How to handle rejection – is it personal?

March 26, 2015

By Khanh Tran

The Ontario Exercise Physiology (OEP) 2015 Conference took place February 27-March 1. Terry Graham, editor of Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, presented a workshop on publishing and careers. This is the third in a series of guest posts by students who attended the workshop. Canadian Science Publishing sponsored the workshop.

Every academic will know the pains of rejection first hand; even successful academics are routinely scrutinized and have their manuscripts dismissed. Unfortunately, it is an eventuality that we must come to accept, like the dreaded realization of your 30th birthday to the inevitable and impeccable timing of the Leaf’s next 5-10 game losing streak, unavoidable, but as expected as clockwork. So… how does one prepare to keep your personal feelings aside? Well, little can be done about the Leafs and their next failed playoff run, but the same is false when speaking to your recently returned manuscript. So the real question becomes, what do I do now?

Dr. Terry Graham, a distinguished journal editor and a professor emeritus from the University of Guelph was kind enough to share his valued thoughts on the topic: 

What is the next step to handling a returned/rejected manuscript?

  • Take your time; allow 24 hours to pass before reviewing the comments and manuscript. 
It is important to collect your sanity and separate yourself from your emotions when reviewing the manuscript. It may take longer for certain individuals but it is extremely important to be both critical and unbiased when reviewing the attached comments. Consider this thought, the reviewers are evaluating your manuscript for FREE! The reviewers are not being paid to critique your manuscript and are likely taking time away from their busy schedules to sit down and actually READ your manuscript. As a young academic, I have come to the realization that there is indeed a difference between reading an article and actually understanding, fully comprehending, and critiquing an article upon reading it. The contrast in effort between the two is astounding. Therefore, the likely scenario is that these reviewers are honest and genuinely invested in adding value to your manuscript, making it “bigger, stronger, faster” (better). 

  • What are the most common reasons for rejection; does my manuscript fall into these categories?
The likelihood of having your manuscript accepted the first time through is extremely rare. So why does a manuscript get rejected, what are the common pitfalls? Dr. Terry Graham shared a few points of interest: wrong journal, the manuscript simply does not fit; poorly written, the manuscript was unclear and difficult to comprehend; poor study design, the rationale was poor or the methodology employed does not do a good job of measuring and/or answering the main research question; poor statistics, used incorrect statistics to analyze data sets; and most importantly, the main research question was not novel and does not further that particular field of study. 

  • The next step – making changes and preparing for re-submission
MAKE CHANGES! There is a reason why your manuscript did not get accepted, it is important to make the necessary changes and to take the editorial comments into consideration. Have a look at the attached cover letter and identify the overlapping areas of concern, it is critical to separate the comments in order of importance. This will allow you to sort through all of the comments and to organize them in order of relevance and urgency. A good associate editor will always give cues about the main concerns associated with your manuscript, implicitly implying that the manuscript will once again be rejected if these comments are not addressed.  Understand that if there was a simple misunderstanding within your manuscript, it was something in your writing that prompted those comments. 
It is extremely important to address all of the comments when re-submitting the manuscript. Ensure that you mention why specific changes were not made, indicating you considered their input and decided not to address them due to specific intentions, be sure to include your reasoning.  Separately, an unfortunate experience would ensue following re-submission to a different journal only to have it fall into the hands of an original reviewer… with no changes made to the original document, cue horror music. 

As a young academic, I greatly appreciated Dr. Terry Graham’s down to earth and refreshing personality during his talk on academic publishing. It was reassuring to see that people like Dr. Graham were involved in the review process; who invests in furthering the scientific community through his work in publishing, but also by involving himself in growing the naive minds of young researchers. The overall lesson is not to take rejection personal, instead view it as an opportunity whereby academics are assisting you in getting your best work out there. In the end, your name appears on that publication so wouldn’t you want people to judge you based on your best work?


Khanh Tran
About Khanh

Khanh Tran is a second year M.Sc student at the University of Waterloo, studying muscle physiology in the Kinesiology Department under the direct supervision of Dr. A. R. Tupling. His current research lies in the field of SERCA function and how its activity is modulated under conditions of oxidative stress. Khanh enjoys spending his spare time being physically active and reading about business, finance, and economics.




T. GrahamAbout Dr. Terry Graham

Dr. Graham has been a journal editor for 14 years. A professor emeritus in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Guelph, his research areas are muscle glycogen regulation and postprandial responses to carbohydrate ingestion. He is an active member of both the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, the Canadian Physiological Society, and the Canadian Nutrition Society. Dr. Graham held an informal workshop at the Ontario Exercise Physiology conference in February 2014 and again in 2015. Here, he had the opportunity to speak with a number of grad students on writing and publishing as well as other important career considerations and opportunities.


Terry GrahamAbout Dr. Terry Graham
Dr. Graham has been a journal editor for 14 years. A professor emeritus in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Guelph, his research areas are muscle glycogen regulation and postprandial responses to carbohydrate ingestion. He is an active member of both the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, the Canadian Physiological Society, and the Canadian Nutrition Society. Dr. Graham held an informal workshop at the Ontario Exercise Physiology conference in February 2014 and again in 2015. Here, he had the opportunity to speak with a number of grad students on writing and publishing as well as other important career considerations and opportunities.
Terry GrahamAbout Dr. Terry Graham
Dr. Graham has been a journal editor for 14 years. A professor emeritus in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Guelph, his research areas are muscle glycogen regulation and postprandial responses to carbohydrate ingestion. He is an active member of both the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, the Canadian Physiological Society, and the Canadian Nutrition Society. Dr. Graham held an informal workshop at the Ontario Exercise Physiology conference in February 2014 and again in 2015. Here, he had the opportunity to speak with a number of grad students on writing and publishing as well as other important career considerations and opportunities.

Filed Under: Scholarly Publishing Science Careers Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism

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