I’ve been dreading this. The paper was out 65 days and the perky little rejection letter from the editor came this morning, reviews attached.
Its ok, these things happen and its just a paper. I’m not really upset about it that much and will turn it over somewhere else. I think some of the reviewer’s comments are kind of odd- ‘So what does XYZ GENE encode’, and , ‘What is its role in the ABC reaction?’- and crap like that makes me wonder if I am just an awful writer and can’t get my point across, or if the reviewer needs to go back to secondary school because obviously their reading ability is an issue. And then, of course- there is the desire by reviewers to say that a study is ‘preliminary’ if they don’t see every possible experiment in a single paper- which is also frustrating (more on this below).
I took a gene that was previously of unknown function, showed it had a remarkable IN VIVO phenotype, figured out what it does in vitro to the bacterium and showed it, showed that the way this locus works in my-favorite-bug (MFB) and the way it works in distantly-related-but-different-bug (DRBD -and the work on this one was a Science paper) are different, and the mutant phenotypes are different, and will now move on to figuring out how this modification allows the bacteria to do this remarkable in vivo thing- if someone will give me some $$ (but this won’t happen without a paper first…).
But- the reviewers believe the study isn’t novel because we already know the function of these genes in distantly-related-but-different-bug (ok, excuse me but I just showed the MFB mutants have a different in vivo phenotype, not to mention that they have a different regulation), and that the study is ‘preliminary’ because:
1. Although I know the function that these genes perform, I haven’t defined the molecular mechanism by which the modification I describe promotes the IN VIVO phenotype (which is about 5 more years worth of work, and requires looking at complex interactions with other bacteria and KO mice – none of which I can AFFORD to do with the tiny amount or startup money that I have, this is in fact the subject of my July submission).
2. I haven’t described every possible phenotype in which these genes could possibly be involved (7 additional assays were suggested, no kidding- and at least 4 of these are extremely unlikely to be the mechanism based on the in vivo phenotype itself, and based on previously published work by other groups).
3. I haven’t analyzed the effect of this modification on the exposure of 6 additional but different loci known to be involved in said in vivo phenotype (great suggestion and I would love to work on that if we can get some $$ and a few thousand more hands- I’m not being sarcastic- this would be a really awesome grant- but it will all be for nothing if I can’t keep my head above water ).
4. AND I don’t know what a second orthologous group of genes ( located far away) are doing or if they are involved in this phenotype (while this is interesting and we are working on it- it is totally irrelevant to the current study).
Frustrating- 1-4 describe several careers worth of work. I am working from a position of very limited resources, from the standpoint of time and money, I work with my hands tied behind my back compared to many.
This brings up a more serious issue for me- which is that (although I may seem like a terminally optimistic person) at moments like these I always wonder WHY I continue to pursue this career- when it means sacrifice in so many other areas of my life. Of course this is something I think about every day – but it is just more acute at moments like this.
Anyway, I’m going to think about the comments, and do a little rebuttal writing (not to be sent out, just so I am working from a place where comments can be incorporated into a revised manuscript)..
OH AND ONE MORE THING I FORGOT TO TELL YOU- The complete review from one of the reviewers was the following: ‘Interesting manuscript but some confusing comments in the results which need clarification. Poorly performed gels and western blots which need to be improved. This manuscript can be shortened considerably with judicious editing’. I’m not kidding, just these three sentences. I’ve got two things to say about this: SHAME ON this reviewer for a completely shoddy and useless review- I don’t care if you are a big important famous person- this is completely unacceptable behavior, and shame on the editor for letting this COMPLETE NONSENSE pass for peer review.
Boooooo. Sorry to hear it. I wish editors took the time to consider the reviews and whether or not the reviewers asked for unreasonable things before passing them along to the author. I’m truly against the mode of publishing where you have to put so much data into the damn paper that half of it ends up in Supplementary. Good luck with the revision process.
This is what you think: phuckin whackaloon dumbphucks
(stolen from larue at physioprof – lol)
This is what you do: chin-up, deep breath, resubmit. Trust that things WILL get better. You are at a very difficult stage at a particularly difficult time in science.
One thing I have learned over the years is to never take a “rejection” as a rejection until an editor tells you personally–not using automated boilerplate language–that she absolutely refuses to reconsider the paper.
I have a paper in press right now at a high-impact journal (IF > 7) that was originally “rejected without opportunity for revision”. I e-mailed the editor and said, “These reviews don’t look so bad. What’s the real deal?”
The editor responded that if we could do x, y, and z, we could appeal the rejection. We did x, y, and z, appealed the rejection, and were invited to resubmit. (The fuckers did nail us for a second submission fee!)
After second review, we were were asked to do minor revisions subject only to editorial re-review, and now we are in press!
