research publication

Ranty

I think I might explode with anger and frustration. I have a proposal due next week and I cannot get to work on it because I have to finish two nominations (including writing letters) for colleagues (no, they could not have been done sooner because everyone, including the nominees, waits till the very last fuckin’ minute to send me their stuff) and I have to sit in a meeting for a university-level committee all morning tomorrow and then I teach in the afternoon.

And this is the service that is actually not bullshit. And don’t tell me to delegate, because I am the delegate.

Sometimes there is simply too much work for the time available. And the time crunch comes about not from sitting on one’s hands but from constantly having to put out fires; urgent always trumping important, until it’s too late. 

So please, don’t give me advice on how to optimize my time. I assure you I have heard everything and am aware of all the tricks. Most “tricks” involve dropping stuff or dumping stuff on someone else. Or simply being an asshole, like some of my colleagues, and not give a damn if service obligations go to $hit.
I have already cut all that could be cut; this week alone I refused probably 6-7 review requests.

Absent dumping my work on someone else, it is the issue of simple math: there is too much work for the time that I have. And no, it is not my character flaw, or my inability to get organized or whatever. So please refrain from giving advice.

Where will I be all weekend? Right fuckin’ here, in my office, non-stop. Butt glued to the chair.

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Which reminds me: I received reports from a highfalutin journal. Of the three, one was very positive and 2 sentences long. One was blanket dismissive, also 2 sentences. One was misguided and factually wrong (an example of a little knowledge being a bad thing), but at least the person wrote several paragraphs.

To all my colleagues who can’t be bothered to read the whole 4-page letter-type manuscript and who can’t be bothered to write more than 2 sentences: screw you. I always write detailed reports, especially if I don’t like the paper. I do so even if I do like the paper, so the authors would have some ammunition to fight the potentially negative reviews.

Screw you all, lazy referees. You are crappy colleagues. I hope all you receive in the next 5 years are blanket dismissals conveyed through 2-sentence reports.
You don’t deserve my time or my effort to read and understand your papers and write detailed reports.
And neither do you, unbelievably slow editor who actually lets not one but two 2-sentence reports through as actual reviews. Screw you, too.

WTF Editor and What Professors Do All Day When Not in Class: A Two-Parter

I have submitted a paper to a journal that prides itself in rapid turnaround. It’s been a week and no action; it’s sitting on the editorial desk (well, metaphorically; rather in an inbox or a folder of some sort). I am getting really antsy, because they often send out for review within a couple of days from submission.

I have told myself I would give them 2 weeks and then nudge them. But I might have serious problems waiting that long… It’s a journal that does desk rejections, btw.

A few months ago, I had a Glam Wannabe journal sit on a manuscript for nearly a month and then desk-rejected.  I could have received a full review other places in the same amount of time. I was unbelievably pissed that they wasted my time like that. It will be a long, long time before I review for them again, I will tell you that. A$$holes.

What say you, blogosphere? How long do you allow the editors to sit on a paper before you nudge them to ask “WTF is going on? $hit or get off the can!” (Well, the polite version, anyway.) Do your actions depend on the typical or perceived or processing time for the journal? On how badly you want to publish in there? On how much coffee you’ve had?

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What do we profs do all day when we don’t teach? Well, here you go.

Smurf the Little had an owie ear, was taken to a doctor and then to daycare this morning by DH. However, Middle Boy puked repeatedly and quite grossly yesterday evening and last night, so I stayed at home with him today, as I didn’t have to teach. The Puker will be 8 this spring, so he’s not high maintenance, and he was also starting to feel better, so I was able to work. What I did today:

  • reviewed 2 proposals for two different federal agencies (one US, one Canada);
  • reviewed 1 paper (revision, didn’t take very long);
  • wrote 2 letters of recommendation;
  • edited a full-length conference paper a student is submitting;
  • edited a colleague’s paper, which I promised to do even though I also asked to be taken off the author list because I didn’t do much for the project;
  • hastily submitted belated paperwork and a report for an existing grant that I hope to get renewed and I really should be behaving better towards the program manager;
  • filed paperwork for a no-cost extension of a grant;
  • organized and submitted paperwork for a recent trip;
  • filed justification for airfare for an upcoming trip;
  • booked yet another upcoming trip;
  • emailed pretty extensively with two grad students on technical stuff, and talked over the phone with one of them;
  • emailed lightly with three or four panicked undergrads, who realized the reign of terror is upon them as they are taking a class with me;
  • emailed w/ some 20 or so other people about various upcoming meetings or scheduling midterm classroom for my huge class etc;
  • prepped class for tomorrow;
  • scanned some pages for student HW I had assigned yesterday because the library doesn’t have the undergrad text on reserve yet;
  • organized and submitted paperwork to establish an undergrad’s research position  and a add a grad student’s MS to a PhD in another department;
  • read/skimmed two papers that a colleague sent me as of possible interest (they were);
  • worked on my annual report that’s due in about a week;
  • worked on the figures for a manuscript that should be submitted likely by Feb 1;
  • obsessed/fumed over the fact that the stupid paper from part 1 hasn’t gone out to review (or come back desk-rejected) yet. Okay, this is not work, but it takes energy. Even though it’s only dark energy… BWAHAHAHA.

