Earlier this week, I attended the BBSRC Eastbio Annual Symposium, a meeting for PhD students funded by the BBSRC’s doctoral training programme. The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘Making an Impact’. Alongside one or two talks on the REF impact of ‘spinning out’ scientific businesses that I found utterly, soul-crushingly devoid of anything honourable, there were a number of great talks on the value of public engagement.

Of these, the talk I enjoyed most was given by Dr Jan Barfoot of EuroStemCell, who spoke about the huge number of ways in which researchers can engage the public in their work. Amidst the extraverted commotion about bright clubs and elevator pitches that had permeated the rest of the symposium, I took comfort from Jan’s acknowledgement of the other ways in which people like me might want to communicate with those who might find their work interesting. As has been explored in great depth in Susan Cain’s book Quiet, there are quite a few people, 33-50% of the population, who find the idea of networking, public speaking and generally ‘putting yourself out there’ lies somewhere along the continuum of unpleasant to terrifying. This minority of introverts is well represented in academia, though sadly for me, not well represented enough to have done away with oral presentations, conference socials and the idea that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t enjoy talking about our work to people who might not give a shit.

Jan’s talk got me thinking about the public engagement I do. In doing so I realised that the majority of the activities I’ve been involved with since my arrival at St Andrews have been written (have I mentioned that I don’t enjoy giving talks?)  writing these public engagement pieces has almost always been made much easier by my experience of writing posts for this blog (maybe some of the more popular blog posts I have written even count as public engagement). I generally write these posts with a scientifically clued-up, but non-specialist audience in mind – PhD students, researchers in other fields, interested members of the public – most of whom I expect will have stumbled across this site via Google. As I’ve practiced writing for this audience a fair amount, I find it relatively easy to switch into this mode when asked to write bits for the St Andrews Campaign magazine (see below) or the Development blog. As lame as it sounds to those who crave the rush of applause and laughter, blogging is my bright club.

St Andrews Campaign Magazine: University Sport
St Andrews Campaign Magazine: University Sport

Of course it takes time and commitment  to keep it up (no-one thinks much of a one-post “Hello World” blog) but I didn’t say it was easier than other forms of public engagement. It’s just a better format for me. Considering the investment of time it requires alongside the real benefits it can have, it’s a shame when other researchers dismiss blogging as less meaningful than the engagement work they do. Something which happens all to often. Consequently, I always feel guilty when writing posts for it during work hours. Why should this be the case? I wouldn’t feel bad about practicing a public engagement talk or meeting a community of patients for whom my research is relevant, so why the self-flagellation over writing? No doubt, this perception will be further reinforced when REF Impact Statements are circulated across departments across the UK, with blogging being written up as just something that all academics in all research groups do, probably under the misapprehension that a PURE research profile like this counts as a blog. This does a real disservice to those whose blogs often act as a first source of information for those googling something they’ve just heard about on the news, or those whose blogs help raise and maintain the profiles of the universities at which they work.

If you want to blog, do it. You’ll write better and one way or another you’ll probably get asked to write in a more formal capacity for the organisation you work for. Just don’t expect to be promoted, or even appreciated, because of it.

A recent submission to (and rejection from) Psychological Science has provided me with enough information on the editorial process, via Manuscript Central, to blog a follow-up to my Elsevier Editorial System blog of 2011. (I’m not the only person who is making public their manuscript statuses either, see also Guanyang Zhang’s original and most recent posts.)

Psychological Science Decision

Below is the chronology for the status updates a submission from my lab received from Psychological Science. As stated in the confirmation-of-submission letter received from the Editor-in-Chief, the process of obtaining a first decision should take up to 8 weeks from initial submission.

Triage

  • “Awaiting Initial Review Evaluation” – 09/01/2013: The manuscript is submitted and awaits triage, where it is read by two members of the editorial team. An email is sent to the corresponding author from the Editor-in-Chief. The triage process takes up to two weeks and determines whether or not the manuscript will go out for full review.

