Pub-Blocking

One of the things that annoy me most about collaborating are collaborators who operate on the timescales much different from mine, usually because our priorities aren’t well aligned. I have already written about this particular issue before, but as it periodically resurfaces, I periodically get re-irritated and thus have to periodically re-vent, and reposting old rants just doesn’t seem to have the same therapeutic effect.

I have a  collaborator who doesn’t seem to be encumbered by urgency when it comes to paper submissions. In the past, after a disastrous few papers, where we drove the co-advised (and since graduated) student crazy, I came up with a strategy: the student and I work on each paper until it’s done and ready for submission, I schedule a time with the collaborator in advance for them to look at the essentially polished paper, they suggest touch-ups (which they expect accommodated), I enter those and we submit. Sure, the student and I do all the heavy lifting, but at least the papers get written and edited fast.

This week I have been driven crazy again, and I can tell you it’s a remarkable feat of self-restraint that I didn’t already write about all this days ago.
Early this week, I  emailed the collaborator to tell them that I would be done with the paper later in the week, and then would be off to a conference starting next week, and I asked it they could perhaps look at the paper during my absence. The collaborator wrote back to tell me that they too were leaving town,  but not until around the time when I was to return from my trip. The problem is that they decided they had absolutely no time to look at the paper in the time preceding their departure  (which was almost three weeks from the point at which we were emailing and nearly two weeks after the point at which the final paper was eventually sent to them), but said they they would look at it soon after they came back.

I am really pissed, because, as far as the current student and I are concerned, the paper can be submitted today. It is not a rough draft that requires massive edits, I already took care of all of that. Still, the colleague supposedly does not have the time to look at it in next two weeks, they supposedly have weeks of their time in town fully obligated in the middle of summer (no, they are not writing a proposal), so we now have to wait additional 3+ weeks from the point of completion for the colleague to put on the trivial finishing touches.

This happens every time, with every paper. I do not buy that the colleague is busier than I am, because I am pretty darn busy and their group is not bigger than mine. These joint papers are simply not a priority for the colleague, which is OK, but they *are* a priority for me and the student, and if they cannot help they should at least not hinder!

If submitting a paper were equal to having sex, then the colleague would now be cock-blocking me. I think it’s safe to call the colleague a pub-blocker.

I have been in situations where I was the middle author, cared little and didn’t have the time to go through the paper in detail; in such cases, I either took myself off the paper or found the time to at least quickly skim the paper and said it’s OK to go as is. You either care and find the time to look at the manuscript, or you don’t care and consequently don’t find the time, but then at least you trust your collaborator that they can submit a coherent manuscript. The worst scenario is that you don’t care and don’t find the time, but also want to hold the reigns on submission. That is really, really douchey controlling behavior.

No, I don’t want to wait three weeks or more to submit what is essentially a finished paper. As a courtesy, you have two weeks. The last three days of those two weeks you are away, well boo hoo. There are the other 11 that you are here, find the freakin’ time.

Here’s the deal: papers are important. Papers are VERY important. Papers and graduated students are our products. There is possibly no aspect of our job (our job = professor in a STEM field at a major research university) that is more important than getting papers out. Published papers enable everything else: students graduating and getting jobs, new grants being funded, knowledge advancing.

I have no idea what the collaborator has in the pipeline for nearly two weeks prior to their departure that would prevent them from sitting to read the paper for an hour or two. But whatever it is, unless it’s editing of a whole $hitload of their other papers (and I know for sure that it isn’t) , IT’S NOT AS IMPORTANT!!! Stop pub-blocking. Move stuff around, read the goddamn paper, so we can send it to review ASAP. Then you can get back to whatever leadership or other service BS is so pressing in the middle of the summer. And you are very welcome.

4 comments

  1. The way I deal with these kind of people is to tell them that here is the draft, we plan to submit on day X and expect their input by day X-7, so that we can fix any minor comments that they may have. Then I add that I’ll make this as easy as possible for them, so that if we don’t hear from them by day X-7, I will assume they are happy with the draft and we will submit it as it is. Then, if no there is no answer by day X-9, I re-send the original email and say, have you had a chance to read the draft? Just to remind you that if we don’t hear anything back by the day after tomorrow, we’ll assume you are happy with the draft. Usually, magically, the comments appear the same day or the day after.

    It works in about 90% of the time, but it has also happened that we haven’t heard from the person and submitted and then when the person complained, I simply forwarded my two emails back and said, well, this is what said we’d do and we did it, so sorry for any inconvenience.

  2. I agree with Pika. If you set a date of when you’ll submit the pub (with or without comments from the co-author) would they get pissed at you? And even if they did get mad, would it matter that much? If not, then I say submit anyways.

  3. Funny Researcher: I am not sure changing the manuscript post-decision is the right thing to do. Small cosmetic changes are one thing, but adding co-author’s comments after it has been signed off by the editor to production guys is I believe a strict no no.

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