I have previously written about the coauthorship exercise that we use at RITMO workshops when we have new groups of doctoral and postdoctoral fellows. Another concept we use from time to time is what we call a “confession workshop.” This builds on the fact that a researcher’s life is often filled with rejections and discouraging feedback. Too often, we only talk about successful stories, giving the skewed impression that there are no challenges in academia. Nevertheless, everyone has experiences with rejection, and it is necessary to talk about these.
A confessions workshop typically lasts two hours and is split between 3–4 short presentations followed by a group-based case study. The presentations could be a story about a long and painful journal review process, multiple application rejections, and so on. It helps to have confessions that end well, but that is not always the case. After the presentations, we split into small groups (4–6 people) and complete the case study below.
Confession Case Study
Consider the following scenario:
- PhD fellow Siri and Postdoc Palle design and carry out an experiment as part of a project led by Professor Penelope, who is also Siri’s supervisor.
- PhD fellow Sofie provides all the sound material used in the study and performs the sound analysis.
- Lab engineer Erik programs the system used for data collection.
- Statistician Svein helps with the analysis of the data.
- PhD student Siri writes the main part of the paper with inputs from all of the other people that were involved. She submits the manuscript to a leading journal in her field in August and thinks this should be sufficient to get it accepted before her PhD submission deadline in August of the year after.
- In January, she e-mails the journal editor and asks when she can get a reply. It turns out that the editor has had problems finding reviewers for the manuscript but promises that this will happen immediately. Siri is still confident that this should be sufficient to accept the manuscript before her August deadline.
- In May, the editor finally returns to Siri with the reviews. In sum:
- Reviewer 1 is generally positive about the manuscript but requests more information about the sound analysis. Meanwhile, PhD student Sofie, who did the sound analysis, has moved on to a non-academic job in another country, and nobody has heard from her since she left.
- Reviewer 2 has written a lengthy review with many major and minor comments to the manuscript. The reviewer questions the main hypothesis and is also critical of a possible order effect problem in the experiment. The reviewer suggests redoing the experiment.
- Reviewer 3 is generally positive but has several detailed questions about the statistical analyses. Statistician Svein is currently on paternity leave and will return in June for one month before he goes on vacation in July.
- The Editor concludes that it is necessary to make “major revisions” to the manuscript for it to be accepted.
- PhD student Siri only has 3 months before her deadline and is busy writing up the other parts of the dissertation.
- She knows it will be challenging to get help from former PhD student Sofie about the sound analysis.
- She believes it should be possible to get help from Statistician Svein when he returns for one month in June, but she also knows that many other people want to get hold of him.
- Lab Engineer Erik says that the lab is completely booked in May and June but that she can get lab time in July if she wants to redo the experiment.
- Professor Penelope has planned to go fishing in a remote location all of July and won’t be available to help with the manuscript during that period.
- Postdoc Palle is busy applying for jobs and going to conferences and will likely not have much time to help.
- What does Siri do with her manuscript?
- Who does she involve, when, and in which order?
- Is there something that Siri could have done differently to avoid the situation?