and the paper made it past all of them in the re-review. Nothing untoward happened, but I can’t help but wonder if a few drinks and conversation tipped the decision from ‘most reviewers weren’t impressed – Reject!’ to ‘some reviewers are assholes – Accept!’
Judging from my post yesterday, it’s clear that I don’t mind using connections. I remember people I’ve met and mentally flip through my address book when I want something and think someone should be able to help me get it. I’m not great at networking – I think it’s flipping hard – but I did study in an excellent (and huge) department for grad school. And to know Boss is to love him, so when I tell people where I currently work, they tend to respond with enthusiasm. Plus, I collaborate. Which means I know some pretty important MDs. I’ve interviewed a lot so that adds some people to my circle of acquaintances too. If I need advice or a recommendation or I think someone knows someone else I should meet, I’ll ask. I’ve always had excellent responses to this strategy and count myself lucky for knowing good people.
But sending papers to journal editors I know? Well, that’s dirty.
“So he said that he couldn’t help me with initial cover letters because that information is normally exchanged in pre-submission emails. So he knows journal editors and tries to pal around with them! Cheater,” I muttered and shook my head with great superiority. Then, since we waited forever to get a table for dinner, I was thinking about my opinions on this matter when talking to Friend.
Those thoughts take us back to the circumstances surrounding my defense. If you recall (and you should – I talk about it all the time), I was told that since first author papers were submitted but not yet in press, I couldn’t graduate. In an attempt at trying to save myself from the horror that was becoming my life at the time, I contacted a friend whose post-doctoral supervisor edited a major journal in my field.
“MajorJournalEditor looked at the paper,” I told one member of my committee desperately as I fought back tears and tried mightily to get him on my side before the committee met without me. “He said that it was definitely publishable and he’d put it in his journal if that would help.”
I recoiled from his expression after I spoke. “That’s awful,” he scolded me. “Absolutely terrible that you would try to use connections to get a paper published. It makes me think badly of you and him and the journal, quite frankly. I’m very disappointed in you, Katie.”
My mouth fell open as I looked at him. I was crushed that he could be even more disappointed in me than when we started, that my plan had failed so badly, and that I’d taken down MajorJournalEditor with me. “No!” I cried, trying to fix it, for I did misspeak. “It would go through review! He wouldn’t just publish it without having anyone look at it – that was never, ever suggested and I apologize if that’s the impression I gave. Please don’t think badly of the editor or journal! He was just trying to help!”
But I still remember the lingering expression of disapproval. And I was bitterly disappointed in myself for thinking of it and explaining the plan wrong and vowed to never submit any work to someone I knew, lest someone be disappointed in me again. And like a few decisions I've made when depressed and terribly hurt, this one stuck.
“You should send us something,” Director said when I interviewed for that faculty spot. And though I took the card for his journal, I immediately rejected the very idea of sending anything there. It would look like I cheated! People would wonder at the quality of my work! And make fun of me or be disappointed in me! And that would be awful.
“I talked to an editor at the last meeting,” one collaborator told me several months ago. “He asked what I presented and I told him about the poster and he said it sounded like good work. So I asked him why his journal rejected it and he said to send it back and include that we’d discussed it at this meeting in the cover letter.” The paper is currently in press.
“We just had to do some minor revisions,” A friend explained of one of her graduate papers. “Then Advisor could send it back to his editor friend. I can’t take care of that – it should come from him since it’s his contact.”
“He’s a good man – a good friend of mine,” Boss said when I showed him my letter from the editor that came with my framed copy of the journal cover on which one of my figures appeared. And while I still basked in the glow of my accomplishment, I wondered if I’d had an edge because Boss was a co-author. He had suggested the journal, after all, and encouraged me even when I said it was too high impact for the work.
There’s a mid-level journal in the field that I won’t use because I’ve worked semi-closely with the editor. I also feel a vague sense of disapproval when his own people publish a ton of work there. I’ve started to glance at the institution before the abstract when there’s a C/N/S paper I think might be cool. If it falls in a ‘who you know’ category for me, I’m unlikely to even make it to the first sentence. (Plus, those papers are generally too short to be overly useful to me. I often swear if I want to learn something from a paper that’s very high profile.) I heard people openly scoff at yet another friend who published three papers in her boss’s journal and it reinforced the idea that friendly connections mean disappointment in others.
Yet this is one of those areas where academia may not be strictly fair. But it’s not unfair either. Crap sometimes gets published, but each of the papers I’ve mentioned in this post were representative of strong science and good writing. So maybe this is a quirk I should try to let go.
“Can I ask you something?” I said to a friend and he nodded without glancing away from his computer screen. “You rolled your eyes when one friend published in her boss’s journal. But I just saw your paper come out in your boss’s journal. How’s that feel?”
“I couldn’t get it in anywhere else,” he replied absently and I sat back in my chair and nodded thoughtfully.
Perhaps I know where to send that paper Psych Post Doc convinced me not to give up on. Because I know an editor or two myself.