Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Making the peer review process public

I've just had a paper accepted by PeerJ (hurrah!).  I'm really happy about this as I love their ethos:

"We aim to drive the costs of publishing down, while improving the overall publishing experience, and providing authors with a publication venue suitable for the 21st Century.  Our tag line is : "Your Peers, Your Science. Academic Publishing is Evolving" and we are committed to improving the process of scholarly publishing."

Coming from a very small field which isn't often thought to be very exciting by those outside of it (transposon evolution), a publisher who doesn't care whether the research is 'exciting' or not is a great thing for us.

Another thing that I've really liked is that they encourage the reviewers to sign their reviews, although they don't have to (ours didn't by the way).  I think this is great, it makes for much more honest and positive reviews and prevents competitors putting road blocks in your way (we don't really have any competitors, but still...).  My boss however is a bit worried that if you were critical of a powerful group, it could end up costing you.

Which is why I think the next point is so important.

PeerJ are also encouraging authors to make their review process publicly available.  This would hopefully prevent any repercussion as the rest of the community would be able to vouch for whether you had been fair or not.  It would also keep us honest.  A further thing that I've enjoyed about this is that it shows that no-one is perfect.  Papers getting reviewers who just go, "yes publish it" is basically unheard of, so you can see that even scientists that you're totally in awe of have to go through the same process.  This is particularly great for Phd students and ECR researchers who can suffer from imposter syndrome due to the habit of suggesting that we were perfect the first time around that goes on in academia.

It's this habit that has left me feeling rather unstuck.  I'm sure you can tell from the gushing that I'm a big far of  transparency, I love these innovations.  However, when I got the email saying would I like to make my peer review history public, I suddenly wasn't sure.  Standing out there among the few who are doing it and saying  "I'm not perfect" is kind of scary.  My boss isn't that keen, but then having been in academia for longer, his habits are more ingrained.  I think I'm going to do it, but it does seem rather a leap into the unknown.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The highs and lows of academia (and my other potential career)

When I was in the 6th form, 3 of my A-levels were a fairly normal mix - Biology, Chemistry and Maths.  Loads of people do that.  What they don't normally do is include Theatre Studies.

I loved acting, really loved it, and by all accounts I was quite good at it. I thought about doing it professionally.  The thing that stopped me, and has in fact stopped me continuing in an amateur way as well, is the constant fear of rejection and the highs and lows that go with performing and ending a run.  I was never very good at handling it, I'd take the rejection too personally and when I was in a show, it was all that mattered and once it was over I had a massive emotional crash.

So I decided not to pursue acting and went into science instead.  Only no-one told me that it's exactly the same!

The application for grants,short term jobs and the submitting of papers are all very similar to the casting process.  You're putting your work out there, you're saying look at me, like me, like what I do.  And the chance of rejection is pretty damn high.  Even once you do get a paper accepted (or get a role), if it's important enough to get noticed you get some people who love it, but equally you'll get some people who really hate it.  And they'll be happy to tell you so.

There are also massive highs and lows.  I just had a paper accepted for publication by PeerJ, an open source publication with an ethos that I believe very strongly in.  This gave me a massive high, a 'you know what, I'm actually good at this' feeling.  It was great.  But very soon afterwards I remembered that in 3 months time I won't have a job any more and I crashed back down to Earth.

I seem to have ended up in a career with lots of the problems that I rejected another one for, and I really didn't see it coming.