Publishing probs: where next?

Mar 07 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I have this adorable little manuscript, you see. My PI, collaborator, and I all thought its findings were super exciting, and so we initially submitted it as a Brief Communication to a very fancy journal. Sadly, despite comments from reviewers that the paper was "extremely important" and "very novel," as well as the editor's admission that we could likely "adequately address all of the reviewers' minor concerns," the paper was rejected. Space issues or something? Harumph.

Disappointed by the rejection but encouraged by such a positive review, we tried next for a not quite as fancy but extremely well-respected journal. This time, the reviewers HATED it. Oh, they were so mean! So mean, in fact, that I quickly read the comments and then archived the email until after my 2nd faculty interview, lest my self-esteem plummet so hard as to make a bad impression with the hiring committee.

Now that the fate of this paper no longer affects my job hunt, I feel less pressure to get it into somewhere impressive, and more pressure just to get it out before I start applying for grants. There are several techniques in this paper that I haven't published before, and if I'm going to be proposing projects that involve these techniques, I imagine study sections will want to see that I actually, you know, have some experience with them?

So the big question, then, is where does this poor little paper go next? In the interest of getting it in press as soon as I can, part of me is inclined to let it go to a more specialized, next-tier-down journal, but my collaborator wants to try for another medium-high journal. I do love this paper and think it belongs somewhere solid; it's the work that largely informed this year's research plan in my job apps, and a higher-profile pub could be a nice boost as I start the next set of experiments in my own lab. But if we gamble and lose, what's the delay in publication time going to cost me in terms of meeting grant deadlines and feasibility-related scores?

I'm curious as to your thoughts, lovely readers. When do you decide it's best just to get a manuscript in print, fancy pubs be damned? Do you have a decision tree? If so, do you have a diagram of your decision tree? Can I see it?

52 responses so far

  • Coturnix says:

    PLoS ONE. It will be out in weeks and it will be seen by everyone (and you can tweet/facebook/blog it to death as well).

  • WhizBANG! says:

    That next tier specialty journal.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    One of the things I did for my productivity was, as perverse as it sounds, to lower my standards. It's very easy to delay until the stars align, the manuscript is polished, and you've tried all the highest impact journals. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    Ship. Publish. Get it out there. Especially now that you're on the tenure track.

    Qualifier: Ignore any of this advice if it goes against what the faculty tenure qualifications say. If they say they are looking at journal impact factor, then you should worry about it.

    • Dr Becca says:

      Re: this last point, can this paper count towards my tenure evaluation if the work wasn't done at my new institution?

      • Zen Faulkes says:

        I suspect not, but different places have different standards. Your department should have a handbook with all the tenure and promotion guidelines. If you haven't seen it yet, get it!

        If the guidelines are vague, find someone tenured in the department and ask them what really, honestly matters about a candidate's publication record.

        Don't fly blind!

  • gc says:

    I am also interested in knowing if there is a clear answer to this at all. I can only imagine, but taking just the impact on grants: on the one hand, it seems that getting it out earlier means you can (sort of) convince grant reviewers earlier...but on the other hand, wouldn't a 'stronger' pub convince them more, even if later?

  • Bob O'H says:

    If you just want the thing published, and you have the money, then PLoS One is good, but it won't have the same impact as a top journal.

    Nature now has a "next tier down" journal (Nature Communications, IIRC), and you can transfer referee comments, if you wish. I think all Nature journals let you transfer ref comments, and other Nature Publishing Group journals might do too.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Listen to your collaborator -- don't undersell your manuscripts. As you may have noticed, grant review is getting tougher and tougher, and publishing in strong journals enhances your credibility. You have no compelling reason, especially at this time in your career, to rush something into an inferior journal.

  • expat group leader says:

    One CNS paper does not make a career. It may get you an interview and initial position, but those are not worries for you anymore. It may help with the first R01, but it's not a requirement ... I know someone who just received an R01 and they've never published above IF 4 (they're in 7th year of postdoc / 1st year TT at the same place) and only have 10 papers total.

