When I was pursuing my Ph.D. degree, I published 4 first-authored studies and 1 third-authored paper. All first-authored papers were published in decent journals, not the first-ranked journals but still decent, second level. I published 2 more first-authored studies in those second-level journals within the first year after my graduation. Since then, I have only published 1 study in a journal that doesn't have impact factor. I have a long list of studies that were rejected 3-4 times by different journals.

I don't know what's wrong. If it's my problem, I don't know how I could possibly publish quite a few papers when I was just a Ph.D. student. My advisor helped me mainly with writing, so those studies were mainly completed by me, from literature review to study design, data collection,analysis, etc.

If it's not my problem, what's the problem? I want to say I have bad luck. This March I received a rejection letter from a mid-level journal. One reviewer didn't read my paper because he/she said I reported my R square wrong, but in fact I conducted a different type of regression analysis, so he/she was wrong. Another reviewer said my literature was outdated and that's it, which is a problem that could be fixed. But even with this type of crappy reviews, the editor still rejected my paper. This morning I just received another rejection letter, but the journal didn't send my paper to at least two reviewers. Instead, one associate editor read it and criticized a lot of design issues of my study. This paper was reviewed at two top journals, where it was rejected but reviewers gave promising and constructive comments. So I used those comments to edit my study and send it to two mid-level journals. But still got rejected and criticized as if it was a crap. I have no luck with my publication and it has been two years. I'm no nervous and frustrated. I even start to doubt if I should continue to stay in academia.

Thus, my question:

After successfully publishing several papers in good journals during my PhD, why am I getting so many rejections after my PhD?

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    Are publishing these papers as a sole author? If so, sometimes your advisor "name" has a lot of weight! – The Guy May 2 '17 at 15:11
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    What exactly are you asking? – Herman Toothrot May 2 '17 at 15:25
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because OP does not ask a question. Rather, they share a problem they are facing. – padawan May 2 '17 at 20:53
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    I gave an edit to highlight what seems to be the implied question, but the body is quite specific. – Jeromy Anglim May 2 '17 at 23:44
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    Only advice is to continue to improve those papers, and your maturity as a researcher. I've experienced periods where I had only rejects and then there are periods with many accepts. There are many factors at play. Also getting an experienced researcher to give feedback will be beneficial. Some times, without such feedback, you think a paper is great just because you spent time on it. However, by the community standard, it is poor. – Prof. Santa Claus May 2 '17 at 23:56

The most immediate step may be to try to trade with a knowledgeable colleague in your general area/field (preference that they not be an expert in your sub-area, so they are more like someone who could review your paper), so that you will give deep feedback on their paper in exchange for deep feedback on theirs. I suspect you have seen these papers of yours so many times that you don't really "read" them anymore - you know what they say, you are kind of sick of them and just wish someone would publish the damn things already, and it can be very easy to have no idea how someone will read your paper the first time through.

I'm just spit-balling on this part, but from reading your explanation of what you've experienced I get the feeling that your reviews are going something like this:

Editor/reviewer gets paper, reads it over lightly. They might already have no interest in the paper - they aren't motivated or interested by the abstract/introduction, so now they really just want to get this review over with because it's a chore they aren't exactly excited to be part of at this point. They just want to reject your paper at this point and move on.

They can't just say, "boooooored - reject", so they have to do something. They now look over the paper for easy "red flags". Reviewing your paper in depth would take time and energy, but an easy shortcut is to look for proxys of quality - for instance, the intro. If the introduction/literature review is out of date, this says "this paper has already been rejected, probably multiple times, and the author hasn't put in any real work to fix things, so there we go - reject". Or, worse, it says "this author isn't citing the newest work because they don't know what they are doing," or "this author isn't citing recent work because someone else beat them to the punch and they are trying to sneak one past us - nice try, sucker, rejected!"

A similar method is to look at the statistics and see if it looks like anything is obviously wrong. If an author can't do fundamental statistics properly, that's an easy one - they obviously have no idea what they are doing and you can safely ignore the rest. Is it fair reading? Oh no, of course not - the error could have been minor and wouldn't change the results. But it could be that, like so many people, the author actually doesn't understand stats and is just aping what everyone else does, creating a kind of costume-science that looks real but means nothing.

The danger here is that if you are doing something that is out of the ordinary or easily misunderstood - like an unusual regression method - you don't have to be actually wrong, it just has to look weird and not be immediately obvious why. You may need to use a different, more popular and easy to understand method, or you may just need to present your results differently so that it isn't so easy to assume you just did something wrong. Sure, you know all the work you did to carefully make certain you did things right, but everyone else - especially a tired, cranky, bored reviewer - doesn't know any of that and naturally assumes you might be in error. This will be magnified if they already have other reasons to think you don't really know your stuff, because once they start to get the idea that it's crap, confirmation bias will drive them to find anything vaguely resembling an error.

In short - the problem might not be that your work actually is crap; it might actually be really great work. But if it looks like crap, or smells even a little like crap, there's a far greater chance that it isn't going to get a fair review at all, and that's just how it is. Try to get a realistic, outside perspective of how the paper "smells" to someone who is not familiar with it - and this can be hard to get, thus my suggestion to trade with someone - could be extremely eye-opening and helpful.

  • Thank you for your long and detailed response. I appreciate your advice. I'm collaborating with a few more senior scholars on a project and one thing I noticed that they are better than me is their ability to frame the topic. I remember one of them edited my introduction. She only added a paragraph in the beginning, but that paragraph was so beautifully written that it made me want to continue to read the rest of the paper. In contrast, my framing is more plain and doesn't highlight the importance of the topic. I guess that affects reviewers' impressions of my paper a lot. – rr5832 May 3 '17 at 21:11
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    @rr5832 In my own limited experience, the framing is regularly the difference in an acceptance and a rejection of otherwise good work. It's one of those things that going into science, I never expected or thought about at all - but unless you develop the craft of getting people interested and drawing them in, your work will probably not get the attention it deserves. Successful senior scholars get it and might do it pretty much automatically now, but it takes time and effort to develop the skill - and it's a really valuable skill. – BrianH May 3 '17 at 21:23
  • Good answer (+1) -- I'd also be curious to hear someone's take on other factors at play here (the pink elephant in the room, as it were, which I suspect is why the question is on hold currently): is it possible that OP had an advisor who is well-known in the field, and now OP is "on their own" and is suffering from a "who are you" problem? – Mad Jack May 4 '17 at 18:46

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