22 September 2016

Peer Review Week 2016 #PeerRvWk16

So apparently it's Peer Review Week 2016, at least on Twitter. I thought I'd take the time to sketch out a few thoughts on the topic.

From my perspective, as someone who has contacted, discussed, and, mainly, negotiated with peer reviewers, they hold a special place in theAdmin's heart. 

To put it bluntly, peer reviewing is what makes the academic world go round. Is it perfect? Of course not. But the reviewers who ensure integrity in what is published, thus helping to create the body of scholarship required for any academic community, are more than just cogs in the great machine of publishing. How should peer reviewers be recognised? This is one of the main questions that pops up when discussing reviewing. For a double blind system to work, recognition is inherently difficult. Open peer review is a different story, but there are inherently difficult issues with both forms. Recognition-wise, is being included in a list at the end of a volume good enough? Is it enough to receive an automated email (however sincere) thanking you for your time and inviting you to submit your own work? 

The answers are, usually, no. Peer reviewers are some of my favourite people. Usually charitable, enthusiastic, innovative, and encouraging scholars who wish for nothing more than to help better their field by helping to create better scholarship. There are of course exceptions, but 9.9/10 who agree, do so with the best interest of the author and the field at heart. I've received countless confidential notes with reviews stating that if this is an ECR instead of a SCR, then they would like to modify the language to be more encouraging....if someone is at the beginning of their scholarly career then there is a massive amount of potential and they'd like to help with development. 

But how do we, as members of academia, recognise this hard work and this development potential? We must, firstly, recognise that what I like to refer to as "Reviewer Fatigue" is a real issue. This is when a good, solid reviewer is asked to review so many times that they either (A) grow tired of it and move on to something else or, more commonly (B) simply cannot complete the number of review requests in the time they have allotted for reviews. Reviewer Fatigue emerges for several reasons, and keeping it at bay was one of my main goals. Editors can quite easily become exasperated with repeated denials to review for whatever reason and so can quite easily begin to rely on a reviewer who repeatedly provides excellent quality - and just as importantly - timely reviews in order to meet the strict copy deadlines. And I don't mean to say that Reviewer Fatigue is generated by editors. The solution is a complicated one - one way theEditor dealt with it was when someone became such an integral part of the journal's processes for this reason, the reviewer was invited to join the editorial board. So, in part, recognition was duly awarded within the constraints of what an academic editor can actually do (keep in mind that who owns the journal and its revenue and who edits/runs the journal are two entirely separate entities, which is a debate for another time).

But I digress. So, what was my main reason for wanting to jot down some thoughts this week? Purely and simply to say one thing: 


Seriously, give yourself a round of applause.......giphy.com

15 May 2016

Speaking with Editors at Conferences

Something I've been asked quite a bit is about the presence of editors and editorial board members at conferences. We all know what the conference circuit is like - give a paper, listen to a paper, go see the sights, maybe - if you can afford it - go to the conference dinner. But what else could you do at a conference to help increase your chances of getting that conference paper published? Well, to begin with, you could actually speak to journal editors. And I mean actual academic editors, not the journal publisher's representative. Whilst the latter can certainly give you useful information about the scope of the journal (and probably some freebies), the former is who you need to speak to if you want to get your paper closer to being published.

OK theAdmin, you might say. But where to start? I mean, what about the actual speaking with editors part? Here's my top tips:

1.) Firstly, PLEASE DO. Seriously. There's very little at a conference that is more boring for an editor than not having anyone attend a Meet the Editors roundtable session. Speaking with potential authors is exactly their purpose. Forget all your insecurities and imposter syndrome issues and go and say hello, find out what the journal is like and what the editor is looking for. You might find you can save yourself quite a bit of stress (Click here for my post on the main reason for rejection) with a five minute conversation.

An editor waiting at a conference roundtable....giphy.com
2.) Don't feel unimportant. Editors attend conferences in part to find and attract new authors. If you've never published with a particular journal, or if you have and you are likely to do so again, then you are considered a potential author. Having these conversations can help direct your conference paper into a more publishable context once you find the right journal.