    Your mindset needs to change and to be successful, you need a string of a papers IF 2 to 7 and a few per year.

    Personally, I would do projects that fit into this scheme (it's much easier to design experimentation to meet this goal than trying to shoot for CNS every time) and when you arrive at a very novel result try submitting to somewhere better.

    Once you're more established (1 R01 and 1 renewal) you can start designing stuff that will take one or two postdocs four years each for the CNS crowd. But now you really need the steady stream of corresponding authorships. I just got my first two this year (one in IF 4 and one in IF 15) and not I see things much differently.

    Good luck and congrats again!

  • PJ says:

    I have friends who, upon receiving a poor review and rejection, will revise the paper and send it to a better journal. Such behavior is logical as revision should make the paper stronger.
    There is only so much rejection an ego can take though. And it is my experience that seldom will two reviewers have the same comments on the same manuscript.
    It sounds like you might even have submitted a Brevia to Science. I'm told that they get more Brevia than they do regular articles and yet publish only one or two of these. Competition is intense!
    PLOS One is good. Biology Letters is up and coming too, with a speedy turn-around. Given the short format of Biology Letters it is my (sad) experience that a failed Brevia article can be readily turned around for Biology Letters.
    Good luck.

  • GEARS says:

    If you're going to refer to it in proposals, then just get it out the door. If it's not published, you can't refer to it in your proposals. Just hope that your follow up work gets you that IF you want.

  • ecologist says:

    "When do you decide it’s best just to get a manuscript in print, fancy pubs be damned?"

    Always. And impact factors are a joke. The idea that one would strategize about publication in terms of IF-this and IF-that makes me cringe.

    Every discipline has a set of journals that publish high-quality, well-respected, and widely-read papers in that discipline. Decisions in those journals are much more likely to be rational and realistic than the decisions at CNS. My advice is to start with those.

  • Sharmanedit says:

    I would strongly recommend going for a publisher with cascading peer review, that is, a system by which papers rejected from the highest profile/impact journal for reasons of interest level or importance (not because of serious technical faults) can be easily passed to another journal in the same stable. The referees reports can be passed on, and if you can address the technical concerns the paper can usually be published quite quickly. This way you can submit to a high-impact journal without risking wasting lots of time.
    BioMed Central use this practice (try submitting to BMC Biology, Genome Biology or Genome Medicine depending on the topic, and if rejected the paper could be passed quickly to a BMC series journal) and I think PLoS and NPG do too (PLoS Biology/Medicine -> PLoS ONE; Nature-> Nature Genetics etc and perhaps further to Nat Comms and Sci Reports). Other publishers may do the same but can't say for certain which ones. (Disclosure: I am a former editor of Genome Biology and work freelance for all these three publishers.)
    I'd also suggest looking on the journal websites for the times they say they take from submission to first decision and from acceptance to publication, as these can vary a lot. The actual time yours takes could be shorter or longer than the stated time, but you at least get an idea. Some journals publish online on the day of acceptance, whereas others (particularly print journals) can take months.
    Good luck!

  • Dr Becca says:

    Thanks for all the comments, everyone! Just to be clear, we're talking 2nd vs 3rd tier IFs, here, not CNS.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    Based on your description, I am guessing that the first journal was Nat Neuro and the second was J Neurosci. If that is the case, then there are likely to be other possibilities in the IF 6-9 range. There is no reason to move this ms down to the 4-5 range. If the result is very cool, you might also consider PNAS.

    • DrugMonkey says:

      PNAS has risks because it is viewed as a sinecure for exceptionally GrandeScientists *and their buddies and academic progeny*. so if your CV is dominated by those, problem. A few here and there can be food though since IF is high for the kind of neuroscience that gets in there...

