Does someone plan to get published in Nature or does it just happen?

Discussion in 'Physician Scientists' started by BNSN, Jun 2, 2008.

  1. BNSN

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    So, here's a question I have as a naive undergrad.

    Does someone choose a project thinking, "This project is high caliber. If I get it done, it's going in Nature" or do Nature papers just happen from regular work that gets lucky?

    I ask this because it seems there are big shot labs out there that regularly publish in Nature while there are big shot labs that don't. I work in a big shot lab, my PI is editor of a very major journal, chair of dept, etc. but almost no papers end up in high impact factor journals. All the work is just ho-hum observational stuff that gets churned out to mid-level journals.

    So, are Nature-worthy projects chosen and specifically sought after or do they just happen?
     
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  3. RxnMan

    RxnMan Who, me? A doctor?
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    Thus you have the reality of progress. Almost all progress made in any field (not just medicine) is made on an incremental basis. It's usually dry and what most would consider boring. Or at least not very flashy. That gets 3rd+ tier journals if poor science, 2nd tier if good science.

    Then there's the relatively few great breakthroughs that really push the field forward (concept from micro - drift vs. shifts). These are the things that get you into Nature or Cell or whatever.

    Then there's the huge conglomo research groups that have built up names for themselves (usually by doing the gradual type of progress work above) and combine with like groups and apply for huge grants and huge studies. Those also get into journals like JAMA, mostly because we expect it to change how we practice.

    Then there's the dinosaurs/giants that have done all of the above and more, and they have established names for themselves, and they can write for Nature any time they want.
     
  4. RxnMan

    RxnMan Who, me? A doctor?
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    But to answer your question, no, unless it's the conglomo study, most people don't plan to be in a huge journal. It usually happens after they get a surprising result.
     
  5. QofQuimica

    QofQuimica Seriously, dude, I think you're overreacting....
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    This is what my current PI's group is like. He never publishes in Nature because he does full-time clinical research. On the other hand, he regularly gets published in top medical journals like JAMA and NEJM. His department is involved with several dozen active clinical trials at any one time, many of them multi-institutional trials that influence clinical practice. Even if only a small percentage of these trials produce JAMA-worthy results, that still translates to an impressively steady outflow of high-impact pubs for him and his dept. just because they do so many trials.
     
  6. gbwillner

    gbwillner Pastafarian
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    While we all like to think that "top" journals like Nature, Science, Nature Genetics, Cell, and NEJM are there for anyone who makes a great discovery and solid work... in reality these journals are generally for famous PIs who have a habit of repeatedly publishing in them.

    You will often find "top" labs with "famous" PIs who only publish on these top journals. Once you become one of them, you can certainly publish there with significantly less than something that is "breakthough". I'm not saying these journals are closed to everyone else- far from it. But it becomes a habit. These journals will typically require a LOT a secondary experiments done at the whim of the reviewers, and reject papers at the slightest hint of displeasure from a reviewer. Of course, if you are a famous/respected PI, you are more likely to have a reviewer assume you know what you are doing, unless the reviewer is a bitter rival or is working on the same project or some other polical reason to screw your work. Furthermore, if you believe you've got something, and the editor rejects it, a big shot PI can just call the editor and bully them into publishing it. I've seen this more than a few times.

    Cell IMHO is somewhat of an exception. I have spoken with the editors and they are much less likely to REJECT manuscripts, and more likely to suggest additional excperiments. Submitting to Cell more than likely means you will publish there, but it may take a year or more after your initial submission.

    As someone who has gone though a PhD with many manuscritpts, I can tell you in hindsight that there is a lot of politics in publishing. Sometimes it's disgusting. I can also tell you that you never know what paper is truly considered "breakthough" until years after it is published, and IMHO these papers are unlikely to be published in these exclusive journals. They certainly will be referenced a lot though. Also, Nature and Science are well regarded, but are so non-specific in content that they are really not as good as several other journals.

    Furthermore, I will also say that as a grad student I think it is folly to set your sights to these journals. If it means an extra year of work for a Nature paper instead of JBC... seriously, publish in JBC and go on to your career.

    I do think you should have a minimum standard for Impact Factor, and that should be dictated by your field. In genetics, for example, I would try to publish only in journals with IFs above 7. In other fields this may be impossible. That ensures that people will read your work and you will be cited. Now that I'm Pathology, the top journal in the field has an IF of apprx. 6.
     
  7. GWD

    GWD
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    Another thing that wasn't mentioned, is you often prepare the manuscript according to what journal your plan on submitting to (all of them have different formats, sections, and components), and also do differnt validation experiments or functional assays, etc... depending on which journal you plan on submitting to.

