Reject but encourage resubmission

With a dream to be a world-class scientist, you decide to pursue a PhD. One more reason for this decision is that you want to live up to all the expectations of your family and society. After applying to a number of universities, you get admission into a decent university. At the first meeting, your adviser asks you to bring some original idea next day to get started. He tells you that it is our research group’s tradition to have three peer-reviewed publications for a PhD degree and one for a Master’s degree.

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Then you start to think out of the box to get some original ideas. You try everything. You spend longer time in the bathroom. You stay alone hours thinking, with your eyes gazing up. But you get nothing. You are about to give up. But one day you suddenly get an idea while being on the bus and you become excited. You share the idea to your friends and adviser. The next day you find a paper in google scholar and realize that a very similar work was already published last year. Then you start looking for other ideas. You search everything in google scholar and find nothing undiscovered. But you need something to get started otherwise your PhD is in jeopardy. You then made up some problem very similar to a previously published paper and create some vague research questions. You start to work on the problem reluctantly. You use different, better or higher resolution data-set and start playing with the data. You get more and more ideas as you continue working on it. You present your idea again and again in your research group and your colleagues and adviser start to believe it. Your idea then gets established. You enter the world of research.

In the first draft of your first paper, you write everything you learned during the last year. You include all the literature review whether it be relevant or not to the main idea. You write several disconnected thoughts and use unnecessary paragraph breaks and jargon. You write confounding abstract and conclusion. Regardless, you send it to your adviser. You wait for one month for your adviser’s reply. Not getting a reply, you realize that it was badly written. Then you start to revise the paper yourself and work on it for another month or so. You send it again to your adviser. This time you get a reply saying that the paper is badly organized, lacks focus, and is not written well. You don’t see any comment in the paper, however. You feel bad on the day and decide to go for some happy hours. Next day you start to revise it again. After substantial revision, you send it again to your adviser after another month. This time you get a reply within a week with your adviser’s comments in the paper. When you open the paper, you see it all red with tracked changes everywhere. In addition, you also see some comments asking for more figures and explanation. Then you work for another month and send it to the adviser again. This time you get a reply in a few days with some minor comments. You become extremely happy on that day and you embrace some happy hours in the evening.

The next day, you start the process of submitting the paper to a journal. Your adviser picks a high-impact journal even though you already had a journal in your mind with a decent impact factor, typically below two.

You spend about one week to formally submit the article to the journal. After submission, your anxiety level starts to rise linearly. You check the status of your paper everyday. You feel excited to see ‘reviewer assigned’ status. After a month or so, you see the status ‘with editor for decision’. Then your anxiety level tends to reach the peak. That night you don’t sleep well. You don’t eat breakfast well the next morning. After one or two days, you see email from your adviser forwarding the decision letter to you. Before clicking that email, your anxiety reaches the maximum. You open the email and a long list of comments unfold. It says ‘rejected but encouraged to apply’. You don’t understand its meaning and you start to google it.

After reading the comments from the reviewers, you realize that there are three kinds of reviewers. First ones are deliberately negative on your idea from the very beginning. This typically happens either because they didn’t like your idea or because they didn’t see any citation of their papers. It is also possible that the idea presented in your paper undermined their line of thought and the results were against their previous findings. In their comments, they imply that the world is perfect, so your method, data, figures, and everything has to be perfect. Second kind of reviewers always give moderate opinion. They give some comments but they neither agree nor disagree strongly with your idea. Third ones are extremely welcome. They like the paper and they always positively recommend the paper giving only minor comments, mostly on grammars.

You reluctantly tell the fact to your colleagues in the hope to get to know the status of their paper. One of your colleague tells you that her paper was accepted with minor revision. You feel low that day. Next day, you get to know from another colleague that his paper was also rejected recently. Then you feel a bit relieved. You also talk to your friend in another university and your friend tries to comfort you saying his past story. He says that his paper was also rejected but he resubmitted it in the same journal and it was accepted. You also decide to resubmit the paper to the same journal.

You try to incorporate all the comments and work on it. You polish your figures and present them using very high quality graphics. You filter your data and present your result in more complex way possible. You put multiple curves in a single graph and add a few tables. You also add a few pointless extremely vague sentences. While doing this, you remember Einstein’s quote “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” But you ignore it and keep those vague sentences. You also make the ‘tone’ in your paper a bit softer and become careful not to hurt author’s ego when criticizing past works. You also review more relevant papers and add their citations. And you try to be more neutral and balanced in your opinion. You delete those sentences that you wanted to delete from the very beginning, but hadn’t deleted because that would significantly reduce the length of the paper. Finally you submit it to the same journal. This time you get a decision letter indicating ‘accepted with major revisions’.

After a few weeks, you revise your paper giving it a complete new outlook. At this point you realize that criticisms, comments and negative feedback all were actually positive things. You compare your latest paper to your first draft and you realize that the first draft was a piece of ultimate shame. You resubmit the paper and in a few weeks you get an email with a decision ‘accepted’. You find it as one of the happiest moment of you life. Happy hours get extended and become happy days.

With a little perseverance you have now made a history. You will at least be found in google scholar forever, if not cited in the future. Congratulations for being published for the first time.

Happy writing.

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