  • anon says:

    It's probably too late for this, but I would have recommended fighting back a bit to get it in the first journal. I had a similar experience with a top tier journal, but we added experiments that the editors asked for (despite the fact that the reviewers were all positive and recommended publishing as is) and they eventually accepted.

    My one experience with a BMC journal wasn't great. They were really fuckin slow. Good luck, whatever you decide to do.

    • Dr Becca says:

      We thought about that, but I feel like when the editor admits that you could easily address all of the reviewers' concerns and still rejects the paper, the opportunity to fight back is pretty small.

      • anon says:

        Not really. I would at least find out what the discord is between the editors and the reviewers. The editors must have had a good reason to send it out for review in the first place. Positive reviews come back, and it gets rejected anyway. That, to me, needs justification, since they tied up your manuscript (as well as the reviewers' time) for a length of time for no apparent reason. I would harangue their asses and ask what's missing for them and what would it take to convince them to publish? This was our approach. I guess I was in a position where we didn't have to give up so easily (I was still a post-doc).

        Every situation is different. I don't mean to make you feel bad for a potentially missed opportunity. But don't give up so easily, even for the 2nd tier stuff.

        • Neuro-conservative says:

          I agree fully with anon.

          • Revathi says:

            If you feel that there was something positive in the comments of atleast one of the referees, you should fight back!
            Every time I published in a high impact journal, I had to fight back, do a few more experiments and reason out with the editor to get it published. I agree that it is much easier to give up- finally, it turns out that people who publish in high impact journals are those that are the most tenacious.

  • Dorothy Bishop says:

    PLOS One every time. It'll get out quickly and you can move on to something else.
    If it's good it will get picked up. A recent paper of mine in PLOS One had over 2000 page hits in a month of publication, and other papers I've seen there had that many in a week. You can blog about it too and people will be able to access it as it is Open Access.

  • I agree with GEARS. If you will be talking about stuff in this in your proposals and potentially talks in your first year, get it out ASAP. That is more important than IF, especially since you are starting out. You will need the "approval" of peer review for new techniques you bring into proposals.

  • DrLizzyMoore says:

    I was in a similar situation towards the end of my post-doc. (I started a tt track position in Sept.) I say get the paper out the door. In my case, my paper counts towards tenure (if I am still publishing stuff from my old lab without any new stuff from my lab in a couple of years-I will have problems). We had the option to 'wait for more data', I chose door #1 and got it gone. It looked great on my first faculty eval.. Also, it is one less dangling project to worry about, so I can focus on creating experimental distance between my old lab and my lab.

    While I am sure that you respect your collaborator, you really need to look out for yourself. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, 'get papers out; don't wait for the right data to get it into a higher tier journal'. This advice comes from highly successful people who publish in the higher tier journals on a regular basis-now-not at the beginning. Now if pissing off this collaborator makes your life more difficult than try to compromise as best as you can. Good luck!

    • expat gl II says:

      I completely agree with this post. For your tenure evaluation the papers with former mentors on them will not count for much because everyone things the ideas will come form the most senior person you used to work with. I had a chance with an IF 25 (tier 2) journal not CNS with positive review, but it would have taken me at least 1 year to do all the work they requested while starting up my own lab, no guarantee they will accept it after you do all that work and it would essentially set me a year behind on starting new projects. Shipped off to tier 3 IF 8 journal, accepted and published, and figured I cut my losses. Good luck!

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I'm thinking same journals that N-c mentioned. If so, take one more swat at the jNeuro level. Then hit the next tier down, with luck you'll have a epub in 2011. Maybe even print.

    Hmm, will you have anything in 2011? If not might be a good idea to drop it down so as to get print pub this year.

  • scicurious says:

    I think this topic is really interesting (and highly relevant to mah interests!), and I'm very interested in the way the comment thread has developed.

    I wonder how the responses would look if you divided them up by the rung of the career ladder that commenters are on. I have a small (completely untested and based on anecdotal experience) hypothesis that people who are either early on the career track (grad students, post-docs) or well established (tenure) will go for the "never undersell your manuscript" side, while those on the earlier TT but who don't yet have tenure might go for the "GTFO and publish it anywherez" side.