In your case, it can’t hurt to politely and graciously explain how, in your opinion, the reviewers made mistakes in the review, and ask the editor if, in light of these arguments, she would reconsider at least re-reviewing a revised version. The worst case scenario is that she still says no, but even then you are likely to learn more about the basis for the rejection.
(Cool! I just wrote a post for DrugMonkey!)
Wow, you people are on the ball because I just posted that like 15 minutes ago.
Dr. J.- It seems like the editor didn’t even have a serious look- they would have picked up that totally lame 3 sentence review.
YOUGOGIRL- I know you are right- I’m going to sleep on it because I know I’ll have a better outlook tomorrow.
Physioprof- My gut instinct was to make a polite inquiry about the potential opportunity to send a point by point (which I am well into)- just to see if the door was firmly shut already. I suppose by your comment you think I should give that a try?
Absolutely! But make sure that even in your initial polite inquiry, you give at least a taste of the substance of your more detailed rebuttal, or provide some substantive reason beyond just your desire to resubmit for the editor to reconsider.
I just turned my comments here into a post at DrugMonkey, and quoted and linked to you, DrDrA.
PP is right. Write a brief but persuasive letter to the editor (what PP already said). I also have been through this several times. It has yet to fail me.
You know, I just realized that this is the first time I’ve posted anything on your blog. Shame on me for lurking for so long!
PP and Juniorprof-
You will be pleased to know I’m working on the letter…
Late to this party — PP, JP have covered it well as usual. One thing though (maybe PP, JP can comment on this as my experience is limited)—couldn’t you also specifically ask for elaboration from the 3-line uber-reviewer? What comments are confusing? What results need clarification? What exactly is the problem with the gels/blots? Do they not clearly show the results you claim, or is this an ‘aesthetic’ comment? These are perfectly reasonable questions and maybe will also serve to alert the editor (as clearly this went unnoticed the first time around) as to the quality of the review.
‘k. from a personal tactical level all the comments are spot on. You have to try to get reconsidered.
But did you folks read the actual experience drdrA is reporting? Do you understand the way that reviewer and journal demands for an entire 5 yr R01’s worth of work from a big team as a publication litmus test, without any regard for more fundamental questions of importance and impact, is nothing more or less than the powerful perpetuating their own sick status at the expense of the powerless? By means of their power ($$, lab size and circular status of I’ve published in CNS therefore I can gate what a CNS pub is) instead of their insight?
PhysioProf in particular, for shame for missing this! Do I have to draw you a diagram to see how this burden falls disproportionately on women scientists?
Dude, everyone gets this shit sometimes.
Anonymoustache- Welcome. Next time I host a rejection party- I’ll make sure you get an engraved invitation… 🙂
DM and PP- PLAY NICE. DM- you are right- many women end up starting out disadvantaged in a couple of ways- perhaps working in smaller institutions, with less startup money to keep them running and set up productive groups etc.- this isn’t generally recognized by reviewers of any sort at the moment. Its completely impossible to do ‘big’ science this way.
They also will be less productive in the early years of their career if they have children- and this is NOT because of laziness or inability to do good science- simply – its tough when you have to be away from the office more than the average man- and you are sleepless for YEARS after little ones are in the equation. So yes, BOTH hands tied behind my back. Thanks for recognizing those things. You are my favorite person today.
PP- Yes, also completely correct- everyone gets this shit sometimes- my reviews were partially the result of careless inattention- and furthermore, I have seen reviews that are the product of simple viciousness- so it can get much much worse.
“Do you understand the way that reviewer and journal demands for an entire 5 yr R01’s worth of work from a big team as a publication litmus test, without any regard for more fundamental questions of importance and impact…”
DM – new post on this topic, please! I’m really concerned about what appears to be a growing trend for reviewers to ask for years worth of revisions, which could often be an additional paper. We will sometimes pull out the old standby “…beyond the scope of this paper”, but I’m curious to know if there are other rebuttal strategies with which to deflect reviews aimed at having you compress the work of an entire career into one paper. I am all for doing experiments that improve the conclusions of the work, but it seems important to be able to draw a line in the sand without necessarily invalidating reviewers’ comments. I’ve had some luck with talking editors out of experiments that were clearly beyond the scope, but I try to reserve that tactic for outrageous requests. Do others do this more routinely?
I do! The last paper we had accepted, I rebuffed a reviewer request for more experiments by characterizing it (correctly) as years of work by multiple labs in the field. The reviewer was essentially asking for us to fill out an entire new subfield.
The editor did not specifically address this rebuttal point, but accepted the paper without any of those experiments.
“Frustrating- 1-4 describe several careers worth of work. I am working from a position of very limited resources, from the standpoint of time and money, I work with my hands tied behind my back compared to many.
