Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On Journal Rejection

I got a rejection recently on a paper I'd sent into a journal, before making the decision to leave.

I'm going to resubmit it to a different journal, since I think it's a good paper, and would like to be out there somewhere for others to reference. And since "quality of journal" isn't as important to a non-academic as it is to someone trying to land a TT job.

But getting this rejection got me thinking. Before submitting the paper, I had about 10 colleagues - grad students and faculty - read it, including the person who came up with the theory from which I drew my argument. All thought it should be published in a good journal. I also presented versions of it at two major conferences, to generally favorable comments from about 5-8 people who are very well-known in our field.

I then sent it to a high-powered, competitive journal in my field, where 1 of 4 reviewers/editors liked it and the others had criticisms and recommended it not be published. So it was rejected.

So ... according to academic wisdom, I should be worried and devastated about this, and should take this as an indication that the paper (and by extension, my research and writing) is bad and unworthy.

But now that I'm a bit detached, I see it differently. I wrote a paper, and approximately 20 people read it. 17 of those 20 people liked it and thought it should be published. 3 disagreed, for reasons unknown. Maybe they really hated the paper. Maybe they googled the topic and saw that I was a grad student and declined it for that reason. Maybe I forgot to cite their favorite piece of literature, or something they wrote. Maybe they didn't have time to read it thoroughly. Maybe they had a friend or student submitting at the same time and wanted to increase that person's chances at getting published.

I'll never know. But it doesn't matter. I refuse to beat myself up over the fact that 15% of the people who reviewed my work didn't like it. Those people don't know me, and they have their own motivations. If I can go through my life with 85% of the people who review my work thinking I'm pretty bright and doing good work, then I refuse to spend my life worrying about what the other15% think ... since I will never understand exactly what they are thinking.

That is not good for my sanity or self-esteem, and I choose a different kind of life.

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