You would prefer to never talk about the review to anyone, let alone to share the comments of the editor and the reviewers, because you are so ashamed that your work is not good enough to be published and assume everyone will think you are just an idiot and wonder why you ever thought you would be capable of doing proper science?
All that stress, your high pulse rate, and massive blood pressure, just because you are checking your e-mails – that´s not only you not being able of facing that stress. Most of us are (in my experience). The relief when you find no notification e-mail of the journal between the 12.371.834 new emails. At the same time, you are annoyed because you have to wait for that long to get on with that publication.
But the day comes – massive pulse while opening the e-mails, and, close to a heart attack, you realize that THE E-MAIL has arrived. Curious, telling you it will be alright because your study was really cool, and shaking, because you are terrified to the core that you will find out that you are not a scientist at all and the picture of yourself as a scientist hugely depends on what that review will say about your work.
My first major revision
My first publication came back with a major revision – reading the reviewers comments for the first time, I felt crushed. At first glance, I thought I would never be able to be able to rewrite and organize my paper in a way that would be suitable to answer all that comments. To me it, it all sounded like: You are an incapable idiot, what the hell did you think with doing that stupid study, leave science immediately and never come back! So I closed the e-mail, cried, and spent the rest of the day in massive self-pity and self-doubt. I felt better the next morning but proceeded to try to ignore all thoughts and feelings related to that review, let alone to talk with anyone about it. What would they think? Obviously, that I’m not a proper scientist, being unable to write a good scientific paper. Even my Ph.D. supervisor, telling me that I should not worry and that anyone usually gets a major revision of the first draft of a manuscript, did not make me feel substantially better.
When I had the guts, and it really took me guts, to read through the comments again – about two weeks after the review arrived – I realized that it would take me some time, but that most comments were reasonable and overall not that bad at all. Obviously, I hated every bit of reworking that manuscript, and I had to force myself to work on it every single day. Every time working on that manuscript came to my mind, I felt deeply stressed, and my mind tried to find excuses to not work on it. Any analysis left that I could do for something else? Connect with a colleague? Some work around the house left, please? Anything??
Well, finally I made it. I felt deeply released when I send of the second version of the manuscript – until some weeks had passed, and I got nervous again about the new review coming in. It started all over again – waiting for the answer, but every time I checked my e-mails, I hoped for NOT having new mail from that journal. Please, let me be done with it!
Again, another round of major revision
Of course, finally, the notification arrived that I had to do another round of major revisions. Oh, damn it, that f** paper! This time, I did not cry. And it took my just about a week to get myself to work on that, by now really deeply hated, manuscript again. I really never ever wanted to see it again! What had I thought writing it to start with? Why was I doing that to myself?
On the other hand, while working on the draft, I felt that it was not that bad at all. Actually, I really thought it was a good and important piece of work. Still, I hated everything about that review process and was glad when I finished it and sent it off again. Setting aside the little but loud voice in my head, whispering to me that it would never work out and that I would have to rewrite it all again (…and again…and again). Surely, it would never get published. I would need to work on that for the rest of my life. Everyone else is more capable of writing a scientific paper, whilst it is such hard work for me, surely!
So, here I was, waiting AGAIN in agony for just ANOTHER answer from the journal. When it finally arrived, saying that the editor was satisfied with the new version, and just minor revisions would be needed before it could be published, I felt massive amounts of endorphin rushing through my body. I was so happy, verifiably being not just an idiot trying to do science. I was a scientist, and I had a paper published. I couldn´t believe it!
Will it ever end?
That could have been where the story ends, but to be honest, all those feeling, the waiting and not wanting to know the answer, the hating reworking manuscripts, feeling idiotic and incapable – it all came back, with every new manuscript I have sent off to journals. At least, it got better with every manuscript. I guess you´re getting used to it, step by step. In the end, when you finally get yourself to read your published paper, you realize that it was worth it and that the reviewers’ comments improved the original manuscript by far.
So, why am I writing this?
Talking to a PhD student a while ago, her telling me, really ashamed that her publication got rejected, and her thinking that she just can´t do it, made me realize that I never really shared my feelings – but to support each other, and to support young scientists, it is important that we make them realize that it is completely normal to doubt yourself. No superheroes or geniuses here, just hard work.
You can do it!