Monday, February 14, 2011

On waiting (in the academic world)

In early November (of 2010), I submitted an article to a journal for consideration for publication. And by "article" I mean a completely unrevised paper from a seminar that I took last spring. I did this on a whim (literally, I was bored and Brad was napping on the couch diagonal to me), fully believing the paper would be rejected quite quickly, but maintaing a glimmer of hope that it would be, if nothing else, at least sent by the editor to reviewers and maybe I would get some feedback about how to improve it. 

(You might well ask why I didn't, before sending, use my teacher's feedback to improve, and you would be right to ask this. I could, however, only respond with a very unsatisfactory answer: laziness. That is, if it turned out the paper was too terrible to even be sent to reviewers, I didn't want to bother spending any time at all on it.) 

I guess before coming to my point (which is always a long and digressive task with me), it would help to explain the process of publication (or not-publication) in a peer-reviewed journal. Although journals vary, the basic rigamaroll looks something like this: 
    1.  you submit an unsolicited article (either via an online system, e-mail, or snail mail); 
    2.  an editor of one form or another makes an initial judgement (reject it or send it to reviewer/s); 
    3.  reviewers, who are experts in the particular area of your article, are invited to read and "score" your article; and 
    4.  based on the reviewers/ scores, the editor makes a decision about your article (reject/accept/accept with revisions/revise and resubmit). 

This process can take anywhere from 5 days to maybe 6 months. (The first place I ever submitted an article to took three months to reject it without even having sent it to reviewers. That same article was then accepted by a different journal in five days - of course, I had to stop wallowing and send it out again first, which took me a few weeks to do.) 

The waiting room at a doctor's office:  a fitting metaphor for 
the academic world, ugly decor and all. 

The present article/paper/potential piece of nonsense, is at a journal that has a typical 6-8 week response period, a factoid I got courtesy of the MLA Directory of Periodicals, that dear dear database. For some reason, I was expecting 8-10 weeks. But yesterday marked week 14. And since about week 8, I've been checking the status an unhealthy (obsessive?) 2-3 times a day. 

Currently (and for the last week and a half), my diamond-in-the-potentially-really-rough is in the reviwer's hands (or, rather, his/her inbox) and my online status on the journal's site is "awaiting reviewer scores." And although I probably shouldn't, I'm taking it as an encouraging sign that the editor sent it to a reviewer in the first place. I mean, with the other one, I got rejected at the first journal with as little fanfare as possible. Except for the whole THREE MONTHS thing (yes, I'm still seething just a tad two years later), which in my waiting-to-hear-from-PhD-programs-and-therefore-going-insane-and-hating-the-world mind, was all kinds of fanfare. 

So, basically, waiting sucks. And it sucks even more to wait with your hopes up when at least half of your brain is telling you that your writing stinks, your ideas stink, no one wants to publish your stupid paper, and, oh! by the way, you're never gonna get a job if you don't put out at least one more article before graduation (which, admittedly, is a long arse way off). 

And I've come to the conclusion that working in academia is all about waiting:  waiting to get through coursework to do comprehensive exams; waiting to pass comps to get to writing the dissertation; waiting to get through the diss. to find that ever elusive first job in a super crappy market; waiting to make that first job a sure thing by getting tenure . . . and on and on and on . . . .


  1. I wish you much success with your article. Please let us know if the publisher accepts it.