Full Review

  • “Awaiting Reviewer Selection” – 22/01/2013: An email is sent to the corresponding author from the Editor-in-Chief informing them that the manuscript has passed the triage initial review process. The extended review process is stated as lasting 6-8 weeks from receipt of this email.
  • “Awaiting Reviewer Assignment” – 28/01/2013
  • “Awaiting Reviewer Invitation” – 28/01/2013
  • “Awaiting Reviewer Assignment” – 29/01/2013
  • “Awaiting Reviewer Selection” – 29/01/2013: I may have missed some status updates here. Essentially, I think these status updates reflect the Associate Editor inviting reviewers to review the manuscript and the reviewers choosing whether or not to accept the invitation.
  • “Awaiting Reviewer Scores” – 05/02/2013: The reviewers have agreed to review the manuscript and the Manuscript Central review system awaits their reviews.
  • “Awaiting AE Decision” – 15/03/2013: The reviewers have submitted their reviews, which the Associate Editor uses to make a decision about the manuscript
  • “Decline” – 16/03/2013: An email is sent to the corresponding author from the Associate Editor informing them of the decision and providing feedback from the reviewers.

The whole process took just under ten weeks, so not quite within the 8 week estimate that the initial confirmation-of-submission email suggested.

It’s a shame that I can’t blog the status updates post-acceptance, but the final status update is supposedly what 89% of submissions to Psychological Science will end with. Onwards.

Finding needle in haystack
Finding needle in haystack (Photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi)

A former colleague of mine at an institution I no longer work at has admitted to being a science fraudster.*

I participated in their experiments, I read their papers, I respected their work. I felt a very personal outrage when I heard what they had done with their data. But the revelation went some way to answering questions I ask myself when reading about those who engage in scientific misconduct. What are they like? How would I spot a science fraudster?

Here are the qualities of the fraudster that stick with me.

  • relatively well-dressed.
  • OK (not great, not awful) at presenting their data.
  • doing well (but not spectacularly so) at an early stage of their career.
  • socially awkward but with a somewhat overwhelming projection of self-confidence.

And that’s the problem. I satisfy three of the four criteria above. So do most of my colleagues. If you were to start suspecting every socially awkward academic of fabricating or manipulating their data, that wouldn’t leave you with many people to trust. Conversations with those who worked much more closely with the fraudster reveal more telling signs that something wasn’t right with their approach, but again, the vast majority of the people with similar character flaws don’t fudge their data. It’s only once you formally track every single operation that has been carried out on their original data that you can know for sure whether or not someone has perpetrated scientific misconduct. And that’s exactly how this individual’s misconduct was discovered – an eagle-eyed researcher working with the fraudster noticed some discrepancies in the data after one stage of the workflow. Is it all in the data?

Let’s move beyond the few bad apples argument. A more open scientific process (e.g. the inclusion of original data with the journal submission) would have flagged some of the misconduct being perpetrated here, but only after someone had gone to the (considerable) trouble of replicating the analyses in question.  Most worryingly, it would also have missed the misconduct that took place at an earlier stage of the workflow. It’s easy to modify original data files, especially if you have coded the script that writes them in the first place. It’s also easy to change ‘Date modified’ and ‘Date created’ timestamps within the data files.

Failed replication would have helped, but the file drawer problem, combined with the pressure on scientists to publish or perish typically stops this sort of endeavor (though there are notable exceptions such as the “Replications of Important Results in Cognition”special issue of Frontiers in Cognition ). I also worry that the publication process, in its current form, does nothing more constructive than start an unhelpful rumour-mill that never moves beyond gossip and hearsay. The pressure to publish or perish is also cited as motivation for scientists to cook their data. In this fraudster’s case, they weren’t at a stage of their career typically thought of as being under this sort of pressure (though that’s probably a weak argument when applied to anyone without a permanent position). All of which sends us back to trying to spot the fraudster and not the dodgy data. It’s a circular path that’s no more helpful than uncharitable whispers in conference centre corridors.