    My reasoning behind the hypothesized split would be this: people very early and established in their careers place more importance on the big name pubs. People early in their careers want the big name pub to get them started in a big way. People who are well established, on the other hand, can afford to sit back and wait and undergo the sturm und drang to revise and resubmit until the paper gets in a higher journal.

    People who are newer and on the TT, OTOH, may have a more desperate outlook. Funding may be tighter and time is most certainly shorter than for more established people, and they are now independent and cannot continue work in another PI's lab, as with grad students or post-docs, while they wait for the big-Nature break. They have a lot more pressure to produce high numbers of pubs, and while the pull of the CNS style is still there, it may be subsumed more easily by the need to just get the numbers up and go for quantity over Journal "quality".

    As for you? It's a tough call. You're at the end of a post-doc, which may mean wait for the higher journal, but you're ALSO brand new to the TT, which may lean toward getting it out ASAP. I would say right now to go for the higher journal, but I'm going in the young and starry eyed camp here, and my thoughts should be taken with a grain of salt. 🙂

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Comment for the evangelista: Try to keep good advice for a newb prof distinct from your publisher/OpenAccess agenda. Your New World Order isn't here yet and people like Dr Becca shouldn't be looking to take the risks and pay the price.

    I have my issues with IF and GlamourMagification ruining science but you don't see me telling young profs that they should totally ignore IF considerations.

  • NatC says:

    Is there an experiment (or two) that would really address some of the critiques and really strengthen the paper? Is it worth doing those experiments before submitting?

  • One could argue that I am unqualified to answer the question, but given the promise of your initial reviews- I say don't sell yourself short yet. Try again at the level you think the paper is at. And only then give in to the quickie PLOS stuff if you are rejected.

    You just got your job. You can afford another few months.

  • GMP says:

    Regarding publication strategy for new faculty: in order to have a balanced publication portfolio, you must have a steady stream of bread-and-butter papers, and on top of it the high risk/high impact stuff. I have a senior collaborator who thinks all he shits is gold -- every paper is first sent to Nature, then Nature progeny, then down the ladder. It's exhausting, takes year(s) and screws all the junior scientists (students and postdocs) who are on the clock to graduate or move on to TT. Be realistic and try not to routinely overshoot. But it's bad never to try for high-profile journals -- that means you either never have anything hot or you are constantly underselling yourself.

    Regarding the paper in question, it looks like it simply needs to get out fast. Don't burry it, send it somewhere solid with a quick turnaround time; between what your collaborator recommends and what you would like, check first the turnaround times for the journals; if they are not much different, then send to the higher IF one of the two. I agree with DM above: stick with reputable, decent IF society journals. (Whoever tells a junior faculty to ignore IF or not to worry about own publication rate is NOT a friend.)

  • gerty-z says:

    I'm in exactly the same situation. I have some work from my postdoc that is in the process of getting published. The most important thing to do in your situation is to talk to the folks in your new dept. You need to know what "counts" wrt tenure and what is more highly valued when it comes to publishing. After I had these conversations, I sent one of my manuscripts to a GTFO journal. The other I had new students do a couple of experiments to tie up some loose ends, then sent it to a slightly "better" (higher IF) journal. On this one I was 1st AND corresponding author (that matters for my tenure eval). But really, in the end, I just needed to get them out as fast as possible. So that I could publish on my own, w/o postdoc mentor.

    but just to be clear: You HAVE to talk with new colleagues to really know what is best for you.

    Also, I totally agree with DM

  • odyssey says:

    Generally I'm of the "don't sell yourself short" mindset. But, the big consideration here is the need for Dr. Becca to publish this work to establish her expertise in techniques she will propose to use in grants. Given that, it's important to publish soon. Whether or not it "officially" counts towards tenure is irrelevant. Why? Because no matter what the "handbook" says, it's the papers you publish out of your own lab that will get you tenure, not the leftovers from postdoctoral or graduate work.