3.) Work the room. You can talk to as many editors as are present (You just can't submit to multiple editors at once). Find out about as many journals as possible. Why? You might discover a gem that you'd never considered - or not really heard much about (esp. true at international conferences). You might also find relevant calls for papers. Furthermore, editors are usually on several editorial boards at the same time, so just because they are there for specialist journal A doesn't mean they can't talk to you about generalist journal B if it's a better fit.

4.) Speaking of better fits, editors know their field. If you talk to one and find that maybe it's not right for you, ask if they have any suggestions. Seriously. The academic editorial world is pretty small. If they are a halfway decent editor, then they can recommend another journal that might be a better fit. But, usually, you have to ask. Think about it - if a paper clearly doesn't fit in a journal, an editor can avoid extra work by suggesting somewhere else to you quickly at a conference rather than waiting for a submission and then rejecting it and suggesting somewhere else.

5.) If you know you are interested in a specific journal, then arrange an appointment with the editor or editorial board member if you can. They may just refer you to a roundtable session, but most will consider meeting with you. Conferences are about networking - two birds, one stone. It will also give you something concrete to put on your application for a conference fund....

6.) Last - but not least - INTRODUCE YOURSELF: nobody else will. Get the ball rolling. This may not help immediately, but when you follow it up with an email or submission, you may feel more confident knowing who is on the other end of that system. I've worked with many ECRs in the past - they always seem more confident with submissions if they have met the editorial team.

And, after what feels like a decade long hiatus, those are my top tips for meeting editors at conferences. Go forth and be industrious. And look out for more material soon!


2 July 2015

The Editorial Board

Firstly, apologies for the delay in posting. Since my last post, I've had a trans-continental move and adopted a new office assistant. She’s a border collie mix who has strong feelings about footnotes vs. endnotes and the Oxford comma.

But I digress.

A few months ago, we had the spring editorial board meeting for the journal I'm currently managing. I’m usually enthusiastic about these for one reason – there is always cake. But the more I think about it, the more I thought that it might be something worth explaining. What goes on behind those closed doors? What does a board of editors discuss? Do they talk about specific authors? So, as I usually do, I decided to blog about it.

Clearly a group of embryonic professors engaging in their
first official academic reaction to cake at a meeting. 

So what do we do in those meetings?

Here’s a typical agenda:

 A.) Welcome and Apologies
Yes, this is a ubiquitous part of any meeting. But for a national editorial board, it allows us to talk about the research interests of any new members, chat about any new developments with the expansion/contraction of the editorial board, and reacquaint ourselves with each other’s specialities, positions, and research centres. 

B.) Minutes from the last meeting
Another uniform item. Usually the bit where I realise I’ve forgotten to do something. Oops. Also a great way to see what’s developed since the last time we all met for cake. 

C.) Editor’s Report 
Paperwork from the Editor/Editorial Manager about the journal from an editing perspective.

D.) Publisher’s Report
Paperwork from the Publisher about the journal from a publishing and marketing perspective.

E.) Events, Seminars, Conferences, Award, etc. 
Pretty much just anything else project-wise the journal has going 

F.) Any other Business 
More ubiquitous meeting jargon. Though this can get interesting with a group of academics…I’ve seen everything from future meetings to interesting conferences and scholarship ideas to resignations happen in this part of the meeting.

So, basically, paperwork. It seems to be mostly papers.

Actual image of someone preparing for  an editorial board meeting giphy.com
We talk about submission trends and rejection rates. It’s basically a forum for the Main/Executive/Head editor to report to the wider editorial board what’s happening. How is the journal fairing? What does the backlog look like? Where does the journal need to focus its attention? What sort of papers is it receiving? How is the reviewing process going? 