So how do we identify scientific misconduct? Certainly not with a personality assessment, and only partially with an open science revolution. If someone wants to diddle their data, they will. Like any form of misconduct, if they do it enough, they will probably get caught. Sadly, that’s probably the most reliable way of spotting it. Wait until they become comfortable enough that they get sloppy. It’s just a crying shame it wastes so much of everyone’s time, energy and trust in the meantime.

 

*I won’t mention their name in this post for two reasons: 1) to minimise collateral damage that this is having on the fraudster’s former collaborators,  former institution and their former (I hope) field; and 2) because this must be a horrible time for them, and whatever their reason for the fraud, it’s not going to help them rehabilitate themselves in ANY career if a Google search on their name returns a tonne of condemnation.

SEEDLINGS - NARA - 542574
Image via Wikipedia

Clare Rathbone, a memory researcher at Oxford Brookes, recently sent me the following Unsolicited Advice article by Julianne Dalcanton on how to navigate the early stages of writing a grant proposal:

Discover Magazine Blog: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2012/01/24/unsolicited-advice-xiii-how-to-craft-a-well-argued-proposal/

In the blog, Dalcanton suggests a method for a) overcoming the scary blank-page and b) vetting grant proposal ideas at the earliest possible stage. as follows:

…I start a stupid ASCII file with two sections:

  1. Selling Points
  2. Potential Weaknesses to Shore Up

I then start filling out each with short bullet points listing every possible argument for or against what I’m proposing.

Dalcanton suggests working on this ascii file for half a day or so and then doing something that would never have crossed my mind – sending it to the experts and collaborators from whom you might normally solicit feedback at a much later stage.

Get their feedback about what they think the strongest selling points are, what their additional concerns are, and what arguments they would use to shore up weaknesses. Expand the file accordingly, so you have a record of everything that you think needs to go into the proposal. You’ll probably find that it’s a huge time savings to get this to your collaborators in this form, before you have a 10 page latex file with embedded figures.

This is brilliant. You seek feedback on the core idea, so you don’t have to write proposals that simply won’t appeal to reviewers. Now it’s obvious that this is what I should be trying to do with grant proposal ideas anyway, but the ascii file provides a way of seeking peer-review at this early stage and overcoming the myopic optimism can all to easily cloud judgement and drive a great deal of personal investment in an idea that simply won’t fly.

I’m taking part in a Guardian live chat this Friday (1-4pm BST) titled ‘Surviving your first academic post.’ With this topic in mind, I’m noting some preliminary thoughts under a few themes.

The points below relate to my first 10 months as a lecturer at St Andrews and aren’t at all relevant to my postdoc experience which was, by and large, extremely easy to navigate and the most enjoyable period of my career so far. It’s also important to make the context from which I am making these observations clear.  I am privileged in that I am on a permanent contract, the first five years of which comprise a SINAPSE research fellowship which means I have a minimal teaching load.  That said, I do have an admin load and I have the additional responsibility to promote neuroimaging within the department and across the SINAPSE network.

Before you accept the job – You’ll start evaluating whether a position is right for you from the moment you see the advert.  Beyond whether you are the ‘type’ of academic the institution is after, you’ll also consider the department is right for you (is it the right size? could you collaborate with anyone? are there local research facilities? is it the right calibre of institution for you?), whether you could live there (is it too big/small a city? too far to move? too isolated?) and whether you could actually do what you enjoy about academia there (is the teaching load too heavy? if you did your PhD/postdoc there, could you get taken seriously as a PI). All of these thoughts feed into the rather nebulous concept of ‘fit’ which, it turns out, is rather important to you enjoying your potential new job.