    I’m thinking same journals that N-c mentioned. If so, take one more swat at the jNeuro level. Then hit the next tier down, with luck you’ll have a epub in 2011. Maybe even print.

    Wow, neuro journals are that slow? It's only March and you're thinking 2012 for print? That sucks.

    • Dr Becca says:

      My last paper was epub Feb, print Nov, plus it took a year of revise/resubmits to get accepted. Some journals are even worse!

    • DrugMonkey says:

      Odyssey, yes a lot of society level neuroscience journals have 3 month plus lists of articles in their available-online queues.

      Reviews easily run late to the tune of 2-3 weeks, even assuming no delay *getting* reviewers, it is an easy 6 weeks from submit to first decision. Say 2 week turn for " minor revisions", add 4-6 weeks for proof process and we're easily in 6mo+ territory from submission to print.

      • odyssey says:

        Wow. I'm on the editorial board of a journal in my field and we just spent two years getting rid of the backlog of articles to reduce time from acceptance to print to about two months and cutting down time to first decision to about three weeks in order to stay competitive. And we should probably be doing better than that.

  • anon says:

    If you send to a lower-tier journal you're less familiar with and are time-pressured to get published, be sure to ask what their review turn-around policy is. I just had tussle with a journal whose stated (but unpublished) policy was a 4-month review turn-around (as in, the reviewer had 4 months to return their initial review). Check the dates on published papers for date submitted, revised, accepted.

    My general feeling (and I'm in a related field as you I'm pretty sure), a CNS pub gets you a job. You already have that, so don't sweat getting it into CNS.

    You don't need a CNS pub to get a grant, you need solid productivity. Most of the people sitting on the panel are not regular CNS authors, but publish bread & butter in society and specialty journals. So get it published to show productivity and feasibility on your grant apps.

    For tenure, stuff from postdoc doesn't count. It looks bad, though, if you never publish that potentially CNS-worthy study they hired you on. So it seems like you're best off just getting it out, without spending inordinate amount of time in the revise-resubmit mosh pit. Move on to the new stuff from your lab as independent PI. Some departments/colleges are looking for CNS from your own lab for tenure, some are more interested in solid publication rates. Note there may be differences between departmental standards and college level standards, so be sure to have a conversation with the dean about tenure standards too. I've known people who were loved by their department who voted unanimously in favor, only to have the college tenure panel criticize the #pubs and impact factor and vote them down.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    University level review is more likely to use "objective" measures to try to be "fair" across disciplines. This can be maddeningly hilarious...unless it is you, then just maddening.

    • GMP says:

      My uni has divisions at the uni level -- e.g. physical sciences, biological sciences etc., so there is a bit of focusing in terms of similar disciplines being evaluated together, but even so the variations in typical productivity rates and funding expectations can be dramatic... So a tremendous weight is on the external evaluation letters.

  • Bashir says:

    Here's my "diagram"

    Level 1: Nature/Science
    Level 2: Big Discipline Wide Journals
    Level 3: Good, Regular Journals
    Level 4: Kind of niche, obscure
    Level 5: I’ve never even heard of this journal.

    Consider Level 3 the default. Most journals are here, there are a variety of somewhat targeted journals that should suit most publications. Level 2 if I think the project is particularly timely, relevant, or somehow awesome. I sent one recently to a Level 2 journal, got a reject, am now sending it to a Level 3. Granted my problem is that I have manuscripts on my desk that just need to be polished and sent out. The best one will go Level 2, the others 3, and the one so-so semi-neglected project might go level 4.

  • Dr. O says:

    Hmmm... It's interesting to see how this comment thread has evolved since I first read the post. I'm not sure there's a *right* answer here. Getting it out as quickly as possible without selling yourself short is the consensus. But nobody can be *that* sure how to achieve this, since you're at the mercy of the reviewers.

