Dealing with rejection of journal article during PhD

posted
24-Jul-18, 14:55
by RGS1717
Avatar for RGS1717
posted about 3 weeks ago
Hi all, I am a final year PhD student in life sciences. I submitted an article based on my phd research to a journal for which I had been invited to contributed to a research topic from a conference I attended. I received an email today saying one reviewer had withdrawn from the review process because they felt my article should be rejected on the grounds that no changes I make would improve the article. I was wondering if anyone else has had this experience? I feel extremely de-motivated as the paper makes up a large chunk of my thesis. I feel sick even to look at my thesis now and I am sure I will not pass my PhD if the reviewer thinks my work is not even worthy of corrections. I am so close to submitting but I don't see any point in carrying on now. My supervisors are hands off and do not really let me know when my work is not good enough therefore I cannot even rely on them to help me improve. I suffer mental health problems and feel extremely depressed following this rejection. Thanks for reading, any advice would be hugely appreciated.
posted
25-Jul-18, 10:31
edited about 36 seconds later
Avatar for Mattfabb
posted about 3 weeks ago
Send it another journal, worst case scenario you will get proper feedback!
posted
25-Jul-18, 11:26
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 weeks ago
I'm afraid rejection is part and parcel of academic life.
Pick another journal with a lower impact factor and try again.
posted
25-Jul-18, 12:36
Avatar for chantedsnicker
posted about 3 weeks ago
Echoing the above really. The last paper I got published, got rejected from about three journals including one in which one reviewer was quite complimentary while the other's feedback simply said "This adds nothing new to the literature". I'd question whether they read it at all.

The reviewer could be anyone - someone who simply is using an excuse because they don't have time to review it; an out of depth PhD student who was given it by their supervisor - What we do know is their opinion isn't worth your time or worry because they couldn't be bothered with constructive criticism.

Take a deep breath and resubmit elsewhere.
posted
25-Jul-18, 12:56
edited about 10 seconds later
by RGS1717
Avatar for RGS1717
posted about 3 weeks ago
Thank you all for your kind responses. I already feel a little better. I think the main reason I am so upset is not the rejection but the fact that the reviewer thought my paper was so bad that they actually withdrew themselves from the review process. Also the journal I submitted to has a transparent review system, so the reviewer was effectively able to "hide" from transparency by rejecting my paper and then withdrawing themselves. I am therefore not entitled to see their name or their comments. As you mention, this also means I got nothing constructive from the process.
posted
25-Jul-18, 17:47
edited about 6 seconds later
by pm133
Avatar for pm133
posted about 3 weeks ago
You need to stop taking these comments so seriously. They are meaningless in the scheme of things. It's a bunch of academics who are exerting their one area of power under the cloak of anonymity.
My final academic paper was heavily maths based and took me 18 months of living out of my comfort zone to finish the work and write up. It nearly finished me off.
Reviewer A said it was dreadful and looked like a "low level" student had written it. Fortunately for me, his ego forced him to demonstrate his mastery over me by providing many many pages of detailed notes on how HE would have written it. I simply ignored the abuse, thanked him profusely for his kind guidance and made the exact changes he asked for. It was published on the next submission although he did snipe that it had risen to the level of a report written by a "middling" student.
These people and their opinions simply do not matter in the scheme of things. I guarantee that every successful published academic has a series of these types of responses to their own papers. Those dishing out abuse will have had their own papers crucified as well.
posted
26-Jul-18, 08:55
edited about 4 minutes later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 3 weeks ago
Hello! When I got my first journal rejection... I put it on my list of achievements (a geeky looking list I have in an Excel file somewhere). It is part of the academic life and so you've reached a new milestone! It can hurt though and take a while to get over.

It happens to everyone though - even the big names in the field. If it has never happened to someone (or has only happened to them once for example), it simply means that they haven't been in the trade long enough yet!

Glad you're feeling better about things already. Defo submit elsewhere where you get to see comments. I don't think it is normal practice to see the names of the reviewers (that could lead to increased rates of homicide and really isn't that necessary anyway). But the constructive feedback can be super helpful in helping you to improve the paper.