When I interviewed at St Andrews, everyone I spoke to mentioned how small the town is.  I didn’t think it would be a problem, but on moving here, the realisation that I had never previously lived outside a city certainly hit home. Within my first few weeks here I understood that this common point of conversation had been an important warning. Starting your first academic post can be lonely (even if you go with family), and being in a place that doesn’t feel right for you can make you feel even lonelier. I would never have turned down the offer to work here, but I suspect that another candidate for the job I went on to accept did, and it was probably something to do with ‘fit’.

Start-up negotiations are also worth devoting some thought to once you’ve established that the ‘fit’ is going to be satisfactory. You’ll have to walk a fine line between making sure you don’t do yourself out of money you will need to set up a lab that is capable of doing the research you are being employed to do, and asking for too much and appearing (or being) greedy. My experience of start-up negotiation was that the equipment I wanted was a lot easier to obtain than the scanner time I wanted. Colleagues have mentioned an informal loan arrangement where the School provided expensive equipment on condition that costs be recouped further down the line, so that could be a useful negotiation strategy, particularly when expensive equipment is required from the outset. One thing I wish I had done was to speak to an academic who had recently started, to ascertain where they thought they went wrong in their start-up request. I, for example, realised too late that I would have to buy my own printer toner, which ended up having to come out of my research budget for the 2010/2011 academic year.

Your first weeks – These are lonely and stressful. Simple things like making external phone calls can be challenging. Of course, people offer their help and advice, but you want to appear capable and self-sufficient so you end up spending far too much time working things out on your own.  If there are other new hires in your department, pooling your newly acquired knowledge will help. Induction events are also a good way to get to know people throughout the University.

Department coffee mornings are supposed to be an excellent way of establishing yourself amongst your new colleagues.  But, I found these to be something of a double-edged sword.  Despite the social benefits, there will be times you wish you hadn’t gone. Within a week of starting, going to grab some coffee had led to me being roped in to give a cover lecture on probability theory. I felt like hiding in my office after that (and I did for a while), but the best strategy is to…

Learn how to say “no” – You won’t want to appear uncollegiate, but people will ask you to do things until you learn how to say “no”. You’ll probably receive a lot of requests to cover lectures and complete one-off tasks in your first few weeks.  Some of this is down to people wrongly assuming that you won’t have anything else to do, and some of it, I think, is down to people testing the water and seeing whether you are a ‘yes-(wo)man’ who will agree to anything.

Crafting that first refusal will probably take a lot of time, but it is an important step to take.  Just make sure that you:
a) can demonstrate that you have shown willing (it helps to have said “yes” at least once before your first “no”);
b) say why you are refusing (not the right person for the job, have already said “yes” to too many other requests, too little time at this stage, though happy to muck in next semester when things have settled, etc.);
c) don’t let the task you initially agreed to morph into something that you would never have agreed to in the first place (e.g. it’s OK for a “yes” to become a “no” if a one-off lecture turns into longer-term cover for a lecturer on maternity leave).

Saying “no” gets easier, it just takes a bit of practice.  With some strategic refusals and a bit of luck, you’ll calibrate the system so that you’re not having to say “no” to very much because people making requests of you will make sure that you really are the right person for the job before asking.

If you run into a persistent problem of people making too many unreasonable demands of you, a mentor who is looking out for your interests will help. I haven’t yet had to call on my mentor for this, but I’m fairly certain that she has been doing so anyway, if only by not suggesting me for admin duties whose allocation she controls.

Time – When I was a postdoc, nothing felt too difficult.  All anything took was time, sometimes plenty of it, but it didn’t matter because time was something I was given plenty of.  I spent months learning Matlab, weeks scripting analyses and days making a couple of lines of code to do just what I wanted them to do. Now, some tasks are too difficult because I don’t feel I have the time to devote to them. Of course, I have much more time than I would if I had a full teaching load, but I have much less time than I had as a postdoc.