Not bad for a lazy overpaid layabout academic on sick-kid duty, huh? As you can see, I make a great secretary. Who dabbles in teaching and research.

I still haven’t done the stuff I need to do for the awards committee I am on, and I have yet to write the paper to accompany the invited talk I am giving in February (I really shouldn’t have accepted the invitation, I don’t like to publish conference papers — too much time on something people don’t read or cite). Two journal papers are nearing submission by end of February, and a grant too; I am chipping away at those as well, but didn’t today.

Random Bits of Technical Writing

* I am working on a paper that I think has the potential to be a really big deal. It’s so awesome! I am so excited to finish it and submit it that I literally can’t sleep. I sometimes (probably more often than I care to admit) feel like I’m falling in love when it comes to papers or proposals, with butterflies in the stomach from all the anticipation. I can’t get my darling paper out of my head, I keep thinking of the softness of its curves, the color of its data markers, the size of its axis labels… *sigh* …Maybe I need a cold shower.

* There is a colleague whom I met a year or so ago in person, but whose work I have known for a bit longer. His work is technically good, but the papers are not. For some reason, he just can’t write a compelling  narrative or choose the best examples to support the premise. Whenever I read one of his papers, I am thinking — dude, you could have done so much more with this, and there’s always a let-down, a feeling of disappointment when I am done. In the past year or two I have received several of his papers to review, all in lowerish-tier journals; obviously, I am on his preferred-referee list. The first N times (N=3 or 4) I accepted, then tried hard to give detailed constructive advice and feedback. But recently I received his paper N+1, I looked over it and I just couldn’t do it. It’s bad, it’s too little, and the figures look awful. I don’t have time for this, so I declined to review. I would like to help, but I don’t think I am helping through constructive refereeing. He would really benefit from some serious coaching, but he’s not my (or anyone else’s) student or postdoc. I am not sure what to do, probably nothing.

TGI December and Reader Questions

‘Tis December!!! Phew. I must admit, posting every day in November has been tough, which was probably obvious from some of the less-than-inspired posts. When you start photographing produce, you know you are scraping the bottom of the blog-fodder barrel.

I think last year’s November blogging was easier, I am not sure why. I don’t remember having quite this many moments like “It’s roughly 11:30 PM, I am completely pooped and I finally got a few minutes to sit down. I want to go sleep, but I haven’t posted today. What the heck am I going to write about?” (Enter squash.) I had more travel but I think I was overall less busy. Or at least I felt less busy. Or I repressed traumatic memories of excessive busyness and insufficient inspiration. Or I just had a higher tolerance for my own vacuous posts. (I was kind of aiming for some serious academic blogging here. I guess that ship has sailed!)

Thanks everyone for reading!

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OK, that’s enough meta self-flagellation.  EarthSciProf posted some interesting questions after the 15-Min Improv Blogging post.

1) How long does it usually take you to do a review? I take much less time than I did when I first started but am wondering about how long it takes you since you’re farther along.

It depends a lot on the length of the paper. In my field, there are letters, of 4-page double-column size (like Physical Review Letters) and there are comprehensive articles (like in Physical Review B, for instance), which can be anywhere from 4-5 to 20 pages long. I would say most papers are 6-10 pages of main text, anything over 10 generally means long appendices.

For a well-written letter in PRL, it takes 1-2 focused hours to read and write a good report It may be longer if there’s supplementary material or I have to look at a lot of references. These letter papers also tend to be reviewed for hotness rather than just interest and correctness; a common complaint is “This  is fine technically, but of too narrow a focus, and should be expanded and submitted to a specialized journal instead.”

A comprehensive paper takes longer to go through and write a report. Between 2 and 4 hours, depending on length.  Flying on planes is my favorite time to review papers, as there are no distractions. (Crappy papers take longer to review, because I start reading, get irritated, drop the paper before finishing, then have to still do it later, but then I procrastinate because I have already experienced the pain.)

A few months ago I was a referee for a good review paper, it was probably 60 pages (double column) and it took me all day. It was written by people I respect, so I ended up writing a lot of comments in the margins and scanning the marked-up document into a PDF which became part of the report. There should be some karmic brownie points in it, I hope.

