Today, I signed the agreement form for my paper, the first one to be published where I am the first author. And while I should be doing a victory dance, tap dance, lap dance, any kind of dance, I feel neither happy, nor sad.
I had written this paper two summers ago, and ever since, it has seen multiple rejects. The reviews were pretty harsh every time, and I still vividly remember the first time it was rejected. Call it professional naivete, but I had a misconception that this was a great paper, my first and best brainchild, and should not have been rejected. I cried, consulted, went and talked to people about their first rejections, and some of them said that they still have papers sitting on their shelves that have never seen the light of the day (and probably never will). My heart sank.
Since then, I pledged that I will try my best to get it published. I gave it a few months of break, and took a stab at it with renewed vigor. I rewrote it almost entirely, added some more data analysis, and emotionally distanced myself from it, my theory being that things happen when you detach yourself from the expectation of outcome. Not entirely scientifically proven, but I believe that if you can actually distance yourself sufficiently from an outcome (and not just pretend that you have distanced yourself), your failures will stop bothering you, and even if they don’t see fruition, you would have stopped caring by then. And then last April I went to San Francisco for a conference, met an editor (another reason why you should not spend time sightseeing during conferences), and things fell in place. After five more months of back and forth correspondences and editing, it finally got accepted. It might not be in one of my dream journals, but it is still something worth a few lines on my CV. And by now, I have matured enough to know that this paper is not my best work either.
All this makes me think about the futility of using the number of publications as a productivity measurement currency in academia. Years go by from the time you conceive an idea in your head to the time you see it in print. The process is arduous and painstaking, to say the least. I am not even considering fraud where someone in the lab steals your idea or takes undue credit. And then we critique other people’s papers in classes, saying they did not do it well and the study is old and will not be relevant ten years down the line. No experiment is perfect, even the world we live in is not perfect. This is social science research after all, and people change. Then what is the point of using publications as a yardstick to measure success? It takes years of mastery, rounds of edits and rejects, heartbreaks, and tears, and this research may not be relevant in the future anyway. Then why not measure a researcher’s worth using more tangible measures?
As you can see, I’m rather feeling philosophical today.