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I'm a third year undergraduate right now. I submitted a review on Cell motility, waited 6 months and got a rejection. The first reviewer appointed the manuscript as "publishable with corrections" and gives recommendations. The second reviewer didn't like it at all and made harsh comments. It seems that the first reviewer went throughout a longer analysis of the manuscript (based on his careful comments), while the other discarded it quickly, without too many protocol. The Editor's comment at the end sounds a bit like "We could be friends in the future, but go somewhere else this time".

Although I agree with the majority of their points and I know most papers are rejected nowadays (so I'm not desperate with this issue), I'm confused. Is the papers worthy of revision and resubmission (to another journal) or should I tank it? I've to be careful with duties (Thesis, Assistant job, etc.) because I don't want to spend an extra semester at College due to this nuisance.

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2 Answers

Congratulations on submitting a paper as an undergraduate that one referee found to be publishable with corrections. That's impressive.

Are you really the sole author on a biology paper as an undergraduate? Biology is not my field (I'm a mathematician), but that sounds unusual to me. Even if you are, you must be doing the research under the supervision of some faculty member, right? If so: ask them for guidance.

From where I'm standing, I would think that what one referee at a reputable journal finds publishable with corrections should be publishable by another journal, and perhaps even one of roughly equal quality. But you should not take the word of someone from a different field who doesn't know your work or your manuscript. Again: ask for guidance from a faculty member.

P.S.: The fact that the referee with a more balanced recommendation looks like they did more work and understood the paper better is unfortunately a familiar phenomenon to me. The refereeing process in academia is far from perfect: it works well when the referees decide to be conscientious and fair...but there is almost nothing inherent in the process which forces referees to be conscientious and fair or even allows one to discern with anything approaching certainty whether any given referee has been conscientious and fair. It is a bit frustrating. All I can think to do is to try to apply the golden rule and hope for karmic benefits to accrue eventually (if I may mix metaphors slightly).

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First of all, congratulations are in order!

Secondly, without deeper understanding into the field noone here can really tell you whether or not it's worth reworking and resubmitting. Even with deeper knowledge in the field without seeing the manuscript in question, and the reviews, it's hard to say anything. The only person that can and will most likely give you valuable feedback on this is your supervisor, or whoever is last name author on the manuscript.

In general papers typically get rejected more often than they get accepted, sometimes on sound reasons, sometimes on petty differences and small issues, and sometimes based on arrogance of the editors/reviewers (if you happen to bash a technique or an idea they are emotional about). The common practice in those situations is to make the best out of the reviewers' comments and either resubmit to the same journal (unless of course the paper was rejected by the editor based on not being interesting for that journal), or more commonly to another journal.

Sometimes your interpretation of the impact of your work might differ from those of others (like editors) in those cases aiming for a journal with slightly less impact factor, or broader scope, might help.

Good luck!

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