    For instance, if you are submitting to Transplantation, you may do experiments A, B, D, E, and J, whereas if you are submitting to Cell you might do experiments A, B, C, F, G, H, and K. Then say Transplantation didn't want it, and you decide you want to submit to Journal of Immunology, you may throw out experiment D, and add experiment G, etc.

    Hope that example made sense.. but I would say overall the answer to your question is yes. Once a certain amount of experiments have been done, the project is coming together, and it's significance has sorta been assessed, I would say the supplemental experiments and design of the manuscript are usually tailored with a specific journal in mind.
     
  8. qwopty99

    qwopty99 Optometrist
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    My take on this, is that groups usually know in the planning stages of a study, the potential of the study. For instance, the PI might say, "this experiment is a Science-level type paper". I'm less of the opinion that research just miraculously "happens", and is judged to be Science-worthy after it is completed.

    As a unique anecdote, Watson & Crick knew that if they succeeded in solving the DNA riddle, they'd get the Nobel prize. And they did.

    Of course, there are exceptions to this. Perhaps some "discovery" really does happen after completion of the research - but as the posters above have said - lots of pubs in Science come out of labs who routine publish there. Surely these subsequent pubs are mostly "planned" and "intended".
     
  9. blazinfury

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    Sorry to jack this thread, but I have a question. So when an MD/PhD student is doing their PhD portion, they should submit to middle and low-tier journals in the sense that they can obtain their desired publication faster and their chances of it being rejected are greatly diminished.

    Also, how would they know that their research is not Nature worthy? Is it by asking their mentor/adviser? Also can one submit their manuscript to multiple journals simultaneously and then just withdraw them or is it only one at a time?

    I have a question about submitting manuscripts. If a scientist's manuscript gets rejected from one journal, can he just submit it to another journal?
     
  10. RxnMan

    RxnMan Who, me? A doctor?
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    Your PI will most likely have the best gut feeling/experience to determine whether a project is "Nature-worthy."

    You can re-submit to other journals, but since most journals will come back with suggested revisions/experiments, I don't know why you'd go through the trouble of starting fresh with another journal (unless those changes or experiments are not doable).

    On submitting to lower-tiered journals instead of top-tier: I would go for the lower ones as a starting student. Most programs I know of practically require PhD students to publish prior to graduation. I say get those publications, secure that requirement, and make it easier to walk away or graduate if you need to. It's part of protecting yourself as a student (because your PI may be a good guy, but their motives are not necessarily your's). Later if you're doing well, and you have the luxury of time, then maybe go through the give and take of higher end journals.

    But this discussion may be academic because your PI may force you to apply at the higher-end journals! :laugh:
     
  11. humbledoctor

    humbledoctor dmsaha
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    Are you saying clinical research has a greater chance of publishing because of the large # of trials?

    How do I find a lab where I have a likely chance to publish at all?
    I researched in the wrong field for 2.5 years. My ultimate goal is being accepted into medical school and becoming a physician taking an active role in healthcare reform. I am taking a break from school for the sake of research this year and I know I should assure that I have concrete evidence attesting to my level of commitment and contribution to a project during this gap year. That being said, when people say you should publish, does it make a difference if it is in clinical medicine or science journals? I feel like I took it too literally when people say research in a field you enjoy, a publication might or might not come. There HAS TO BE a way to determine the likelihood of publishing when joining labs. How can I find out if the PI's are willing to publish students? If I ask, I feel they won't like me.

    I am trying to understand how to find a lab that has promise of publishing at all. Please, help! I'm sorry, I don't mean to emphasize publishing so much, but after researching in a field I originally liked and having nothing come of it, I am disheartened that I did not understand how to publish or find research or a field that would be more likely to do so than another. I must be looking at the wrong things to find out if a publication is likely.
     
    #10 humbledoctor, Aug 30, 2012
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2012
  12. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    I am disheartened that you measure whether your research experience was worthwhile by whether or not you published. As an undergrad it's not expected that you will publish. At your level you should do research for the experience, or don't bother doing it.
     
  13. Ombret

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    I agree with you, Neuronix, that one should not be drawn to the lab only by the promise of publications--but you know that pubs are the coin of the realm. Undergrads do publish and it helps them get a small early advantage in their career.

    To humbledoctor--just look at the last few years' worth of undergrads who've worked in the lab. Their publication record predicts yours if you work in that lab. Of course your mileage may vary.
     
  14. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    The majority of undergrads who publish do so as middle author. Even a bulk of those are connected to the lab through family or are just very lucky. The exceptions are the people who take a year or two out to do research full-time. We all know that this happens. That's why it's not a big deal if you do or do not publish. When you get to grad school and you are putting in 3+ years just on research, then people expect publications. Before that, it's just undergrads bragging to each other.