Exactly what answering that random statistic question feels like
This includes looking at statistics of where the authors are from and who they are – is there a significant number of papers coming from a certain country? If so, why? We also try to find problems like a high number of submissions from a country but an extraordinarily high rejection rate for these papers – why are we getting such low quality submissions? What can we do to encourage higher quality papers from this audience? This is one reason why when you submit a paper, you have to provide so much information about your institution and country – the information gets separated from the paper and goes into our reporting. It’s also why you usually have to provide X number of keywords.

Side rant: Don’t get me started on keywords. PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL ADMINISTRATORS AND EDITORS EVERYWHERE, follow the instructions on keywords. If it says pick from a list, PICK FROM THE LIST. If it says to type them in, type them in. And use as broad keywords as possible. Why? Well, we use them to match reviewers (the better and more uniform the keyword system, the faster we can find a broader pool of reviewers, which means the faster your paper goes through the system, which means the faster you get a decision and the quicker our turnaround time). We also use keywords to compile listings and reports about what topics are being submitted and what areas are being researched. It’s an important part of the system with which most people just get frustrated. With theEditor, I once trimmed down an inherited system that had thousands of keywords to 125. And then we were able to get the turnaround time down to 21 days. THAT. IS. FAST. (And I might be seriously proud of it).

Seeing your turnaround time work plotted on the publisher's line graph giphy.com

What else do we do at these meetings?

Some smaller, specialist journals rely heavily (or even solely) on their editorial board for reviewing. If that’s the case, then specifics are discussed about papers and whether they should be accepted. If that’s not the case, then the speed and quality of reviews usually comes up. Why? Because one of the single most visible parts of a journal’s reputation is the reviewing experience. [shameless plug alert] Check out this postand this one! – on what journals face with reviewers. We suggest new reviewers if we have a need for an area, and new board members if we have a significant omission in research interests.

Money. We talk about money too. Not the publisher’s money (that’s another debate for another time), but the trends in royalties, which is a good way to see changes in subscriptions and circulation. Some journals are owned by the publisher, so this is less of a discussion point. Some are owned by societies or institutions, so this forms an important part of the editorial board’s role – allocation of funds to events, awards, scholarships, and other development endeavours. It’s usually a section that varies from paint-dryingly boring to hotly contentious.

Other than the Editor reporting to the editorial board, the meeting serves as a place for the Publisher to report their end of the process. The Production schedules, statistics, queries, and results all come out. We receive a Confidential Publishing Report every meeting with lots of fancy graphs and charts. It lets us know where the journal sits in context to other journals in the field. For example, we might have identified that our submission rates are down, but the Publisher’s Report tells us if it’s a cross-discipline dip or just us. It also compares subscription rates and downloads to our past as well as other journals in their catalogue. This can be really helpful in providing the context behind whether the journal needs to be more proactive in approaching authors or whether the rejection rate is about to jump because we simply don’t have room for all the papers on a given topic. Speaking of rejection rate, we usually breakdown the rejection reasons and have a whole section of statistics that separates papers rejected for non-research based reasons listed here, here, here, and here. It’s hard to evaluate the quality of the papers if we add in ones that get rejected for things like being totally the wrong subject area.

Journals usually also discuss their rankings and impact factor, if relevant to the discipline. These are statistics usually associated with citation rates rather than readership. I’ve always considered them 50% statistics and 50% magic, but they get discussed ad nauseum since every few years, academics and promotion committees seem to be obsessed with journal rankings.

And then we talk about development opportunities – conference attendance, scholarships, awards and prizes, and the like. This can be an interesting brainstorming session for new ideas on how to use these opportunities to develop the journal and reach a broader audience. Would having a graduate/postgraduate conference sponsored by the journal help to reach a new group of early career researchers? Or are we already getting plenty of ECR submissions? What can we do to encourage better papers from ECRs? Could we plan a workshop on the art of reviewing?

And that’s pretty much it. There’s always topics of interest or institutional politics to discuss, but these usually happen over coffee at the end. Some meetings are plain and simply a very boring waste of time. But some are really interesting, and some are highly political and highly contentious. It all depends on what’s going on with the journal, the academics and publishers involved, and the state of affairs in the academic world. But mostly, I go for the cake.