To remedy this perceived lack of time, I’m considering devoting a few weeks here and there to an ‘at-work-retreat’.  That is, I will go to work, and just work on what I need to work on to get analyses done and papers written without the distraction of e-mail, admin jobs (which will be put on hold) and teaching. I think it might even be appropriate to use an e-mail auto-response, the exact working of which I will have to be very careful about, to let people know of my unavailability. This fellowship period of my job should be a perfect opportunity for me to do this sort of thing and it may be something worth writing about on the blog at a later date.

Money – I need to funding to carry out neuroimaging. I therefore need grant funding. I don’t mind that the School strongly encourage me to apply for grant-funding because I need to apply for it anyway. That said, it feels like I have only just learned how to write journal articles and now I’m being asked to write in a totally different style with a totally different emphasis.  Applying for grant funding has probably taken more time than any other activity in my first 10 months here. It’s a shame, because I could have devoted this time to writing journal articles that would have added to my CV and made me more ‘fundable’.  Still, I need to do it at some stage, and now is as good a time as any.

Tomorrow I travel to Saarbrucken to give an invited  seminar at Saarland University. It will be my seventh and penultimate talk of the academic year (with my last talk scheduled for ICOM in York at the beginning of August).

Chris Moulin
Chris Moulin: My PhD supervisor and one of the best academic public speakers I have encountered.

I don’t much enjoy giving talks.  In fact, if you had told me a year ago that the within my first year as a full-time lecturer, I would be obliged to give eight academic talks, I may well have reconsidered whether I wanted a career in academia at all! This may sound like quite a strange position to be in given that my job-title, ‘Lecturer’, doesn’t exactly lend itself to someone who doesn’t enjoy speaking in front of an audience. But my enjoyment of conducting research and disseminating it through written media generally overrides the revulsion I feel for public-speaking enough to make me think of my job as one I love doing.

I haven’t always disliked giving talks as much as I do now.  In fact, I can pin-point the moment my healthy disdain for them matured into a bravado-less fear to the moment I realised that my talks were sometimes good, sometimes bad, but generally unpredictable.  This realisation came as a direct consequence of feedback I received from my postdoctoral mentor following a rather bad talk given for the  Brain and Behavior Colloquia series at Washington University in St Louis.  I hated receiving this feedback, but it has done me the world of good, and I’m thankful I went through the few seconds of intense personal embarrassment and the couple of days of painful rumination to get to where I am now.  The feedback I was given was a much more tactful paraphrasing of:

“You’re no Richard Burton. You can’t talk endlessly and engagingly about something that people don’t inherently find interesting. You therefore need to plan and practice your talks accordingly.”

Receiving that feedback made me realise that I wasn’t going to get better at giving talks by simply giving more talks as I had been giving them.  I’m not a natural public speaker, so I shouldn’t expect to adopt the style, in preparation and delivery, of a natural speaker and hope everything falls into place. I was going to get better at giving talks by honing how I prepare to give talks and practising the hell out of their delivery.

I now hate giving talks because I’ve experienced the clear benefit that a revised, personally-appropriate talk preparation has on the quality of my delivery. I know that the quality of my talk reflects directly how much time and effort I have put into its preparation. The audience’s judgement of my talk feels like much more of a valid judgement of me than I used to think it was, and of course, now, it is. I now hate talks because I know that if I spend weeks preparing them, they will go well. To do anything less for a talk I care about would simply be irresponsible.

