Sunday, March 23, 2008

"To be submitted"??

"You are only as good as your last paper" said someone, and like it or not, there is a lot of truth to that maxim in academia. I have ranted enough about the woes of writing in this blog. But I have some words of advice for any grad student reading this blog. Do not think it will be trivial to make "small final changes" and submit work from your Ph.D after you graduate from the lab and move on to a new life. This is probably pretty damn obvious, but it gets overwhelmingly tempting when you reach the end of your rope and are just dying to get out of grad school. Several P.Is have a strict policy against it, they want the student to at least submit the paper before leaving the institute. Several others let the student graduate with a chapter in the thesis labeled "To be submitted to journal of blah". I was one of those students who left my lab with a paper "in the works". Really had to do one more analysis, add a couple figures and incorporate all the changes my committee suggested (not many) and just submit the dang thing. It should've taken two or three weeks of dedicated work. But that was not to be.

I graduated, did all the happy stuff and said goodbye to my lab and lutom. Went home on a holiday. Worked a bit on the paper but was sluggish- it was hard to get things done while in India on vacation mode: bad internet, power cuts, etc. only being easy excuses to make it harder. Meanwhile PhDAdv got busy and took time to get back to me. Then she went for a conference and found someone working on the same stuff. Hit all the panic buttons, many international calls were made and a week or two of my vacation just before I was to return to the US were ruined in this. I came back, was just settling in, no easy access to internet etc. and busy trying to learn the ropes in my new lab. Sitting in a new place, it was really hard for me to think about my old work. There was a phase I was tackling pressure from two bosses and believe me, it was not fun at all. The work soon began losing its charm, not just for me, but for the community on the whole because it was no longer "novel". Others had begun taking similar approaches and presenting preliminary data at meetings. That is not all. There were more practical issues. The journal we had decided on submitting this paper to would now not let us submit without paying a hefty fee. Just a few months earlier, we could've submitted for free thanks to our University being a member of that journal. That membership expired a couple months after I had graduated. PhDAdv. didn't have the funds for this now, and I couldn't even appeal to my grad school or dept. for funds having left the place. The only option was to downgrade to a lower-impact journal and submit for free. Thankfully, ever-resourceful PhDAdv. somehow managed to do "jugaad" and fork up the money for it. Finally the paper got submitted about seven months after it was written, the reviews are back and I have a sh!@load more work to do on it before it sees the light of the press, if at all. Now even if I say so myself (actually the reviewers said so too;) ) , this is some really good data and it is a bit of a shame to make it to the press so late. Pressures in my current place of work have only gotten worse and that makes it only more hard to work on these revisions. I may end up having to dilute authorship and add another author to the paper, which originally was just PhDAdv and me.

And this is not all. It would've been really nice for me to have had this paper in press by now, as I am trying to apply for post-doc fellowships and this paper would've made that difference in my application. Another thing nobody tells you is that a lot of post-doc fellowships (of the few that us non-US nationals are eligible to apply for, in the first place) are often restricted to first year post-docs. So you only have one chance at these, and they are inevitably highly competitive. Every small edge you can gain, therefore, is important. Grades, publications, teaching experience, everything. You can rarely expect to have anything from your new lab in press at such an early stage, so really, you are counting on solely your tangible achievements from your grad school stint to give you that edge here. (In addition to a strong and well written proposal, of course).

I will chalk this down to another lesson learned the hard way and move on just because I have no choice and no time for self-flogging. But for all those still in grad school, take a leaf out of my book. Submit that last paper, even if it means that you stay on a extra month or two in your Ph.D. lab. It will make life that much simpler for you post-Ph.D.


Tabula Rasa said...

sympathies, and point well taken. most of us learn the hard way that life is actually *better* before graduation.

Anonymous said...

What place were you applying to? The Helen Hay Whitney foundation?

La vida Loca said...

Thought u were at a post doc lab already?!

Sanyukta said... looks like I'll be coming back to this post hopefully someday in the future. :)

Have a great week ahead.

Sakshi said...

Jebus. Know what you mean. I have given up on the two papers from grad life. Ah well. I think since the pubs also mean something to the advisor they will get published. Just not soon enough. And with another author thrown in. But in the end, I get a pub. So it all works. :)

The_girl_from_Ipanema said...

thanks for the sympathies. I am not yet there where I will say life was better in grad school. But I do hear that from a lot of people...

not that one, actually, another one. But thanks for bringing that to my attention! I might still be eligible for it.

vida loca,
yes i am. but i didn't submit one paper from my grad school work- so its still pending. thats why this miserable rant. :(

well, i hope it serves a good purpose. :)

yeah, you are right, eventually they will get published.

Tabula Rasa said...

hope you're the exception.
go for the hhw - it can make things a lot easier!

The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

Professor TR,
Its more like i haven't gotten miserable enough in post-doc life. yet. :)
yeah, will try for hhw. i did not know about it, so i am so glad this rant was posted and that anonymous commenter commented. :)

P said...

ah publications! I would love to get all the chapters of my dissertation published before I graduate. Only if the reviewers and editors stop being so picky! SIGH