I recently published my first ever paper, here is its story
It began back in 2013 when I wrote up and submitted a paper based on my MSc Taxonomy and Biodiversity project, with my supervisor Paul Eggleton as co-author. My project surveyed soil and leaf litter invertebrates, and plants, in 11 microhabitats in a woodland on the Isle of Wight. The microhabitats were divided into main woodland habitats that would have been sampled by previous surveys, and more localised habitats such as wet areas and dead wood, with the aim of identifying how much additional variation is added by including microhabitats.
This was sent to a journal for peer review which is the process where other scientists read and comment on the paper. The reviewers and editor decide whether the paper can be accepted or rejected for publication depending on if it is suitable for the journal, if it is clearly written, whether the conclusions match the results, etc. Papers are rarely accepted as they are, reviewers usually want something changed and depending on how much work needs to be done these are offered acceptance with minor or major revision. There is then a set period to make the corrections and changes and submit the paper again. In our case the paper was rejected but it was also noted that might be reconsidered if the reviewers concerns were addressed: this is known as ‘reject, resubmit’. There is no time limit on this and as I had started a new job at the University of Reading it was not until I started my PhD in 2014 that I had time to go back to the paper and revise it.
Papers are the ‘currency’ of academia, with the number of papers you published and how often they are cited by other papers a measure productivity and citation impact – the H index. The validity of this and other indices is actually much debated but I will not go into that here. Suffice to say for an academic career publishing papers is important (“publish or perish”) so it was appropriate to take a bit of time off from my PhD work to get the paper re-submitted. Coming back to the work after a year was sometimes difficult, and I was very grateful to my past self for leaving comprehensive notes on how I ran the data analysis (“your most important collaborator is your future self”)! My motivation increased when a couple of other papers that I am co-author on went in for review and for largely sentimental reasons I wanted this one to be my first. So I set myself the target of re-submitting it by the end of 2015, which I managed to do on the 29th December 2015.
This time it came back for major revision – an improvement on last time. Once we addressed the reviewers’ concerns the revision was submitted, and after briefly coming back for a few more minor changes it was accepted! Time for a science dance.
I could barely contain my excitement when an email arrived asking me to check the proof for the publication. This document lays out the article as it will appear in the journal, and goes to the corresponding author to check the accuracy of the typesetting any changes the copy-editor may have made and a last chance to check completeness and correctness of the text, tables and figures. In our paper there were just a few edits made by the copy-editor and one error to correct in a table were some text was in the wrong column. Then it was time to nervously press the ‘accept’ button – fingers crossed nothing was missed. I should have had someone else proof too, but just wanted to get it over with – don’t do this!
Not long after I had an email saying our paper had been published online! Much excitement and eating of posh biscuits ensued. The print version will appear in the July-August 2016 edition.
And here it is proudly on the publications wall in the Natural History Museum life sciences common room!
If you would like to read the paper and don’t have access please contact me via ResearchGate for a copy. You can also find out more about my study site on it’s very own website: http://timbercopse.myspecies.info. For an excellent guide for peer review and publishing in ecology visit the British Ecological Society.