This brings up a more serious issue for me- which is that (although I may seem like a terminally optimistic person) at moments like these I always wonder WHY I continue to pursue this career- when it means sacrifice in so many other areas of my life. Of course this is something I think about every day – but it is just more acute at moments like this.”
This is exactly why I am looking to get out now (I’m a 3rd year postdoc). I foresee no job opportunities in the near future. I am not getting younger, we have an insane amount of college loan debt, a baby on the way, and my retirement fund makes me want to cry. This is much to the chagrin of my pd advisors, who think I actually have a future in science. I can’t tell if they are serious or just trying to convince me to stay on as highly motivated expert labor for crap wages. It’s fucking depressing the salary we rake in with (what seems like) no possibility of a future.
I once got a (complete) review from one winner that simply read “The theory on pg. 4/28 is crap.” What’s up with reviewers like yours and mine who can’t bother to form a cohesive, complete thought about a manuscript? NOT helpful.
I hear where you are coming from. You know the picture and it can be pretty grim, and I will continue to wonder almost daily if it is worth it. I have to say though- there is something fantastic about this job that you will see once you have walked through to the side of being a PI- about the intellectual satisfaction of following the problems that interest you…about being your own boss- gosh so many things about this job are really awesome. I’m going to post about your situation with your advisors ‘this is much to the chagrin of my phd advisors, who think I actually have a future in science’ at some point…. because I think that there are people out there (advisors included) that really want to help their trainees- and somehow both sides don’t end up communicating with each other very well…
Ya- what’s up with that? Just busy people who don’t know how to say NO when they don’t have time to do a review, I guess. And a failure on the part of the editor to let the author see that stupidity- that is embarrassing to the reviewer, the editor and the journal… don’t you think?
Sorry to hear about the rejection. A labmate of mine once got a review that had nothing in it. The only thing the reviewer did was to check the “No” boxes for whether the manuscript is of interest to the audience of the journal and whether the reviewer thought it should be accepted. Ugh.
I completely agree with PP and the others who suggested asking the editor whether s/he would entertain an appeal. Especially with regard to all the extra experiments the reviewers demanded. Good luck!
Thanks and it’s ok. I’m going to give it one more shot with the editor- and we will see what happens next…
the old standby “…beyond the scope of this paper”
HA! As just one small datapoint, I find myself including this in just about every rebuttal because there’s that one reviewer who wants to see several years worth of data in one 2-4 impact factor article, geez. The editors seem to side with me frequently enough and it is the very rare case in which 6 reviewers and 3 editors all agree that whopping new amounts of data are required (I’m not really inclined to just take one rejection as the final word..2? well then maybe they are right and I am wrong! :-)).
shall we discuss the other old standby “…beyond the scope of a single 5-yr modular R01 project” next ? hee, hee.
YES, lets. Sadly I don’t have much experience here yet…in a few months when I get triaged I’m sure I have lots to say about that…
Note to self: LOSE defeatist attitude.
maybe if my paper gets re-rejected we can use “beyond the scope of the student’s 4-aim thesis project”
NeuroStudent, I don’t see why not! 🙂
My senior students are already using “that’s a great idea….for some other student”, whenever I break out some awesome, but incredibly ambitious ideas for new projects all over them.
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that’s a phrase I’m quite familiar with…although it’s gotten much better since I’ve had a few postdoc interviews & have offers…I think that it’s finally sunken in that I’m leaving soon
I believe I have uttered those same words myself in the distant past- but…
I’m too junior to have heard them from a student yet!
OK, so the point-by-point version of that response is:
The reviewer has made an excellent suggestion….for some other poor schmuck that doesn’t have to worry about graduation or grants or tenure in the next five years.
If it makes you feel better, my last rejection letter went, “Well, reviewer A recommended publication, and reviewer B never got back to me, so I’ll use my editorial judgment an reject the paper.
I’ve been nth author ever since.
Oh my gosh. I’m sorry about that 😦
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Interesting manuscript but some confusing comments in the results which need clarification. Poorly performed gels and western blots which need to be improved. This manuscript can be shortened considerably with judicious editing.
Actually, rather than looking at this as a shoddy review and getting pissed off about it, use it to your advantage. From where I sit, I envision that if you clean up your gels and western blots (which can be done in one day), and say that you’ve made changes to the Results section, you’ve met this reviewers criteria for acceptance.
My collaborator and I just received our reviews back for a manuscript, and one of the reviewers was very brief in their review. Another was a total idiot and actually was corrected by the editor at least six times in their review. Essentially, we’re going to lean on the first reviewers brief review, address those issues and then basically point out that the other reviewer didn’t read our first manuscript on this issue and probably didn’t read this manuscript either.
Conclusion: Use short reviews to your advantage, especially if they don’t consist of “This paper sucks, reject it.”
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