I now have a quite rigorous regime for talk preparation and delivery as follows:

  • I plan and construct the slides for the talk weeks in advance.
  • Once the slides have been written, I script the talk. I don’t think there’s any shame in this as long as you have weaned yourself off the script by the time you deliver your talk and it seems that others agree, see Lifehacker’s post on nailing your talk à la Malcolm Gladwell.
  • I iteratively refine my slides and script through daily practice. Easy for a 15 minute talk, more challenging for an hour-long seminar.
  • I learn when I can ad lib, and when I must stay on script. Some points are so complicated or nuanced that they require minimal deviation from your script.
  • I wean myself off my script through dress rehearsals. I don’t mean that I wear my conference garb every time I  run through my talk, but I try to deliver the talk as I intend to deliver it on the day. I practice my pace, my volume, and my phrasing. For example, when I am delivering a bad talk, I speak too slowly, too quietly and I tail off at the end of sentences. Reversing all of these bad habits during practice runs has stopped me defaulting to this state on final delivery.
  • I use my own laptop (PC) to present the talk.  Conferences tend to provide additional VGA cables to which Mac users can connect their laptops. Using my own PC laptop with this cable instead of the pre-supplied PC minimises the chances of media files going astray and Powerpoint versions causing problems.
  • I remove myself from the lectern. This takes a bit of guts at first, but it removes the temptation to read slides. It also introduces more naturalistic and conversational hand movement. I not a big gesturer, so I don’t think too many people find my hand movement off-putting. If you look like a semaphore signaller when you talk, this might be something to work on reducing!
  • I make sure there is water available to sip on during the talk. Again, taking my first sip is sometimes awkward, but not nearly as awkward as a gummed up mouth adding unnecessary consonants to my otherwise well-delivered talk.
This regime helps me to deliver better talks, but it has also had knock-on benefits to other aspects of my presentation:
  • I now write better slides because I have more confidence in my delivery.
  • I can upload my slides with script to the blog. Of course, the final version of the talk I give will deviate significantly from my script, but the script is still useful in helping people make sense of my slides.
  • I don’t overrun my scheduled time because I have had so many opportunities to practice this. This helps to keep stress levels down.
Of course, this approach is totally unsustainable when delivering a programme of lectures, but it’s great for one-off events.  In fact, I would go as far as saying that it got me a job and helped me to deliver a some of the best academic talks of my career along the way.

I have almost emerged from one of the most challenging times in my first year at St Andrews, a period of sustained grant-writing.

Below are some tips and resources that have helped me during the past few months.  Some of the resources are specific to St Andrews (where I am) and the BBSRC (who I am applying to) but most are non-specific.

Overview

– A condensed guide to grant-writing from Edinburgh’s Prof. Alan Bundy
http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-Fail-in-Grant-Writing/125620/

– The Chronicle’s guide to how to fail at grant-writing
http://homepages.inf.ed.ac.uk/bundy/how-tos/rsg-how-to-get-funding.html

– Chapters 8 and 9 of The Compleat Academic.

Guidance 

 Read the grant-, scheme- and electronic application-specific guidance notes and organise your application, particularly your Case for Support according to their requirements.
e.g. BBSRC (funding body) http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/funding/apply/grants-guide.aspx
Je-S (electronic submission system) https://je-s.rcuk.ac.uk/jesHandBook/jesHelp.aspx

– Get hold of applications that others have submitted to the same or similar funding bodies. This is probably the most reassuring thing you can do in the early stages of an application.

– Make sure you keep up with changes in funding policy. Twitter, RSS feeds, e-mails doing the rounds at work will help you to make sure you’re not tailoring your grant proposal to a priority that recently been de-prioritised.

 –

Finances

– Go through official channels with your costings
e.g. http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/rfo/Costingadvice/ResearchProjectCosts/
but beware of accepting place-holder values that your finance representative puts in for you, for example, in pooled staff costs.

– Should you be successful, you will have authority to spend funds that you have applied for as directly incurred but not those applied for as directly allocated. (Just so you know.)

– Read the guidance notes. Don’t apply for stuff that seems reasonable, but that the guidance notes state should be provided by your home institution (e.g. a desktop computer for day-to-day work)

Time

– Give yourself plenty of it. Not only will it make the experience less stressful, it will also allow you to take time out of the all-consuming process every now and again. A fresh eye spots mistakes in text that a tired one doesn’t even bother reading.

