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The next stage

June 8, 2012

I have come back down to earth with a bump. Our paper has been returned for further revisions. The saga of this paper is as convoluted as a labyrinth. Truth to tell, it wouldn’t exist without my supervisor’s impetus, but in the way of these things, and with the total immersion of my PhD, it has become precious to me too. It has, I think, some value. It is the first step in my embryonic, late-start scientific career. I am the first author. For all the poetry I’ve published, this laborious piece of work has grown into something that is as personal as its origins were impersonal. In some ways, the trajectory is almost the opposite of a poem. When I write poetry (and so seldom now! such little time!) it starts out as personal; through revision it becomes objectified, stands alone, no longer belongs to me. When I began writing this entity, that is surely no longer mine, it was already disembodied, separate from me. With all the reading, the discussions, the reworking, revisings, grappling with stats, beginning to get a glimmer of how it may actually fit into the bigger picture, could really truly actually contribute something, the intellectual excitement of that, the disbelief that something that started out in my efforts to distract myself from my bereavement (little knowing of the others to come) actually had a life, a being of its own – well that was nothing short of miraculous.

First it was a stranger but, with increasing effort, the fierce demands, the rigour of expression, of sculpting out of the array of data something that made sense, I came to know it intimately. And with intimate knowledge came, not quite affection, but certainly a good deal of warmth. However, when it suffered its first rejection from a prestigious internationally renowned journal, almost a year ago, I can’t say I was surprised. At some level it had seemed ludicrous, certainly bewildering, that my middle-aged self-distracting efforts could be worthy of any comment from reviewers at all. But comments there were. From eminent anonymous scientists, goodness knows who or where they were, we could hazard guesses but certainly whoever they were, for this journal, they were top of their game. Detailed, inherently respectful in the depth of attention they had bestowed. And lo and behold, many of the comments were worthwhile. Back to the drawing board. Incorporate their suggestions. We raced to get the paper out again to another prestigious internationally renowed journal. This time, somewhat ignominiously, we were rejected without even being sent out for review. That was a bit harsh, but you have to be thick-skinned about these things. I still pinched myself to remind me that three, four, years ago, I hadn’t a notion I’d ever be doing this. Who would have thought I could be a real scientist, me, who been devastated by getting a 2ii, who had failed her first attempt at getting a Masters, who had slunk off into teaching ashamed of ever thinking her unmathematical brain could allow her to do research. Well, the paper wasn’t the only thing that was being revised in the three years since its inception.

Cut to the third journal. Perhaps not as high ranking as the previous two, but still highly respected. This time while we didn’t quite hit the target, we were certainly in the general range. The editor was interested. But we would have to address the issues that the reviewers raised.

We did our best. We explicated what seemed to need explicating. We defended, sometimes robustly, what needed defending. I wrote most of it, and writing the defence parts, came to know, as I’d come to know the theory so intimately over the last years, that I was making a good case. More importantly, that I was capable of making a good case.

I was secretly proud of this measure of increase in my own confidence. The last decade of my life has not been easy. Eldercare issues, and many other things derived from them, have been my dominant concern. Under the – almost literally – backbreaking pressure of them, it sometimes felt like my whole life was being swept away. My writing took a pasting before it had ever really got started, as the changes I made to my life to facilitate it got consumed by the needs of others. To quote the American poet, Donald Hall “long term caregivers are more prone to subsequent depression on the death of the cared-for, as well as the desperate prolonged care-giving itself which failed in its purpose – and which may make changes in the brain like the changes of post-traumatic stress syndrome”.

I began to get my life back together when I fled back to science after my father’s death. So when I found myself countering, quoting evidence, wrestling the argument into greater, more emphatic, coherence, I knew things were getting better. My brain still worked. I mightn’t be out of the woods, but I was certainly on surer ground.

However, it’s not been quite enough. The paper’s come back, just in time for the end of fieldwork. Needs yet more tweaking. And that’s grand. The thing has to stand on its own. One of the reviewers, while conceding some points, is still not entirely persuaded. I have more work cut out for me. Can I do it? Maybe. I’ve spent two days buried in what are probably unnecessary stats, that threaten to overwhelm the paper if they’re all included, that will surely distract from the main message. But I tell myself, it’s like writing poetry. First just write anything down, random thoughts, things that bound to be irrelevant. Again, it’s like sculpting, but you have to make the rock first. Only then can you shape it. So, the extra stats are a way to glean just a bit of added weight to the findings. If this person needs more convincing, I’ll my best to convince them. Then, hopefully, ultimately, based on emergent pattern of the information, I can make my argument more lucid.

Fingers crossed it might even be accepted without reservations this time.


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  1. You sound great!!

  2. I think the struggles you describe more than convince me that you ARE a scientist…it’s the scientists who go back time and time again working with hypotheses and attempting to record evidence that to someone from the outside doesn’t even look possible. I work in a university and often collaborate on journal articles. I have a Master’s and my boss is a well-published Ph.D. I assist her in gathering research and then we write together. It isn’t at all uncommon for us to put months into an article only to have it either rejected outright or sent back for something that the reviewers have requested. I always find it initially disheartening and then after a while we usually find that the suggestions do strengthen the end result. I just want to encourage you to keep going…not that you sound even close to disheartened. It just seems you have had quite a journey to this point and it is exciting to consider reaching such big goals! You’ll get there! Debra

  3. Dawnriser permalink

    Thanks both of you! Debra, thank you for your personal insights into this process. Yes, it’s tough but I feel it will be worthwhile in the end. It is amazing just to be within sight of such a big goal!

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