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Complicated situation with manuscript submission: Little help from adviser

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Marissa4usa

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Hi all,
I'm in a strange situation. I graduated with my master's degree last year and I'm currently trying (emphasis on trying) to publish my master's thesis. So far, I've submitted it to three mid-tier journals and it got rejected from all of them (one gave me an RR but ultimately said no). Before I submitted it the first time, I made major revisions. After it got rejected the first time and second time, I made almost all the changes reviewers had requested (except for a few where it was clear that the reviewer had literally no idea what s/he was talking about and the suggested changes were just really out there. In all three reviews, different things were criticized - things that previous reviewers had problems with were liked by others. I should note that all three journals were appropriate for my topic.

I know most of you would recommend that I just talk to my adviser and ask for advice. The problem is that while my adviser is incredible nice and really willing to help, s/he doesn't know much about my topic. I switched adviser's mid-thesis because my initial adviser had major issues. I don't regret that part because I wouldn't be where I am today had I not switched, but because my adviser really doesn't know the literature very well, she's not of much help and at this point also not terribly much invested (although she's always willing to be there for me, I just have to do all the work).

I'm not sure what to do. I'm running out of appropriate journals to submit this to and I'm really tired of making all the changes to not even get a revise and resubmit. I know that academia is a tough field and I'm not discouraged by it per se, but I feel if I don't have an action plan for this particular manuscript, I'm just wasting my time. I have considered asking my mentor at my current RA job but he's not very familiar with that particular subarea either, plus he's helped me a lot with other stuff and asking this would just be pushing it.

I'll be starting a PhD program in the Fall and my mentor there would definitely be the better person to ask about this. However, how would I go about this? If he spends an hour on reading through the thing and gives a few suggestions, then it'd be easy but my guess is that it may need more work. Am I required to offer authorship if the feedback is extensive and he potentially helps me additional analyses? What do I do with my thesis adviser?

Bottom line, how should I handle this?
 

Ollie123

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No reason you couldn't add new mentor on as an additional author if appropriate. He may also be willing to offer advice just out of nicety - here we routinely circulate manuscripts to non-authors to get an "outside perspective" and/or sometimes solicit advice from others on appropriate journals. Its not like you are asking the new mentor to help you complete a whole new project from start to finish. That said, I'd ask your thesis adviser if they would mind you asking the new adviser for input and if so if they would mind you adding them as an author. Its not like there is a limit to the number of authors (I've read plenty of articles with 20+ authors). I imagine most people would be perfectly open to such an arrangement - especially for a paper they are struggling to get accepted. You can ask your thesis adviser if they'd rather be second or last (this depends on department/setting).

Alternatively, if you are sick of the thing I'm sure you can just aim low. Plenty of journals out there seem to take damn near anything.
 

Marissa4usa

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No reason you couldn't add new mentor on as an additional author if appropriate. He may also be willing to offer advice just out of nicety - here we routinely circulate manuscripts to non-authors to get an "outside perspective" and/or sometimes solicit advice from others on appropriate journals. Its not like you are asking the new mentor to help you complete a whole new project from start to finish. That said, I'd ask your thesis adviser if they would mind you asking the new adviser for input and if so if they would mind you adding them as an author. Its not like there is a limit to the number of authors (I've read plenty of articles with 20+ authors). I imagine most people would be perfectly open to such an arrangement - especially for a paper they are struggling to get accepted. You can ask your thesis adviser if they'd rather be second or last (this depends on department/setting).

Alternatively, if you are sick of the thing I'm sure you can just aim low. Plenty of journals out there seem to take damn near anything.

In terms of aiming low: I didn't submit to top-tier journals, but solid middle-of-the-road journals. It's too specific for a top-tier journal and that's fine but I'm also not willing to have my name attached to something that is known for accepting just about everything (honestly, I put too much work into it). I'm willing to do the work but I'm tired of blindly revising based on reviews just to have it shot down again.
 

Pragma

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In terms of aiming low: I didn't submit to top-tier journals, but solid middle-of-the-road journals. It's too specific for a top-tier journal and that's fine but I'm also not willing to have my name attached to something that is known for accepting just about everything (honestly, I put too much work into it). I'm willing to do the work but I'm tired of blindly revising based on reviews just to have it shot down again.

So long as the reviews seem to be helpful and you understand them, it really can be worth taking the time if it improves the manuscript. Not too long ago I had a manuscript flat out rejected, which has not typically been my experience. I made very significant revisions and submitted it elsewhere, made more revisions in their process, and got it accepted. Ultimately, the paper is better and despite my frustrations during the process, I am happy with the results.