What about you, blogosphere? How long does it take you to review papers? 

2) You posted something about a few months ago here

http://mistressoftheanimals.scientopia.org/2014/07/22/bleg-blog-beg-on-mentoring/

about only a small percentage of collaborations working out long-term. Any advice/guidelines/rules of thumb that you use to cut things off when a collaboration doesn’t seem to be going anywhere?

Ugh. This is a tough one, but I will give it a shot. All collaborations of mine that have dissolved owing to nonfunctionality were simply abandoned to die by all (dis)interested parties; at some point, no one attempted resuscitation any more. The parties stopped communicating and went on with their lives, never discussing the collaboration. The upside is that technically there was no confrontation, so everyone is still formally on good terms. This is not a bad thing in the long run.

I also have several collaborations that are generally healthy, but are on-again off-again, depending on funding and interests. We work together, then go our separate ways when the grant ends, then rejoin a few years later to do something else. I like this type of collaboration. It’s with people I enjoy working with, who have the same zeal, similar attitude to advising students and publishing, but we don’t have to be joined at the hip. In contrast, I have a colleague who does everything collaboratively, with several long-term collaborators. I find it stifling.

Are you on a grant together? If not, then just cut your losses and part ways. If you are on a grant together, then you need to produce something one way or another for your own sake, even if the collaboration is not working out. Proceed as best you can alone. If you feel appropriate, offer to include the collaborator on papers on your own terms; if they don’t agree or are being difficult, that’s your answer. I have found even very demanding people, when you do all the work and offer to have them as a coauthor on a polished paper, will swallow the pride/whatever other bug they have up their butt and say “Sure, go ahead and submit. Looks good!” I take myself off of papers to which I didn’t contribute enough, but most people don’t.

EartSciProf, if you have a specific situation, I am sure the readers would be happy to offer their insights.

Here are also some thoughts on collaboration from the depths of the Academic Jungle.

Wise academic blogosphere, please help EarthSciProf with the collaboration dissolution tips! 

The Curse of ATTTS

>>   Dear undergrad: You come to class irregularly and don’t come to discussion because you have team meetings for another class seemingly non-stop. You submit homework intermittently. After you had come to inform me how much more important that other class is to you than mine, you asked me to move the time and day when the homework is usually due so that I can even better accommodate your schedule for this other class. My response?

*crickets*

 

>> I have lost another colleague to the curse of ATTTS (Administrators Taking Themselves Too Seriously).

We are having way too many faculty meetings, one every week. They run for 2 hours each and it’s a waste of time, especially in the midst of the proposal-writing season for most of us. My class somewhat overlaps with the meetings, so I am always late. The other day, I was on my way to the meeting at about 30 min past, when I ran into a colleague who was already leaving the meeting; the colleague informed me the meeting was still in full swing, but that they had to leave. I jokingly pleaded “Take me with you!!!” to which the colleague responded “Oh, it’s not that bad.” The colleague had recently taken up a college-level admin position and the Koolaid has apparently been overflowing their glass. I remember a time not that long ago when the colleague  would have smiled or laughed at the joke, or even commiserated at the thought of yet another meeting. The colleague has since been fully assimilated and, I fear, can never go back to being a real professor. (By the way, the meeting was deathly boring, with the same old characters droning; even though I was late, I left early because I had way too much work to do, and  nothing was getting done. Life is too short anyway to spend listening to people’s verbal onania).

I really hate meetings. That’s probably because too many meetings are poorly run, don’t stay on target, go overtime, and don’t accomplish anything. So I avoid them like a plague. When I am in charge of a committee, I do as much as humanly possible via email and only meet occasionally when the amount of material or the way it needs to be handled is such that it’s more efficient to meet once and knock it all off the list at once. Enjoying daily meetings, which admins do, is completely alien to me. I am now confident that I will NEVER be an administrator, because I would be a really bad one, unable to keep any of the Koolaid down.

There are two types of time I devote to work:

1. Prime time, the large blocks of time when I am at work and fully alert, during the day or early evening. This is the time when I read papers, write manuscripts and proposals, meet individually with my students, essentially do my science. I also prep for classes and teach during this time, create exams, and review other people’s papers and proposals. I am extremely protective of my limited prime time.

2. Not-exactly-prime time, which would be the time when I am tired in the evening, or small amounts of time on the weekend or during the work week, which are insufficient to do a large amount of work that requires creativity or deep focus. This is the time when I grade exams, prepare homework or write solutions, organize upcoming travel, file for travel reimbursement, do the budget or boilerplate for proposal submissions. I might also write letters of recommendation or sometimes finalize reports for manuscript review. If at all possible, I try to schedule most meetings during not-exactly-prime time, since prime time is sacred.