    However, if the neuro journals are really that long on turnaround, and you need this out for grant apps, then I might try and talk your collaborator into a PLoS journal. PLoS One isn't the only one out there. PLoS Biology isn't quite as quick as PLoS One, but I seem to remember it having a fairly high IF. Plenty of other journals in the PNAS/JBC realm also have quick turnaround time, if you can find one that fits with your work.

    Good luck! 🙂

  • Bashir says:

    My "diagram"

    Level 1: Nature/Science
    Level 2: Big Discipline Wide Journals
    Level 3: Good, Regular Journals
    Level 4: Kind of niche
    Level 5: I’ve never even heard of this journal.

    Consider Level 3 the default. Most journals are here, there are a variety of somewhat targeted journals that should suit most publications. Level 2 if you think the project is particularly timely, relevant, or something

  • Don't listen to these dumshittes telling you to "just publish it". Now that you have a tenure-track position, but you haven't even started yet, time is on your side, and you are in no rush to get this thing published. So long as getting scooped isn't an issue, just keep going down the list starting with the best journal still in play until it is published. The quality of the journal it gets published in is going to have a substantial effect on how it is perceived by grant reviewers when you write grants that build on the work.

    • GMP says:

      If it's true what Dr Becca says above

      My last paper was epub Feb, print Nov, plus it took a year of revise/resubmits to get accepted. Some journals are even worse!

      then she should certainly be worried about journal turnaround times. She may have some time now, but it's not infinite -- certainly not enough to keep sending down the ladder two or three more times if it's going to be close to a year just to be rejected at each place.

  • It's ME! says:

    Publish it as a technical report, so you can cite it in the grant proposals, and submit it to the medium journal.

  • Murfomurf says:

    After our experiences with an upper crust med journal (which we did eventually publish in after several years), I'd say go for speed. We were asked to submit our results of a large long grant to a big journal, then when we submitted, the reviewers turned out to be our "enemies" within our own country, and they hated it because it didn't agree with them. As we couldn't change the facts to suit the picky (we had done a study of A and they said we failed to show an effect of B, which was not studied), we tried 3 other journals which were more specialist. They all picked up on aspects they were interested in and encouraged us to write more of the same for acceptance and less of the overall study. This went on for a while and eventually when my boss recruited a senior statistician and he found exactly the same results as I had, we re-submitted to the upper crust guys. At last they accepted. By that stage we had virtually forgotten what we had researched in the first place and all moved on; me to unemployment, where I remain.

  • miko says:

    "Unfortunately, I can’t–I’m no longer in the lab."

    If you can't do more experiments at all you're kind of screwed.... even at PLoS ONE a small minority of papers I've handled go through without at least a little more bench work. I feel like when reviewers are unburdened from considering questions of "impact" they can skip reading the bullshit and become real pricks about experimental design and analysis. In a good way.

    On the other hand, it's worth a shot. There is a lot of good shit in PLoSONE, it's fast and good profile and accessible, and to me a lot more appealing than going further down the NPRC-pyramid to the Journal of Brains, Brain Neurones, Molecules and Bar Charts (did you see my paper in JBBNMBC? seriously, no one can hear you scream there), and, for those semi-quantitatively keeping/negotiating score at home, PLoSONE's IF is similar or higher compared to the neuro journals of the unwashed. And seriously, can you in good conscience ask friends and colleagues to navigate through those Wiley or Blackwell-Whatever login screens and icky 90s web sites to get your paper?

  • MD says:

    Pay to publish journals with shady "peer review" are a liability on your cv, not an asset. It's the academic wikipedia, except you are paying them to put your stuff online. You can do that for free, it's called a blog.
    Publish in a real journal. Pay to publish will raise questions about why your work is not up to par for the real journals. There are hundreds our journals out there that will count more.
    Same goes for book publishing- use an academic press.

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