– Be aware of the deadlines
http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/funding/apply/deadlines.aspx

Speak to people (Head of School, Director of Research, your friends in academia) about when you aim to have the grant submitted.  They will give you an indication of when you need to submit it at your end in order that it can by submitted to the research council or charity at their end and still make it in before the deadline.


Finishing touches

Daniel Higginbotham’s guide to visual design. Great for polishing those figures and making pages of dense text comprehensible.
http://www.visualmess.com/

On my recent submission of a manuscript to the Journal of Memory and Language (an Elsevier journal), I was faced with the unexpected task of having to provide  “Research highlights” of the submitted manuscript.  Elsevier describe these highlights here, including the following instructions:

  • Include 3 to 5 highlights.
  • Max. 85 characters per highlight including spaces…
  • Only the core results of the paper should be covered.

They mention that these highlights will “be displayed in online search result lists, the contents list and in the online article, but will not (yet) appear in the article PDF file or print”, but having never previously encountered them, I was (and am still) a little unsure about how exactly they would be used (Would they be indexed on Google Scholar? Would they be used instead of the abstract in RSS feeds of the journal table of contents?)  The thought that kept coming to me as I rephrased and reworked my  highlights was “they already have an abstract, why do they need an abstract of my abstract?”

Having pruned my five highlights to fit the criteria, I submitted them and thought nothing more of them. .. until tonight.  I checked the JML website to see if my article had made it to the ‘ Articles In Press’ section and rather than seeing my own article, saw this:

This was my first encounter of Research Highlights in action.  I was impressed.  I’m not too interested in language processing, so would never normally have clicked on the article title to read the abstract, but I didn’t need to. The highlights were quick to read and gave me a flavour of the research without giving me too much to sift though.  I guess that’s the point, and it’ll be interesting to see whether that  is maintained when every article on the page is accompanied by highlights.

It’s hard to tell if the implementation of research highlights in all journals would improve the academic user-experience.  No doubt, other journal publishers are waiting to see how Elsevier’s brain-child is received by researchers.  But there is another potential consequence that could be extremely important.  In the example above, I was able to read something comprehensible to me on a field a know next-to-nothing about.  In the same vein, maybe these highlights will be the first port of call of popular science writers looking to make academic research accessible to laymen.  If the end-result of the research highlight experiment is that a system is implemented that helps reduce the misrepresentation of science in the popular media, then I would consider that a huge success.

A recent submission to the Journal of Memory and Language, an Elsevier journal has made my hyper-aware of how the way a manuscript’s progress through the Elsevier Editorial System (EES) is indicated.  For future reference, I’ve summarised the story-so-far for a recently revised and resubmitted manuscript.  (The worst thing for a compulsive checker like me is that you’re not e-mailed about changes in status, you have to login to the EES and check to see whether the ‘Status Date’ or the ‘Current Status’ has changed.  Every few weeks you get that variable-ratio reinforcement that just reinforces your maladaptive checking behaviour!)

I’m not sure if the ‘Current Status’ stages I list below are universal for all Elsevier journals, or even for all manuscripts within the the Journal of Memory and Language, but here’s what I’ve been through so far.  (Elsevier have a few more details on some of these statuses here: http://support.elsevier.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/160/~/paper-lifecycle-from-submission-to-publication)

Submission

  • “Submission Being Processed” – 16/11/2010: The manuscript is submitted and an e-mail is sent to the corresponding author with EES login details.  The manuscript is assigned to an editor by the journal office staff.
  • “With Editor” – 18/11/2010 (estimated): Presumably an editor makes sure the thing is worthy of being sent out for review and identifies appropriate reviewers.
  • “Under Review” – 24/11/2010: The peer review process starts.
  • “Required Reviews Completed” – 24/12/2010: The manuscript is sent back for an editorial decision.
  • “Revise” – 1/1/2011: E-mail sent to the corresponding author indicating the editorial decision.