Now that I think of it, my ATTTS-afflicted colleague has always displayed just a little too much tolerance for meetings, while  writing papers or proposals together was just not a very high priority; it seems that a lot of stupid non-research stuff has always cluttered the colleague’s schedule. Perhaps the colleague had been running out of research breath for a while and this might be a natural consequence. I, however, find that I am in better scientific shape than ever, have more and better ideas, am writing better papers and proposals and doing it faster than before, and am feeling bold and confident.

I am not saying admin work is not important. It is, and someone has to do it.
I just don’t understand a scientist who prefers this work to actual science. And who so readily morphs into  a full-fledged Koolaid abuser.

How long does it take to write a proposal?

For my professorial  readers (or otherwise readers with PI status):

How long does it take you to write, from scratch, a single-investigator grant proposal that will undergo peer review?

For physical scientists and many others, I am talking about a standard NSF 15-pager or similar. For biomedical folks, that would be an NIH R01 (however long it is).
I am assuming we are talking about a new proposal (not a resubmission), and I am also assuming that you don’t just drop everything and disappear into a cave to write, but rather continue to tend to other normal academic duties, like teaching or service.

 

 

Editorial and Professorial Nuggets

—  I am an associate editor of a specialized disciplinary journal. I try my best to include junior researchers (postdocs, young profs or nonacademic scientists, even some senior graduate students) as reviewers when I know they do good work based on what I have heard or seen them present at conferences. It turns out, a surprisingly high number of people cannot write a review to save their life. Some of them are junior, so they have the excuse of inexperience, but some should really know better.

I get these cryptic two-line reports with a recommendation to reject. WTF? That is not a report. I cannot send that on to authors, it gives me a basis for nothing. Especially if you are going to reject, you better give clear reasons for doing so.  Even if the paper is crap, it usually (although not always) presents a considerable amount of work by the authors. If the paper sucks, tell them precisely why it sucks and how much it sucks, so they would know whether to try and fix it or that there is no hope and they should drop it.

How does one learn to write referee reports? Well, when it comes to my students, I send them samples of my reports to look at (ranging from minor revisions to rejections). But, one first and foremost learns from the reports received of one’s own papers. Which is why I wonder, especially for senior folks, how unobservant and unable to generalize they are,  that they cannot figure out what is to be done based on their own experiences with being on the receiving end of reports.  These are all skills necessary for doing science, how is it possible not to apply them when learning how to write reports?

— There are career editors and then there are editors who are practicing scientists. Either way, the longest part of the review-and-publication process should be the actual peer review. It should not be the time taken by the editorial office staff to check the formatting; it should similarly not be the time the editor takes to make a decision and transmit the referee comments to the authors after the peer review has been completed. I have found myself dreading submission to certain journals, because I know a paper in a certain field will go to a certain editor, and the editor has a habit of just sitting on the paper for days or weeks on end, both when it comes to making referrals and when it comes to making a decision (the time they take doesn’t seem to correlate at all with how hand-wringing the decision-making process might be; hearing about “major revisions” appears to take just as much time as receiving “publish as is”.

For editors who are practicing scientists, why do people take on this role if they are not committed to doing a good job? I know, becoming an editor in a good journal is an honor, but it’s also a job, and an important one. And part of doing it well also means doing it fast. I know some great associate editors who handle dozens of new papers per week very efficiently. But then there are others. And I wish someone gave them a kick in the pants so they’d finally get going.

Yes, I am very impatient. But you can bet that I am very efficient as associate editor.

— In professorial news, once again, the biggest problem of my undergrads is that they don’t know the math that they should know. They don’t have the facility with basic calculus, let alone analytic geometry. While some fairly complicated concepts can be hand-waved down to the levels of calculus or geometry, it’s of little use because these concepts, which should have been internalized long ago, appear only vaguely familiar to students as opposed to being tools wielded with confidence. Part of it, at my university, is the ever-shrinking list of required math courses so students could all get as many free electives as possible (?!); that’s because students feeling warm and fuzzy upon having customized their studies to the point of senselessness  beats actually getting a solid education in the major. The worst thing is the students’ attitude that this insistence on calculating stuff, on — gasp! — using math, is somehow unnecessary and is in the way of actual real knowledge. They want to make it go away and get to the good stuff. They cannot. I am all for pictures and analogies and building one’s intuition. I draw in class more than I write equations. But this is fairly high-level stuff, and the intuition has to be already honed by both math and experience with other similar problems. Students cannot expect everything worth knowing as a senior in a physical science discipline to just be qualitative or requiring no more than arithmetic and high-school algebra. I am really tired of having to apologize for what is really not particularly high-level math that they should be proficient in anyway.