So, when you are invited to be on an editorial board for the first time, it’s safe to say that it probably won’t be exactly as you are expecting. Except for small journals, you rarely discuss individual papers, and it’s more about management. It can really be eye-opening and transform your perspective on academic publishing to see it so bluntly discussed from a management point of view. It can also help with your own submissions to hear a group of editors discussing why they reject papers and what, exactly, they are hoping to find in a submission, especially from ECRs.

Anyway, I hope this helped enlighten the area around editorial boards a bit. If you’re ever asked to join one, make sure you ask exactly what is expected of you because as with everything in journal publishing: each journal is different.

Take care

3 January 2015

Guest Post: Writing and Writer's Block as a Professor

This is part two of my two-parter (Part I can be found here). The point of the two-part guest post is to demonstrate a shared experience: writer's block and insecurities are not unique to ECRs. The below post is from a professor at a very highly ranked research university (friends in high places!). The conversation, like so many in academia, began in a bar and took surprisingly little convincing, as we were discussing the struggle of getting a paper written. When asked for the requirements, my three part response was simple: 1) write honestly about the experience 2) be as frank as you wish 3) anonymity will cover 1 and 2. 

So, without further ado, LaProfesseur, unabridged and unedited.

When theAdmin suggested I do a blog-style piece on the extent to which experienced academics still suffer from writers’ block, I thought:   ‘Yeah!  That’ll be fun!  I’ll do that right away!’  That was about six months ago. 

So, the answer, emphatically, is yes.  Even when the stakes are pretty low (apart from the threat of the ire* of theAdmin) some of us never do outgrow our love-hate relationship with writing.  I love having written something.  Actually writing something, myehh, not so much.   I still experience many of the same symptoms that I did when I was a novice keen to break in to the world of publishing but uncertain about how to do it.  That includes:  many of the same insecurities about whether I’m saying anything worthwhile; many of the same fears about certain Imagined Readers (I have two Imagined Readers who can freeze me mid-sentence if they pop into my mind);   many of the same infantile procrastination strategies (eyebrow plucking, anyone?).   So if you are looking for reassurance that you will outgrow bad habits and The Dreads, I’m sorry.  So if not comfort, what can an an experienced professor at a highly ranked research-intensive University offer to someone who shares the writer’s block affliction but has only just started to publish? Empathy:  definitely.  It’s hard.  My sympathies.  It’s not just you.  And…perhaps a little advice on how I have learnt to defeat myself (occasionally) at my own games.  A few of my more successful strategies (that is, sometimes they work) are below. 

  • ·         Strategy one:  have a really solid outline.  These are not so onerous to write and once it’s done, you really are on your way.  This helps to focus the mind and start the flow.  It also helps to impose coherence.  Entropy is always a risk in the panic of writer’s-block-meets-deadline; a solid framework helps you to avoid it. 
  • ·         Strategy two:   write something; anything.  The tyranny of the blank page is a nightmare.  Even a title, your name, a few references that you know you will use in the correct format for your target journal:  it all creates a comforting sense of progress.  I often infill sections of the outline that I know I can do easily or which I feel passionately about.  You can worry about how it all holds together later.
  • ·         Strategy three:  speaking of flow, find it and go with it.  I don’t know the provenance of the expression and wouldn’t recommend taking it literally, but I suspect this is the wisdom of ‘write drunk; edit sober’.   Self-editing from a critical place is necessary eventually, but can be paralysing when you are trying to get into the flow.
  • ·         Strategy four:  replace those dreaded Imagined Readers with some friendly, supportive people that see things your way and will appreciate your work.  Write for them first.  In later editing, you can defend yourself against the others.

A theme is emerging here, which is about acknowledging writing as a process with easier and more difficult stages.  Making the difficult stages easier and picking the low-hanging fruit of the easy stages allows you to get to a place where you feel the article taking shape.  Then it’s okay to let your more critical self out of that dungeon in your mind.

Ironically, I think I have a reputation for being pretty reliable.  In other words, I do usually manage to get things done despite the procrastination and various forms of torture I put myself through.   For all my flaws, I do respect both negotiated timelines and imposed deadlines; not respecting them only makes things much worse.  That is something I HAVE learnt and it is increasingly true as work intensifies.  Postponements and creative blocks are rarely a product of having too much to do.  You can make those deadlines too – and no-one needs to know the agony behind the scenes.

*NB – the Admin doesn’t really do ire – follow her kind and wise advice!


Guest Post: Writing and Writer's Block as an ECR

Firstly, Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope 2015 brings you all health, wealth, and, of course, published papers! 

Secondly, I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for all the follows, retweets, posts, emails, messages, and comments. It's been great exercising my editorial muscles over the past year and trying to catalogue some of the knowledge that I've accumulated over the past 7 (yikes! has it been that long?) years. 2015 has some exciting things in store - I officially made the switch to freelance at the end of 2014 so will have more time to devote to blogging (haha) alongside my academic career. So do tell all your friends about me. And keep asking questions! 


For being such loyal readers, for your belated Christmas gift, I decided to post this and its counterpart Guest Post: Writing and Writer's Block as a Professor rather than the normal drivel spewing forth from my own keyboard. The two posts are from two ends of the academic spectrum. In the first, theECR comments on getting through the early years of publishing, as well as the lingering fears and anxiety that we all feel. In the second post, LaProfesseur comments on the established years of publishing, as well as the lingering fears and anxiety that we all feel. And thus the idea behind the two guest posts: ECRs are not alone in fears and anxieties. I'm not saying this to scare you into thinking that it'll never go away. Quite the opposite. The intention is to show you that such things are normal and an integral part of an academic career. Learn to deal with them now, and you'll find they'll become much less of an issue. 

So without further ado, here is a completely unedited version of theECR's words:

It’s been over three months since I had my first peer-reviewed article accepted by a top journal in my field and I’m still pinching myself… and still sort of waiting for them to tell me they’ve made some terrible mistake. To put the imposter syndrome aside for a moment (don’t worry, it’s just for a moment…), when theAdmin asked if I’d contribute a post on the writing process, I agreed immediately. I mean, loads of people blog. How hard could it be?

Actually, it’s pretty hard.

So here I am, trying to write a post about writing, writer's block, and my experience, and, guess what? Yep. I have full on writer's block. You really couldn’t make it up. Underpinning this latest bout of writer’s block was the gnawing question of ‘what if people think my post is rubbish’? In fact, substitute ‘post’ for ‘thesis’, ‘chapter’, or ‘article’ and that pretty much typifies my perception of my academic career to date.

How I Feel Most Days...    Tumblr.com
It would’ve been so easy to suffer in silence, to walk even further into what The Thesis Whisperer has called ‘The Valley of Shit’. I was staring at a blank screen. I was worried about how the blog post would be received. I was convinced I couldn’t write anything useful. Worse than that though, I just felt very alone... just me and this blank screen. All this was uncomfortably familiar. It was exactly how I felt when writing my first article.

Yep...my usual response to The Valley of Shit imgur.com

I knew what I had to do… cue a whiney, late night conversation to theAdmin. It didn’t take long before I soon realised that staring at a blank page and all the various neuroses that come with it are actually totally normal. In fact, they’re fairly typical of the ECR experience.

So, that was a pretty long meandering introduction to a simple truth: we get stuck all the time and there’s no shame in that. In fact, part of being an ECR is learning to use our resources and to ensure that we don’t travel through ‘The Valley of Shit’ on our own. We have guidance and enthusiasm. We have structure and plans (my PhD work plan is my pride and joy…). We have serious support networks, which include our supervisors and mentors, colleagues and friends, and lovely people like theAdmin.

These resources are important. They help you get started and they can even keep you going. I mean, is there any better feeling than someone telling you that you’re on the right track, or that your work is actually good?