    Nobody is going to look back at your undergrad publication record when you go to apply to residency and beyond, unless it happens to be directly related to your residency area or it was especially prolific. And being prolific so early on is a waste of time. The best use of your time is a 4.0 GPA, a 40 MCAT, and research EXPERIENCE. It isn't sitting around stressing about whether or not you're going to get published.
     
  15. agp4

    agp4 Senior Member
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    Call me old school, but I've always thought of undergraduate/graduate school as as the opportunity to learn how to do science, and postdoc/fellowship as the time to publish well and secure grants. You'll have the rest of your life to worry about the reviewers at Nature! :)
     
  16. blazinfury

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    Based on what you had stated, it seems that any research that one does during med school should be correlated to the residency that one wishes to pursue. Does that mean that if it is not directly correlated to the residency field it may be disregarded? I ask because if one pursues an MD-PhD, they typically choose their PhD lab before taking any of their clerkships. Isn't it a possibility that the PhD work may not be directly correlated to the residency that one pursues later on? I ask because interests evolve as one is further immersed into the medical field. On that same note, if one only pursues an MD, that individual really only has the summer before and after their first year to perform some research, unless of course that person takes some time off-- ie after yr 2 or after yr 4. So I take it that this individual would be at a disadvantage if say they performed research in cardiology during the summer of yr 1, but realized in yr 3 that derm or radiology is their passion.
     
  17. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    I have recommended this for years.

    My opinion is in part based on what I wrote here: http://www.neuronix.org/2011/07/nrmp-puts-out-charting-outcomes-in.html. It is also in part based on upon my experiences and discussing things with others (MD/PhD and MD) who applied to residency.

    It depends on the specialty. For competitive specialties or even not so competitive specialties in desirable locations, most programs care about step 1 and med school (clinical mostly) grades before research experience. However, research experience in the field you are applying to is most desirable. In smaller specialties in particular, it helps to do research with faculty who are known within that field for letters of recommendation.

    I will agree that an MD who does a summer of cardiology research then applies for rad onc is not in good shape. The most common thing would be to do a month or two of rad onc research in fourth year, hopefully publish a clinical research project, and then match to a program. They may still end up matching, but again this would be based more on step 1 and AOA status than anything else.

    I ended up competing with a lot of MDs who took a year out for research. A year out for research with a few clinical research publications OR a basic science publication directly related to the specialty area is viewed by many program directors as more desirable than a basic PhD in an unrelated area. One PD once told me "Benchtop Neuroscience research? What are we going to do with that in this specialty?" Now, your PDs will tell you that your benchtop neuroscience research will be highly desired by Neurology programs. That's probably true. Neurology is so non-competitive you'd probably match to a solid program as an American medical graduate with research experience unless you're a complete disaster. But if you decide to go into something like Radiology with unrelated research, good luck unless you have a 240+ step 1 (i.e. good enough to match academic radiology without the PhD). You'll still need a decent step 1 score, like 220+ (higher than the national average) even if you have a solid PhD in that area. Unlike others applying to competitive specialties, as an MD/PhD you will not have community programs to fall back on.
     
  18. blazinfury

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    Thank you for the insight as always. Based on your post, does this mean that a PhD can aid one's application if their Step score is a few pts below a desired mark (ie lets say 230 instead of 240 for rad). Can the same be true for a med student who took a yr off in b/w 2nd and 3rd yrs to pursue research in their field of interest-- assuming of course they achieve pubs as well? On that note, is it the fact that this individual has a PhD that aides them or that they took time to do research and get published that is the more critical factor (ie is it the degree or the experience that carries the greater weight)?
     
  19. Neuronix

    Neuronix Total nerd
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    It's going to depend on the individual program how much the research matters for them. It gets into nuances, and I'm speaking in generalities. Everyone is going to view this somewhat differently.

    I think most people view you as potential. Do you quickly integrate into the department into which you're joining with regards to your reseearch abilities and/or interests? If not, will you at least function at a high clinical level and contribute to research in other ways?

    This assumes the department wants its residents to do any serious research. Many view residency as a time for clinical learning/scut. Some of those progras may see potential in you as a fellow, while others simply may not care about you as a researcher because they just want the residents who will give them the least amount of trouble and learn the fastest.

    Maybe a place where resident research isn't that highly valued isn't some place you want to be. But that may include many of the top 10 institutions in your field or it may be the majority or all of the institutions in the location where you really want to live.
     
  20. mercaptovizadeh

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    It seems to me that Nature-worthy projects (also Science, etc.) pretty much follow the Harvard-admissions pattern (legacies, geniuses, and well-rounded).

    Legacies = people with good political connections to the editorial board, a large fraction. Probably half or more of the papers. Lots of these are deeply ideological, e.g. paleontologic studies and climate change papers.

