I have had my PhD in mathematics for four and a half years now, completed two postdocs and found a tenure track job at a mostly teaching university. While I provide substantial background information below, my real, general question is:
How can I identify the causes of a decline in acceptance rate of my papers?
I had a fairly good research program in geometry and topology, with 5 papers in relatively good journals and an undergraduate research paper published over the course of two postdocs.
I then took a tenure track job with 33 teaching credits a year. While I have little time for new research, I had several papers ready for submission.
These new papers are better than previous papers of mine published in the same journals; not only do I (subjectively) consider them better, but they have received citations in preprint form, and I was invited to a give a talk based on a stranger reading one of them, neither of which happened with my earlier papers.
I can think of a few possible reasons why these papers are not being published:
They are just not up to shape, because I don't have the time to focus on polishing them.
The referees hate me. This may seem silly, but I am in a very specialized field, with only 3-4 people who have published more than one paper on the subject. One of these people have retired, and another openly said that he had been my referee before on more than one occasion, had rejected my largest paper, and said that he didn't like the direction I was going with the research.
Also, I had a toxic relationship with my postdoc advisor, to the point where it came down to personal insults. They said that they were furious at my past letter of reference writer for recommending me, knowing I was a 'bad egg'. Though we have since made up, I have heard reports from others about this advisor talking about me in a negative way. Also, none of the jobs I applied to with their letter of recommendation wrote me back, while 30-50% of the applications without his letter were replied to favorably, including my current job.
- Chance. The reviewers of the first papers happened to be interested in those topics, and the reviewers of the current papers have not been interested.
How do I tell what is really the issue? A few notes:
- It's very hard to do research with 33 credits of teaching, but all the work was done before I accepted this job.
- The main paper (that was rejected by that referee) went through 5 revisions with the aid of an advisor before submission. I have revised and submitted to 3 or 4 other journals, one after another, incorporating each journals feedback into the new version and trying a weaker journal each time.
My goal is to just get these papers published; at my current institution, the publication of these two papers alone would be enough to satisfy all of the research requirement for tenure.