Feels GOOD!    imgur.com

My experience was one of trial and error, just like yours will be. But let me start at the beginning of the article writing process. As in all academic disciplines, publishing is paramount. What is it they say? Publish or perish? Unfortunately, it’s a reality for all researchers even ECRs. I knew that I needed to have something accepted for publication otherwise I could kiss goodbye any chance of making it on to a job application long list…

The idea for my article came from the first chapter of my thesis. My supervisor thought it was good enough to publish from and actively encouraged me to turn it into an article. He even suggested a journal that would be most suitable. His buy in and belief in my work gave me an initial boost. However, the prospect of transforming an 11,000 word chapter into a 7,000 word article was tough. What should I cut? Would the journal actually like it? Was it too theoretical?

After bashing the article into some sort of respectable first effort, I realised that I needed to call on my support network. I was too close to this work. It was too precious to me and there was the danger that I had lost a certain amount of objectivity. Was I killing enough of my darlings? Thankfully, my supervisor, theAdmin, and another ECR chum were willing to give up their time to read through my first effort. To be honest, it was pretty nerve wracking just asking for their feedback, but I knew that I had to get the article into the best possible shape before I cast it into the depths of the dreaded peer-review process…

I must’ve printed out the article six times to edit it, edit it some more, and maybe a little more after that. Throughout that period, I had convinced myself that this manuscript was going to be instantly rejected. I soon began to doubt the originality of my approach, the breadth and depth of my research, and my ability to write coherently and, more importantly, academically.

This is not an ideal mindset... tumblr.com

Needless to say, submitting through the journal portal (in this case, ScholarOne) was nerve wracking and daunting. I’d followed the formatting instructions (always remember to do that, otherwise people like theAdmin get peeved), I’d uploaded the anonymised document, I’d dotted the Is and crossed the Ts. And I’d seriously run down the battery on theAdmin’s mobile owing to frantic late night nervous texting.

Why so nervous you might ask? Well, there were many reasons… I was putting my research out there for the first time in written form. It was going to be reviewed and critiqued by experts in my field. I was worried that, if it was rejected, I’d have let down both my supervisor and myself. Clicking that ‘Submit Manuscript’ button was hard because it was loaded with so many hang ups and expectations… all of which I’d placed upon myself.

But you know what? The bit that happened after clicking the button was pretty straightforward and far from the nightmarish experience I thought it would be. We’re not really taught what to expect with the whole peer-review journal process. My misguided belief was that two academics would tear apart my article with glee abandon, laughing their way through my tenuous arguments and flimsy evidence. We’re led to believe that it’s an unknown, mysterious abyss from which a polished paper will magically appear. This is completely false. Contrary to my unfounded, initial expectations, both the editorial and peer-review process were incredibly helpful. The editors were extremely approachable and flexible. The comments received from both reviewers were considered and aimed to strengthen the piece rather than denigrate it. Imagine my pleasure when one of the reviewers even suggested that my manuscript should be published in its current form. That felt like a win in its own right, but, perhaps more importantly, it was a vindication that my work was sufficiently original and interesting.

This is what winning feels like.... imgur.com

Ultimately, my article was accepted with minor revisions. All in all, it wasn’t the nightmarish process I’d psyched myself up for. As theAdmin has mentioned countless times, this is a process run by fellow academics that have probably felt just as nervous, have had writer’s block, and have worried about clicking that ‘Submit Manuscript’ button just like you.

This is the bit where I try and distill some insightful words of wisdom to help you with the writing process. Firstly, don’t be afraid of using your support network… even if it’s just chatting about ideas over a coffee. Second, remember that the peer reviewers are there to help strengthen your work. They’re not evil ogres. They’ve more than likely been in exactly the same position. Third, without wanting to sound all Disney, believe in your own ability and don’t be scared of writer’s block. It happens to all of us.

I hope this has been useful. Also, make sure you keep reading theAdmin's blog! There's got to be some good stuff coming at some point, right?