No matter what stage of research or academia you are at in your career, getting published is a tough process. In fact, a majority of time, we as researchers are rejected from journals more often than we are accepted, especially at an early career level when we are developing skills, contacts and resiliency.
In my experience as an early career researcher, I noted down five steps to getting over difficult feedback; what I like to call the SABER:
- Step 1: Sad
- Step 2: Anger
- Step 3: Break
- Step 4: Embrace
- Step 5: Rejoice
Let me put this into some context, I want to tell you a story about an early career researcher whose journal article manuscript is peer reviewed. Let us watch, as Ash reacts to peer review comments:
“On many warm summer evenings, our early career researcher, who we shall call “Ash”, spent many laborious hours, days and nights working on a manuscript to be submitted to a top journal in their field. Ash had incorporated peer feedback on the manuscript from colleagues, and it got to the stage there was nothing more that could be done, so the polished work was submitted to the journal just as the autumn term was beginning.
Around four months later on a cold winter’s day, our researcher receives an email from the journal, with a decision on the paper and peer reviewers’ feedback. Ash urgently clicks the link to be taken to the feedback portal, and looks through the reviewers’ comments. Alas! Each comment has been critical, and takes a chunk of positivity away from our researcher. By the time Ash reaches the end of the comments, the researcher has an overwhelming sense of defeat. The review leaves Ash feeling rejected from the very community of peers that they had worked so hard to be accepted by. (Step 1: Sad)
The next day, notice how Ash looks at the comments with a different attitude: after going through the comments, Ash become angry. Our researcher is no longer upset, but is now mad at the reviewers because so much of their commentary seems unjust. (Step 2: Anger) At this point, dear reader, Ash huffs and puffs, and decides not to even look at the manuscript anymore. Our researcher is in need a break from the manuscript. (Step 3: Break)
One long week later, Ash looks at the manuscript again, and now we see how the researcher starts to accept the comments made by the reviewers, noticing ways to incorporate the new perspectives into the paper. Although Ash disagrees with some of the review, the researcher decides to embrace both the good and bad comments. (Step 4: Embrace)
So far, our researcher has gone through a range of emotions, since receiving the review of the manuscript. In the following week, Ash incorporates the comments and feedback, working hard to revise the manuscript and to develop it. The manuscript is vastly improved. This new and improved manuscript now makes our researcher proud of the kind of output they are able to produce, and which is published in Ash’s name. Now it is time for our researcher to ‘Rejoice’ (Step 5).”
Receiving journal reviewers’ comments can be a difficult process to go through and I’m sure that as researchers, you can relate can relate to some or all of our researcher’s feelings at moments during the story. Publishing research is often tough work, but it’s how we bounce back from difficult feedback that’s important.
As you build your thick researcher skin, how do you deal with difficult feedback from reviewers? My mantra is, “don’t get mad, get better” – have you got a feedback mantra?
About the author: Arun K. Verma is a social psychologist, working on a Higher Education Academy Mike Baker doctoral project at the Centre for Medical Education (University of Dundee). When he is not working hard on his qualitative research exploring gender, equality and diversity issues in the health professions, you can find him writing blog posts, making educational videos, presenting at international conferences, writing articles, and connecting and engaging with international researchers on social media. Arun is also a regular contributor on this blog, as a former correspondent. Twitter: @Arun2kv
Image credit: Play/pause by Anne Roi on Flickr, unedited. CC-BY 2.0