    Geniuses = brilliant breakthrough papers that use a few techniques to answer a vitally important question, or demonstrate some new phenomenon that no-one has seen/understood before. The Watson-Crick DNA structure paper. Pretty rare, maybe 10%.

    Well-rounded = the questions are of 2nd-tier importance (in terms of novelty, but perhaps 1st-tier for clinical relevance) but the science done to address the questions is comprehensive and systematic (mostly in the supplementary part, of course), these are the labor intensive Nature Genetics papers that do GWAS studies and find important correlations. Most of the non-legacy papers.
     
  21. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ
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    No worries, just submit to Nature and Science. It's pretty easy to do this since the papers are generally shorter and less detailed than many "2nd-tier" journals, they're more concise, and he turnaround time is quick. I submitted something to both and found out it was rejected within 10 days.

    You can't submit to multiple journals simultaneously.

    Yes, you can submit to different journals after the first journal rejects it. This is probably the most common scenario.

    I think you should always shoot high, but obviously continue reformatting for lower-tier journals and doing more experiments you anticipate they will want.

    Sometimes it helps to put in a little less than you have, because then when the reviewer demands more (and s/he will), you can just add that completed data.

    I think reviewers often have an ego trip in that they cannot allow a fairly complete paper to go through without suggesting additional experiments and controls, many of which are extraneous and add nothing to the paper. Be ready for this, anticipate what they'll want, and go about doing it while the paper is under review.
     
  22. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ
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    Of course the field is important. Computational studies can be done faster than biochemical stuff, which goes faster than cell lines, which goes faster than whole animal studies. It's just the way it is. Conversely, the animal studies usually go into higher tier journals than the cell lines work, the cell lines work goes into more general and higher tier journals than the biochemistry, etc.

    Protein crystallography is a very high risk field to go into, since you have no idea what will give you a crystal. It's really an art more than a science. However, the stakes are high and if you do get a crystal you can often publish the protein structure in something high powered like Nature/Science/PNAS, etc.
     
  23. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ
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    Agreed. I ended up getting 6 publications (2 first author) from my masters work. They didn't get published until I was 2 years into my MD/PhD program, which is not at all unusual. It's hard to do your work and get it published all before you apply, unless perhaps you started in freshman year of undergrad and were very effective/piggybacked on other people's projects. In UG I was given my own project which didn't really go the whole way. Others, I'm sure, worked on common projects with grad students and post-docs and got published.

    In UG, your main focus is 4.0, 40, and extracurriculars, first of which is research. That should get you into the best MSTP programs.
     
  24. Nuel

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    While what you say is generally true, I will interject that biochemical experiments do not necessarily move faster than cell line work. I know people who did cell line work studying trafficking and they used to get data significantly faster than another lab working on integral membrane protein structure and biochemistry. It really depends.
     
  25. mercaptovizadeh

    mercaptovizadeh ἀλώπηξ
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    Obviously there are exceptions and I agree. C. elegans and D. melanogaster work will often be fast on the order of cell lines, etc.
     
  26. PTPoeny

    PTPoeny Senior Member
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    My lab published a Nature paper a couple of months before I defended and we are not a lab that has published in Nature before. Basically we had a good solid project that was about halfway ready to be published in a good solid second tier journal when we got an unexpected result that put this project into a very hot topic. We found out others had gotten the same result, but because we had so much of the background stuff done we were able to get a paper together before the other groups. We submitted with another group that was addressing the same question through complimentary methods. Nature seems to like pairs of paper addressing the same question, our impression was that there was no way our paper would have been published without the pair.

    So an unexpected result, but then a decision was made to go for Nature and the lab specifically put a lot of money and people into getting results faster than we would have otherwise and reached out to other groups studying the same thing to find someone willing to submit as a pair of papers.

    Overall my impression is that the process is a little bit random and the science wasn't necessarily any better than when we publish in a "normal" journal, just faster.
     
  27. agp4

    agp4 Senior Member
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    Congrats to your lab!

    I have a colleague who just had an article accepted in Nature in a similar way - she had a solid project, and in the process of completing it, made a mistake and accomplished something that was supposed to be impossible. It will be that lab's first Nature publication as well.

    The process is random, but sometimes it breaks your way!
     
  28. gstrub

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    It's lab selection and timing. And luck. I was middle author on 2 Science and a Nature paper during my tenure as a graduate student. Lucky as s***
     
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  29. Ombret

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    No one has mentioned that big Cell, Science and Nature papers tend to be very expensive to produce, on the order of $1 million/paper. The kind of research that interests these journals is usually so cutting-edge that the methods are costly, it tends to be done on a large scale, and data from many orthogonal methodologies are needed to support bold hypotheses.

    And how do you get the resources needed to devote $1 million to a single project?--publishing in Cell, Science and Nature is probably a prerequisite. Hence the clubbiness of the whole thing.
     

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