Revision 1

  • “Revisions Being Processed” – 20/1/2011: The manuscript is resubmitted and another e-mail is sent to the corresponding author
  • “With Editor” – 20/1/2011: Presumably the editor makes sure the thing is worthy of being sent out for review again…
  • “Accept” – 5/2/2011: or accepts the revised manuscript without a second peer-review.
  • Completed” – 8/2/2011: I don’t know what this stage means.  Maybe it’s an acknowledgement of my receipt of the decision letter.  Incidentally, there are now two additional visible columns: “Date Final Disposition Set” (Feb 08, 2011); and “Final Disposition” (Accept).

Publication

At this point the submission gets closed on the Elsevier Editorial System and gets moved onto an author tracking system (http://authors.elsevier.com).  One of the most important developments is the assignment of a DOI – it’s doesn’t go live until the proofs have been created, but it ‘s assigned and can be used to link to the article in the future. From now onwards, e-mail notifications seem to arrive with every change in status.

  • Expected despatch of proofs notification – 10/02/2011: A date for receipt of manuscript proofs (the journal-formatted pdf) is assigned.
  • Return of “Journal Publishing Agreement”, “Funding Body Agreement” and “Order Offprints” forms requested – 10/2/2011: A link to these forms is e-mailed and they can be completed and submitted online.  This makes a great change from the procedure of having to get snail-mail signatures from all authors, which is a real pain if collaborating with people at multiple institutions.  Once submitted, the status comment changes to…
  • Status comment changed to Publication date not yet known – 10/2/2011
  • Uncorrected Proofs made available and return with corrections requested within 48 hours – 18/2/2011 (Consistent with the tracking system information): This was done through the elsevier.sps.co.in/authorproofs/ website.
  • Status comment changed to No further corrections can now be made – 19/02/2011: ‘Proofs returned’ row also added, with the same 19/02/2011 date.  DOI link still dead and manuscript is still not yet available on the ‘Articles in Press’ section of the JML section of the ScienceDirect website.
  • PDF made available as an ‘Articles in Press’  – 02/03/2011: But the DOI link still doesn’t work.
  • DOI link made functional – 08/03/2011.
  • Article published in print journal – 05/2011.
University of Leeds, Parkinson Building with t...
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Last week, for the first time in just under than three years, I visited the Institute of Psychological Sciences at the University of Leeds.  On Thursday attended the Greater Yorkshire Memory Meeting and the next day, with Clare Rathbone of Reading, gave a seminar on some research and our experiences of postdoctoral study.

It was great to see some old faces and great to be back in a city I know well.  The trip was also timely, giving me the opportunity of a long train journey down on which to read plenty of journal articles and devote some time to thinking about research.  But what I got most from the trip was a tremendous appreciation of the  enthusiasm, intelligence and endeavour of the PhD students I encountered.  It was quite wonderful to speak with them about their research and to get a sense of the plasticity of their approaches to science.  They aren’t yet ‘world-expert researchers of X’ or ‘wed to theory Y’ , but are revelling in the acquisition of expertise… it’s a very exciting time of their careers and as a result they are invigorating people to speak to.

It got me thinking about the formation of my own lab.  Whilst the UK system doesn’t generally allow for the self-contained modular lab that I so enjoyed being a part of in the US, working with people you look forward to encountering and speaking to on a daily basis would undoubtedly inoculate you against some of the increasingly prevalent sadnesses of the British University system (which has already started encroaching on the student experience despite assertions from the coalition government that it wouldn’t, e.g. through the cancellation of student assessment due to paper shortages).  I look forward to taking on PhD students with as much enthusiasm as those I encountered in Leeds – I just hope that those who are good enough to make a difference to society through research aren’t forced away from a postgraduate career by the “fair and affordable” system that will see them in up to £27,000 of debt from tuition fees alone before they even contemplate another three years of study.