The reviews really can vary a lot, but often they can be very helpful (at least I have found that more often than them being clearly unhelpful). So if what they are asking you to do seems reasonable, then it might be worth the time. If it is unreasonable or baseless, then forget it.
 

cara susanna

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I'd talk to your future advisor and offer the chance for authorship. I'm sure your thesis advisor won't mind.

I hear you though--I've given up on manuscripts because journals kept rejecting them.
 

Marissa4usa

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So long as the reviews seem to be helpful and you understand them, it really can be worth taking the time if it improves the manuscript. Not too long ago I had a manuscript flat out rejected, which has not typically been my experience. I made very significant revisions and submitted it elsewhere, made more revisions in their process, and got it accepted. Ultimately, the paper is better and despite my frustrations during the process, I am happy with the results.

The reviews really can vary a lot, but often they can be very helpful (at least I have found that more often than them being clearly unhelpful). So if what they are asking you to do seems reasonable, then it might be worth the time. If it is unreasonable or baseless, then forget it.

I hope it didn't come across as if I didn't want to make the changes reviewers suggested. Like I said, I had it under review at three different journals. Out of all of the feedback I got from reviewers I took 90% of it and made appropriate revisions and then resubmitted to the next journal (the remaining 10% were just so far off, it was clear the reviewer misunderstood several things). I agree, reviewer feedback is incredibly helpful in the vast majority of cases (I just submitted my second RR at a top tier journal that my mentor is certain will get accepted and because of reviewers' feedback it has become much stronger) but I'm at a loss here.

Several reviewers actually noted that it a great project, but think it ends up getting turned down because it's not packaged right. There seems to be nothing wrong with the basics (i.e. analyses are done correctly and interpreted), so I just need some mentoring on how to sell it better, but due to my weird situation (done with master's program, former adviser not familiar with topic and not terribly invested, can't bother my mentor at my RA job with thaa I don't have anybody who I could ask to work with me on that...sigh
 

Pragma

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I hope it didn't come across as if I didn't want to make the changes reviewers suggested. Like I said, I had it under review at three different journals. Out of all of the feedback I got from reviewers I took 90% of it and made appropriate revisions and then resubmitted to the next journal (the remaining 10% were just so far off, it was clear the reviewer misunderstood several things). I agree, reviewer feedback is incredibly helpful in the vast majority of cases (I just submitted my second RR at a top tier journal that my mentor is certain will get accepted and because of reviewers' feedback it has become much stronger) but I'm at a loss here.

Several reviewers actually noted that it a great project, but think it ends up getting turned down because it's not packaged right. There seems to be nothing wrong with the basics (i.e. analyses are done correctly and interpreted), so I just need some mentoring on how to sell it better, but due to my weird situation (done with master's program, former adviser not familiar with topic and not terribly invested, can't bother my mentor at my RA job with thaa I don't have anybody who I could ask to work with me on that...sigh

Oh it didn't come off that way. I was just saying that it usually can make it better, and then when you go to the next place you might have a better shot. I understand the frustration. Finding the right fit is really the hardest part if your project spans more than one domain.
 

VeryHopeful2010

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OP - I do think what you are experiencing is more the norm than the exception. It is difficult to publish, even in mid-tier journals. I work at a major academic medical center with some of the best known people in my field - and I experience RR and then rejections all the time. Your strategy to speak with your new PhD advisor is a good one. If there are not fatal flaws in the manuscript (things you cannot change, like sample size or attrition), continue to press forward with it. The publication will help you in the future to get grants, internships, etc., especially if you are first author, which it sounds like you might be?
 

LisaLisa86

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I would take a step back, take a week off from thinking about it. Then I would come back, and think about what the GOAL of your paper is. What is the point? What are you trying to show? How are you advancing the literature? Then I would sort of outline- not looking at your original paper- how you would frame your argument. What would convince someone? What would point A, point B, point C be to convince them of your goal? After you do that, I'd go over the reviewer responses and incorporate anything into your outline that you genuinely think will be strengthening or helping your paper, and ignore the rest. Then I'd rewrite the paper based off that outline, using your old paper as a reference. I think once you get to that point where so many people have influenced it or pointed out little things to change, that papers start to lose cohesion and the original point can be lost. Sometimes things can be improved by taking a deep breath and starting with a blank slate.
 

LisaLisa86

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Also, I know it seems like you're out of your depth, but just think how amazing this will feel when you accomplish this on your own- it seems like one of those moments where afterward, you'll step back and be like, "holy crap, I've learned so much- I can really actually be a researcher, I can do this". You might not have experience on "selling", but you probably do have experience in reading, critical thinking, and research. Draw from your own experiences to improve your paper, and trust yourself. That's my best advice :).
 
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