Wednesday, July 18, 2007

THE most frustrating part of SCIENCE



Science is a strange world. It's all about finding something new and exciting, and you spend all of your time focused on that. However, in the end, that finding is useless until it is published. Publishing a paper is no where near as easy as it sounds. You have to write up the results in a highly structured manner, that is often dependent on the journal that you want to submit to. The journal selections is based on something called impact factor, which is basically a measure of how many people will read it. The bigger the impact factor, the harder it is to get in, but the more lucrative it is for your career. Its a publish or perish world - your productiveness is based solely on your ability to publish - publish often and publish well. Anyone who tells you different, well, don't believe them.

So, no project is done by one person. The person who does the lion's share of the work, writes it up, but there are often multiple 'authors' (see above picture). The first person writes it all, and then sends it to everyone else for comments. I find this very frustrating. As the first author, you put your blood, sweat and tears into it, only to hand it over to someone else who has a pile of 'ideas' for how you can make it better. They are always (almost always) meant to better the paper, but its disheartening to have someone else come in and pick apart your work. Although in the end, it makes it so much better, its a very painstaking exercise, and the best way to do it is suck up your own ego and just make the changes.

Then you submit the paper, and for it to be accepted for publication, it has to be reviewed. This is peer review - people who are in pretty closely related fields take the paper and pick it apart even further. They determine if you have 'sold the story' and if its interesting enough to be published. This is nerve wracking, as the reviews almost always come up with things they want you to do or explain to make it 'acceptable'. Reviewers comments (see below) are often scathing, and you want to be snarky back. But you suck it up and try to hit a happy medium. If you're lucky, it then gets accepted, and several months later, is published. Then its job done.

This is what your career is based on. I'm wondering if academics are intrinsically sadistic - to make such a frustrating experience tantamount to career progression. Maybe its the way to cut the field... IF you can survive this, you're suitable to be a career academic. But man, it sucks!!

2 comments:

siddhartha said...

What do you have to say about the money part? Do you think a Post DOc makes enough money to lead a good life for his children? I think the money that is paid to most of scientists is very less vis-a-vis other professionals.

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