Bad review? Don’t give up!

Peer review of scientific publications is an essential part of any academics life. It is the process in which (after having worked for months (or years) to plan a study, collect data, analyse it and write an article/paper) you submit your work to a scientific journal where it is reviewed by 2-3 reviewers who are experts in your area of research (ideally). In the best scenario, they love what you’ve written and accept it for publication without revision. This is cause for champagne! More often, they have comments and you can be asked to re-submit your paper with minor or major revisions, and if you’ve done what they asked they will likely accept it for publication. But sometimes, they simply hate it – and receiving a bad review can be quite devastating – especially if you are early in your research career.

A recent “review experience” made me think about the following twitter conversation that really resonated with me. Two very experienced researchers (if you’re not following them on twitter already – DO SO!) reflect on the very negative impact a bad review can have.

And if you’ve been in research a while you are bound to have experienced (at least) one of those reviews, the ones that make you feel absolutely worthless, make you question your ability as a researcher completely, and might even make you give up. If not on research alltogether at least on the paper that was trashed. But what are the consequences? All the hours of research, planning, data collection, analyzing and writing – wasted if the end result never reaches outside your desktop.

Last year, a paper I was co-author on with a junior colleague was rejected (after almost a year of waiting!) with quite a harsh review accompanying it. We didn’t give up of course, but used some of the more constructive feedback to improve the paper and considered why the reviewers failed to see the importance of the study. After some revisions and clarifications, we submitted the paper to a new journal, with higher impact factor and with a focus more adapted to our research. Only a few weeks later, we received reviews that were much more positive. Still some revisions to do before acceptance, but overall very encouraging and clearly acknowledging the importance of the results.

My main point here is – don’t give up! When you’ve gotten as far as submitting a paper for publication, don’t let a harsh review discourage you. Let it rest a few days, shake it off, learn what you can learn and resubmit!

And don’t think you’re the only one experiencing this – it’s no coincidence that 10 advice for peer reviewers from Elsevier include “Be professional”, “Be pleasant”, “Be helpful”, and “Be empathetic”.

[post 3 in the #blogg100 challenge]

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