Getting involved in publishing includes having a heavy stomach to accept criticism and rejection which are part of the experience. From personal experience, it takes a lot of courage to start submitting your manuscripts for publication and then waiting for the editors’ response. If you submit your work to a high impact journal, your research may be rejected simply because it is not innovative enough or because they want to publish a limited number of articles.
Having your papers published in a high-ranked journal is hard work. I constantly read, review articles for academic journals, discuss ideas with colleagues and thought about different research ideas because I target top journals in my area of research, American literature. Last year, I submitted more than 10 papers to various journals. Some were rejected by the reviewers and some were accepted for publication with revisions. After a while I almost gave up. It was easy “to feel isolated and disconnected after receiving a rejection”. I had put months of my best work into a project, spent weeks writing it up, submitted it to a journal, placed hopes on it, and waited for months for a response. Then I received the response that I was not good enough. The breaking point for me was when a good friend of mine whom I consider as a mentor told me in one of our conversations over the phone “be like water”, meaning be flexible enough to adapt and accept that there are some things that are beyond one’s control. It was then that I realized that I should never give up. After this conversation, I joined the editorial teams of some high ranking journals. By reading and reviewing papers of other academics with similar research interests to mine, I have actually managed to improve my own submissions.
I had put months of my best work into a project, spent weeks writing it up, submitted it to a journal, placed hopes on it, and waited for months for a response. Then I received the response that I was not good enough.
What I wish I had known before getting involved in publishing is that it is necessary to develop thick skin quickly and keep sending the manuscript that has been rejected out. It is crucial not to take criticism personally. The rejection of an article could depend on many factors therefore it should not be disheartening. However, I would lie if I say that my mental health has not been battered by the process of submitting my work for publication. Academia is brutal due to its requirements for scrupulous work. I have been suffering from stress and depression because of the requirement to constantly publish not just any paper but papers in high ranking journals of my field. The caveat of publish or perish pushed me to do more and more even at periods when I felt utterly exhausted. When you spend months on composing a 12 page paper and you get three lines of poor comments as a review is disheartening to say the least. This has led me think whether reviewers’ comments are tough but fair, or whether they have a political axe to grind? The truth lies somewhere in between. Sometimes reviewers’ comments are indeed helpful as they highlight the weaknesses of the work submitted but other times they are ill-framed.
The caveat of publish or perish pushed me to do more and more even at periods when I felt utterly exhausted.
When a reviewer turns to me a manuscript with major revisions, I read through is comments once, put it aside for a day or two until my mood clears and then come back to it in a calmer frame of mind. In that day I tend to do things that would take my mind off rejection like hanging out with my friends or watching a re-run of my favorite show. Then when I get back to the document I do my best to address the reviewers’ comments, first the easier ones and then the more complicated.
Facing rejection is never easy especially when first getting involved in publishing. Receiving a critical review requiring major revision of your manuscript is extremely frustrating too. More importantly, you must accept that having a manuscript rejected is something you’ll have to cope with for your entire working life. Rejection can be quite a challenge emotionally and mentally. If you allow it to incapacitate you now, you’ll have an unimpressive research career. Getting rejected is a huge blow to the ego. To be an effective researcher it is necessary to create distance between my identity and self-worth as a person and the outcome of research. Research is a long process full of failure and dead-ends, especially when you are in graduate school. You can’t take it personally when things don’t work out. Research requires perseverance. The rejection of a paper is to be expected, and certainly does not mean you are an incompetent research or that you are not good enough. You need to constantly remind yourself that you are enough.
The rejection of a paper is to be expected, and certainly does not mean you are an incompetent research or that you are not good enough. You need to constantly remind yourself that you are enough.
Image description: A man stressed with work with pens and paper surrounding him.
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