There needs to be a little bit of context in this situation...
Incoming Masters and PhD students often come in thinking that they are going to write one draft of a paper and submit it. The thinking is that writing a scientific paper is no different than writing a paper for one of their previous class assignments, and that they did well on all of those, so their writing must be impeccable... English is their first language after all...
To the contrary, I have never had either a masters student or PhD candidate who went through less than 10 revisions on their first paper before we submitted to a conference (let alone a journal). In all likelihood, this number is closer to 25. Even toward the end of their PhD, this often still involves about 5 revisions.
Everybody hates the advisor after the first few revisions (I hated mine), and does not see the point. However, I feel that if I have not taught you to write an impeccable scientific article by the end of your PhD, then I will have failed as your advisor. And in fact, everybody who completes a PhD seems to be grateful for the struggle.
Typically, I tell students that they must "finish" a paper 2 weeks before the conference deadline. Then we do one revision every single day until the deadline. I mean no malice in the corrections. But there are some common mistakes that need to be refined and refined. Furthermore, everybody asks, "Why can't we just do one revision?"
The answer is simply that often the writing in the first few papers is too ambiguous and vague for me to infer how the rest of the paper should be written. For example, "Are you stating A or B as your hypothesis? Are you stating C or D as your takeaway from the plot you are showing?" These lead to further questions like... how did you come to that conclusion? These things cascade, and the process ends up taking several iterations, particularly at the beginning of a PhD.
With that out of the way... let's address your case...
you didn't explain how you mixed this solution
This is a legitimate point. A scientific paper must detail every minute detail in the most unambiguous way possible. If the paper is at all ambiguous, then the results cannot be reproduced, and the work is not science!
what are you doing here
This is a comment that I would write when I believe that you have not unambiguously explained your procedure. Or perhaps you added a plot, without explaining why it is relevant.
don't send us manuscripts with errors, next time they'll be sent back to you
This is a bit cheeky I think. I wouldn't write this, but I can imagine that the advisors are perceiving that you are not trying hard enough in your edits. When I make edits, there are often errors that are repeated over and over again. If I correct 2 or 3 instances, I expect you to spot this pattern and propagate the corrections to the rest of the paper. If you aren't doing that, I would get very annoyed. The reason is simply that it may take you 30 minutes to apply all of the changes I suggest. However, on my end, I will spend hours going over your paper. Literally I can be spending 2 to 3 times as long reviewing your paper as you are taking to write it. If I don't feel that you are pulling your weight, then I will let you know.
EDIT: They also rewrite almost everything I write. None of my writing ever makes it to the final cut.
Quite common for the first paper a student writes.
The final point I want to make is concerning why we do this? Why do we go through the trouble?
The most obvious answer is that if a paper is not clear, concise, and unambiguous, then the work is not reproduceable, and hence not science.
However, as you will no doubt have seen, there ARE many papers in very well respected journals that are extremely poorly written. These are the ones that you and your advisor will debate for weeks on end... I think they are doing this! I think that their results show that!
Those are bad papers. If I was reviewing them, I would reject them.
By going through this process with you in writing your paper, I am not only helping future scientists (by making your work more clear), but I am putting you in the best possible position to get your paper accepted into the conference or journal. The worst reason to get your paper rejected is because, "I could not understand what the authors are trying to accomplish", or a review which suggests a misunderstanding as to what the paper is trying to accomplish. That is just a waste and completely avoidable.
The papers that have been rejected by my group will often start with, " This paper was extremely clear and well written. However..."
I think that in general, it sounds like the PIs may be going a little bit too far in your case, but it is really hard to tell without knowing your research topic, the scope of the revisions, and your conversations with the PIs. So the following are some more takes on the things you wrote which I did not initially address:
"you didn't explain how you mixed this solution," so I will write, "I mixed the solution by adding XXg of XX to XX." Then they have the nerve to tell me, "you're not doing a good job, you add useless details about adding XXg of XX to XX."
I can see 3 plausible explanations for this:
- The PIs simply changed their minds about whether this information was relevant. People make mistakes, and opinions change...
- They meant something different when they asked for "how you mixed this solution". I am not a chemist, but perhaps technique or something else matters and they wanted you to describe that???
- Perhaps over the course of several revisions, this information got included earlier in the paper, in which case, you should avoid writing this info again at this specific point in the paper.
In any case, the statement "you're not doing a good job" is a bit aggressive from my point of view. My guess is that they are getting really stressed about reviewing this paper. Perhaps they have been putting in a lot of work doing revisions and don't think you are "getting it" yet, or aren't trying hard enough. Whatever the case, they snapped at you here when they probably shouldn't have. In cases like this, you should have a sitdown meeting with them to understand why they do not think you are doing a good job. Did they sincerely mean it? And if so, how can you improve? If they really meant it, then this needs to be clarified in person.
Really?! They also make jokes about my writing, like "impossible [to test mice immediately upon birth] unless you're a mouse midwife.
Probably they are trying to show that your logic is flawed, and simply giving you a counterexample. It probably isn't meant to be funny, it probably was just the first thing that came to their mind which conclusively showed the logical error in your writing. Scientific writing needs to be extremely precise, leaving no room for doubt. If there is an easy counterexample, then the writing is not precise enough.