All the best!
posted
26-Jul-18, 15:04
Avatar for fenlon_lisa
posted about 3 weeks ago
I am really sorry to hear about your rejection. I would recommend not taking such comments personally. If you have not received any positive comments from the reviewer feedbacks, then try to find out what the reviewers have actually suggested. Consider it as a fantastic opportunity to add value to your research and to your future thesis. i. We must always welcome feedback, as long as it is constructive. On a related note, most reviewers (at least those associated with good journals) tend to share legitimate input. You can also try asking your peers to go through your paper and share feedback with you. Making the necessary changes and submitting to another journal would be the other possible option. But under no condition should you let this affect your physical or mental health.
posted
26-Jul-18, 23:39
edited about 59 minutes later
Avatar for profkmorrell
posted about 3 weeks ago
Well done for trying to publish while doing your thesis. Although it’s hard don’t take reviewer comments to heart but do learn what you can from them. This is based on having about 30 refereed articles and about as many refereed conference papers and a ton of rejections.

Reviewers can be benevolent & interested in improving the work or they can also be cruel and self interested or somewhere in between. Over the years reviewers have told me that I’m an appalling writer have nothing new to say the data is weak I don’t understand the theory/ist or work cited don’t know the literature don’t understand the methods am uncritical or don’t know the journal audience etc etc .... but then I would also say all my papers have improved by going through peer review.

Don’t forget often reviewers are trying to impress the editor. Also reviewing other work plays a trick on you if you aren’t careful- you automatically think you know more than the author because you have been asked to give “expert” comment.

Wouldn’t necessarily say you have to lower your ambition for a paper after a reject. I had one paper rejected from 4 journals that ended up winning an award in another equally prestigious journal. One suggestion would be don’t think of publishing as “job” production (having one paper that you work on until finished) it’s more like “flow” production - you need a pipeline of papers going through the different stages. That can also help cushion the shock of rejection. Most of the time I target journals that reject 85% or more submissions so rejections are to be expected. Incidentally, your reviewer who ruled themselves out on grounds of quality may just have wanted an excuse not to do more work.
posted
29-Jul-18, 19:19
edited about 28 seconds later
Avatar for DocInsanity
posted about 3 weeks ago
I despair at how some reviewers behave. I have not reviewed many papers, but I always try and find something constructive to say. There's only been two papers I have recommended be rejected: one was basically a rant about why it was terrible that a particular paper had not been published quickly enough. The other was a paper about my niche specialism that was really so full of errors that without writing the paper for them it was never going to be accurate.
A recent paper of mine had a similar review - that the paper added nothing and the conclusions were obvious. Other reviewers felt differently. It has just been accepted after quite a struggle.
posted
30-Jul-18, 12:45
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 2 weeks ago
Quote From DocInsanity:
I despair at how some reviewers behave. I have not reviewed many papers, but I always try and find something constructive to say. There's only been two papers I have recommended be rejected: one was basically a rant about why it was terrible that a particular paper had not been published quickly enough. The other was a paper about my niche specialism that was really so full of errors that without writing the paper for them it was never going to be accurate.
A recent paper of mine had a similar review - that the paper added nothing and the conclusions were obvious. Other reviewers felt differently. It has just been accepted after quite a struggle.


I just noticed it said you had a blog and clicked on it. Interesting posts on nearing the end of the PhD and trying to secure a research position / funding. Where are you at now in your journey?
posted
07-Aug-18, 19:26
Avatar for DocInsanity
posted about 1 week ago
Hi TQ,
Glad you enjoyed the posts - such a long time ago now!
Thankfully I managed to find a postdoc in 2015. The problem with postdocs that are full-time, you can't do any significant teaching - so I'm stuck for getting a lecturer position once it ends (which is in less than 4 months time!). Plus I haven't really got a good enough publishing record yet.
My postdoc has been a mixed bag. My boss is fantastic, and trying to sort me out with a post for the end of my current contract. The consortium and project leadership is an absolute nightmare.
The academic job market is just so tight at the moment, at least in law. If it wasn't for my boss, I'd be despairing - although there's nothing guaranteed at the moment, so not far off desperation either way!
posted
07-Aug-18, 21:52
edited about 5 seconds later
Avatar for Tudor_Queen
posted about 1 week ago
Wow - time flies! That's interesting. In the social sciences (or at least in my part of it) it seems that lecturers are in demand and experience isn't really needed. Several people I know have walked into teaching jobs. Their problem is that they aren't getting to focus on their research, as the teaching is so all consuming. Glad you have a fantastic boss. Maybe if you get a spare moment you could share more about the postdoc (how you got it in the end) on your blog! I'm in that position now and wondering how to get one without having the great publication record that some of my peers seem to have (I have one mediocre publication and hopefully another one to come from the PhD - again not high impact or anything). Any advice would be appreciated!

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