6

I am an early career researcher (on my sixth month of my 3-year postdoc) facing a dilemma I don’t know how to resolve. I recently wrote a very short and simple paper, which I have submitted twice. The paper got rejected by reviewers both times: first, on the grounds that the contribution was uninteresting; and second, on the grounds that the contribution was too simple to be valuable.

While the first rejection was not very useful, the second rejection contains a nice and easy-to-implement suggestion. However, when reading such suggestion, I had an idea that——while substantially changing the paper——has the potential to make it much more interesting than it is right now.

To be honest, I do not know what to do with such paper, for its next natural outlet would be far below the two I already tried. As I see it, I have three acceptable options:

OPTION 1: submit the paper to a lower-ranked journal after implementing the easy suggestion; and never bother with the new idea I had.

Upsides: this approach is the one that requires less time and effort on my end.

Downsides: since the journal I would be trying is low ranked, it may signal that I am a low quality researcher, thus making it difficult for me to get nicer publications in the future.

OPTION 2: do not submit the paper, and instead work on the new idea I had by reading the reviewers’ comments.

Upsides: should the new idea turn out nice, I could submit the resulting paper to a decent journal, thus obtaining a nice publication and avoiding the downsides that may come with a publication in a low ranked journal.

Downsides:

  1. The new idea may eventually lead me nowhere, in which case I would have lost very valuable time for nothing.

  2. This clearly takes more time than Option 1, which could perhaps be better used doing something else.

OPTION 3: submit the paper to a lower-ranked journal after implementing the easy suggestion; and work on the new idea I had independently.

Upsides:

  1. I could get two publications, one of them perhaps nice.

  2. The second publication could cite the first one, thus giving me a citation I would not otherwise have.

Downsides:

  1. This option takes more time than Options 1 and 2, which could perhaps be better used doing something else instead. And, the new idea could still lead me nowhere…

  2. This option could still give me a low ranked publication, which could make it harder for me to get nice publications in the future.

  3. Since there would be some clear and undeniable overlap between the two papers, the later (better) paper would be less novel, thus reducing its chances of getting published in a nice outlet.

I really don’t know what to do, and any suggestion would be highly appreciated. If you were me, what would you do and why?

9
  • 13
    "since the journal I would be trying is low ranked, it may signal that I am a low quality researcher" I disagree with this.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 1 at 14:05
  • 1
    @EoDmnFOr3q why not chose option 4, submit to a conference, often a good place for ideas/papers that are to minor to merit a full paper?
    – Sursula
    Mar 1 at 14:13
  • 3
    In my field, publishing in conference proceedings is not at all common (as far as I can tell).
    – EoDmnFOr3q
    Mar 1 at 14:14
  • 1
    Is another option also to salami slice this? For example: submit your paper to a lower ranked journal and, while you wait for the reviews, work on the new idea. Mar 1 at 14:49
  • 2
    @psychcphyscst Thank you for your comment. That’s exactly what I meant with Option 3.
    – EoDmnFOr3q
    Mar 1 at 14:50

3 Answers 3

8

Option 1 seems least worthwhile, since the upside is only that it requires less time and effort. Unless there is an urgent or clearly more productive use for your time and effort, it doesn't seem to make sense to me to choose this option.

Option 2 seems to be somewhat risky, since it now becomes a question of all-or-nothing: either you have a 'nice publication' or, in your view, it will "lead nowhere". This seems to be risking the perfect becoming the enemy of the good.

Option 3 again "takes more time" but it's unclear (at least from your question) where your time might be better spent. It is also unclear (perhaps since I don't know your field) why one "low ranked" publication would "make it harder to get nice publications in the future". Again, your thinking here seems quite all-or-nothing (either it's "low ranked" or "nice") - isn't there a good enough journal that might be worth trying for? You can also invest quite minimal time and effort in re-framing your publication to make clearer to the reviewers and editors why it would be worth publishing. Tell the story better and it might capture their attention. Meanwhile, while this paper is being reviewed, you can adopt a salami-slicing strategy. To optimize this, you could frame your new idea publication as building significantly on your prior work. By the time your new idea paper is ready, maybe your other paper will be published. Or you can undertake other research before pursuing the new idea. You just have to build a narrative for your research to optimize how you slice that salami and, importantly for you, to show your development as an early career researcher through your publications record.

In sum, think it is better to have a bird in the hand, rather than two in the bush: you have a paper complete, so keep trying to get it out there. You can frame later work as building on this. From my own experience, my own perfectionism has held me back from publishing simply because I was always waiting and tinkering to get the "perfect paper" rather than just sending stuff out. Once I stopped caring so much, and adjusted my threshold for 'good enough' (70% perfect) rather than 'perfect' (100% perfect), it became much easier and my publications list started growing. You can also use this as a chance to build your resilience to rejection, since it will happen many times in publications, job applications, grant applications, etc.

1
  • 1
    Thank you very much for your insightful answer and pointing out the key flaws in my reasoning. Re: 1. my field is economic theory; 2. a better use of my time could be (perhaps) working on other projects that I believe are more promising. I understand that your ranking of my options is 3>2>1. Correct?
    – EoDmnFOr3q
    Mar 1 at 16:04
7

I believe you are overthinking this. If this is the worst experience you have ever had you are fortunate. Some day you will get even more rejections.

You should write a good paper with the revisions you think contribute to advancing the state of knowledge and send it to a journal that is appropriate. That doesn't mean any particular ranking, it means a journal that encourages submissions of the kind you have and you think will provide thoughtful reviews.

If you think the previous reviewers didn't understand something that makes your paper good, then clarify this in the paper or put an explanation in your letter to the editor.

Keep in mind that editors and reviewers usually come with preconceptions, blinders, and short term thinking. They can have large egos; they think every one should cite their own work.

If you have something good, keep plugging away. Unless you are ready to quit, scrap this effort, and go to something else.

Keep all your correspondence. Someday one of those two journals might decide that another author with the same idea is worth publishing. You can claim precedence.

1
  • Thank you for your answer. At this point, I have endorsed many rejections; I just don’t know how to best handle this one! In any case, I understand you would not throw the effort away.
    – EoDmnFOr3q
    Mar 1 at 15:56
4

Any of the options could result in publication or not. But a good and reputable journal will be looking for some "impact" of what you write as well as novelty and originality. That seems to suggest the #2 is probably the best option.

If the "new ideas" are sufficiently different from the original, you could do either op†ion 1 or 3 and doing 2 as well, focused on the new ideas.

But 'low ranked' is a judgement call. And 'high ranked' journals are probably more selective in what they choose to publish. Think about the match between your paper and the venue.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .