Monday, August 19, 2013

A Small, Not Particularly Sad Thing, That Nevertheless Has a Minor, Slightly Sad Aspect

I was recently made slightly sad about something. Before I say what it was, I want to emphasize that I'm not complaining. On balance, it's a reasonably decent situation. Better than average. Overall, I have no ground for complaint.

I submitted a paper to a journal this summer, and heard back almost immediately. Often, a near-immediate response is a sign that the paper was summarily rejected by the editor and was not sent out for review. A "desk rejection," as they say. In this case, however, it is clear that this did not happen. It is clear that this submission was sent out for review, for a couple of reasons. First, the rejection letter says something like, "based on the advice received" or whatever. Second, there were comments. Comments! After it had been under review for just a few days. And the comments have been helpful. Helpful comments in under a week. I don't know anyone--and I include myself here--who has sent helpful comments within a week of receiving the paper.

And again, I want to stress that I am not complaining. As rejections go, this is the best-case scenario. It was lightning-fast, and it was accompanied by commentary that will help me make the paper better. No complaints.

But the minor aspect that made me slightly sad was, one of the things I'm looking for when I send a paper to a journal is a bit of a break from it. I know when I send something out--especially if I'm aiming a little high, as I was here--that I'm going to be thinking about this paper again in a few months. But I like having that respite. I kind of need it, so that I can move on to other things and get work done on other projects. (I realize that this is not a big deal, but since when does something need to be a big deal in order for me to remark upon it?)

On the other hand, one sort of nice thing about this situation is that I haven't had to spend any time re-familiarizing myself with the issues the paper concerns or the arguments the paper makes. So I would say that the revisions are going somewhat more quickly than they otherwise would have. Which is a plus.

So, in closing, thanks a million to the anonymous reviewer for an undisclosed journal.

--Mr. Zero

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

You don't need a journal to take a break from your work. You need self-discipline.

Anonymous said...

Quit complaining. ;)

Mr. Zero said...

You don't need a journal to take a break from your work...

False. Lacking self-discipline, I need a journal.

But seriously. It seems to me that letting papers "lie fallow" for a period of time before returning to them for further editing is a good general strategy. But I also feel like I don't have time for that. Maybe I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

This is only related in the most tangential way to the post, but this seems like a good forum to ask: has anyone heard back from the Central APA? I ask because a) I still haven't, and it seems a little late, and b) Last year I never received the decision email (I only found out a month later when I emailed to ask about it)

Anonymous said...

I refereed two papers this summer and did both in a week or less (and not because I half-assed it; in one case I did some additional reading before writing my review). I'm unlikely to be in the tier of philosophers that get bombarded by referee requests, but I really don't see why people accept invitations to referee papers that they can't get to in a timely fashion. Note to self to remember to start saying no if I get more requests than I can handle. (Is it that hard? How many papers do others referee in a year and/or get asked to referee? I'll start: I refereed three journal papers and one conference paper this past year; no other requests besides those.)

Anonymous said...

I recently had a *same day* rejection *with comments*. It was pretty clear, though, that they were comments from the editor. Still, a welcome change, as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

Scumbag philosophers: Wants faster rejections, but with comments. Feels 'slightly sad' ("I'm definitely not complaining, bro") when it actually happens.

Fritz J. McDonald said...

I haven't heard from the Central.

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard back from the central, but I remember them saying they wouldn't contact me until September or something like that.

Anonymous said...

I've never understood why journals don't simply ask us how long we want to wait for replies.

Honestly, this is terrible, from a customer service perspective. We should have the option of checking "immediate reply" or "delayed reply."

Of course, in the future, if your replies are coming far too quickly for your professional needs, you could always leave emails from journal unopened.

Honestly, you sound like an entitled brat. You want speedy replies from journals, but not too speedy, because you need some time to step away from your work, but you lack the self-control to put it on a shelf on your own?

How about, in the future, you stop submitting to that journal, as their editorial policies clearly cause you personal angst.

But I want to stress that I'm not complaining about you.

Mr. Zero said...

Honestly, this is terrible, from a customer service perspective.

We're not the customers.

if your replies are coming far too quickly for your professional needs, you could always leave emails from journal unopened.

Now you're just being silly.

Honestly, you sound like an entitled brat.

I don't totally disagree with you. I understand how this sounds, which I why I took such trouble to emphasize that I am not complaining about how quickly this journal got back to me. But look. The reality is that a 4- to 8-week turnaround time is extremely fast. 6 months is more typical. I have paper that's been under review for over a year. Given that this is how it works, is it wrong or weird to plan for it?

...because you need some time to step away from your work, but you lack the self-control to put it on a shelf on your own?

As I tried to indicate above, it's not entirely that I lack the self-control necessary to put it on a shelf. It's that I don't have time to put stuff on shelves. If something is close to being ready, I feel like I need to hurry the fuck up and get it actually ready already.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of personal policy, I send comments back in under a week, and usually within 1-2 days. When I accept a review, I usually put it at the top of my to-do list.

You don't have to open that email right away if you want a break from the paper.

You should be *celebrating* this result, rather than finding a reason not to be happy about it.

Anonymous said...

I refereed a paper in <2 days over the summer while giving extensive comments. If the reader knows the topic well, it isn't hard to do.

My fastest rejection was also this summer: <2 hours. Editor must have taken one look and thought "Out you go, rascal!"

Anonymous said...

I have, I think, four papers out for review at the moment, and a pile of crap to do before the semester begins. Every day I am thankful for not getting a response back about any of the four. If I get an acceptance, that likely means more work for me now. If it's an R&R, even more so. If it's a rejection, then I feel like I have to turn it around quickly.

So I empathize with the OP and agree that it's silly. But spoiled scumbag? Come on.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"You don't need a journal to take a break from your work. You need self-discipline."

In practice, "self-discipline" is usually just a strategic form of the lack of self-discipline. It's finding smart ways to introduce outside pressures that will compensate for one's lack of discipline.

(Unless you believe in that magical, mysterious thing called "will power" that you voluntarily raise or lower by squinting and trying harder. In which case, you're the sort of person who thinks "giving 110%" is a meaningful phrase.)

For example, I use abstract-submission conferences as a way to force myself to get a paper written because I often fail to finish if I haven't promised someone else I'll do so.

Another example is John Perry's technique for using procrastination on little tasks as a way of overcoming procrastination on larger tasks: http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-ProcrastinateStill/93959

Mr. Zero said...

You should be *celebrating* this result, rather than finding a reason not to be happy about it.

I see what you're saying. But I don't see why the fact that I was sad about this one little aspect of the experience is incompatible with the fact that I celebrate it overall.

Also, it's not that I attempted to find a reason to be unhappy. It's that this thing happened, and one of my initial, involuntary reactions was disappointment in the fact that I was going to have to start thinking about the paper again much earlier than I had anticipated. I thought the reaction was mildly amusing if not literally interesting, so I figured I'd write a post about it. I realized that there was a better-than-average chance I'd be read as complaining about an amazingly fast turnaround time, which is why I made such an effort to emphasize certain things: the degree to which this is a minor annoyance about a small thing, and not a huge, all-things-considered condemnation; the degree to which to which I was grateful for the fast turnaround; and the degree to which I was grateful for the comments, which were legitimately very helpful.

I also realize that the very fact that I took the time to write about it suggests that I feel at least a little strongly about it. But a) I think I've proven over the years that I have a pretty low bar for what I'm willing to write about, and b) that I thought the reaction was interesting does not entail that it was a strong reaction.

Finally, I am 100% open to the possibility that the fact that I reacted this way reveals, or is a symptom of, something negative about me. I would like to resist the idea that it reveals that I am an "entitled brat," of course. (Obviously, this does not rule out the possibility that I am an entitled brat.) But it's totally possible that there's something wrong with me, sure.

Anonymous said...

"Finally, I am 100% open to the possibility that the fact that I reacted this way reveals, or is a symptom of, something negative about me. I would like to resist the idea that it reveals that I am an "entitled brat," of course. (Obviously, this does not rule out the possibility that I am an entitled brat.) But it's totally possible that there's something wrong with me, sure."

At least part of it, I suspect, is that it's a problem with academia. I think we are taught to consider research an obligation, an that time not spent on research is time wasted.

zombie said...

I feel exactly the opposite. I hate getting reviews months (one time a full year, for a rejection with NO comments) after I've submitted, because by then, I've already moved on to another paper, and I don't want to revisit the paper. I kind of end up having to do the research all over again to make revisions.

I recently got a paper back about a week or so after I submitted it, with really good comments. They gave me until November or something to R&R. I was already working on several other things, so I couldn't get back to the paper right away, and thus squandered the rapid turnaround.

Anonymous said...

9:13,

Your lack of self-discipline does not mean it's part of a human condition. Some of us possess self-discipline.

I'm sorry you have to force yourself to do the work for the profession, but that's not true for us all.

Anonymous said...

Damn Zero,
You know sometimes I find you annoying but this comment thread is full of assholes. How many times do you have to point out that you're *not* complaining to avoid the charge of entitled brat? Apparently more than several.
My apologies, for all of the assholes. I agree(!) with your general point.

Anonymous said...

Well, I for one totally understand the frustration! Wanting a break from endless rounds of revision and fiddling often is what motivates me to send my papers out, so I understand why getting one back so soon could be bittersweet.

From what I've heard, several of the top philosophy journals will take a couple years to referee a submission, so you could always go that route!

Anonymous said...

9:13,

"Your lack of self-discipline does not mean it's part of a human condition."

You really don't believe lack of self-discipline is part of the human condition? You either don't know many humans (Siri, is that you?) or you've been very well-conditioned by our culturally drummed-in mythology of freedom.

You've got "discipline," all right--but I don't think it came from your "self." But keep flattering yourself. You'll bootstrap your way to the top of the profession in no time, you rugged individual you.

Anonymous said...

6:56,

Are you trying to misunderstand me?

Right, it doesn't come from my self, as if I invented it. It comes from my parents, the officers I served under, and professors who advised me, the colleagues who have mentored me.

When I have a job to do, I sit down and do it. For example, I don't "use abstract-submission conferences as a way to force myself to get a paper written," to go back to the comment I originally replied to. I sit down and write the paper. And then I sit down and revise it (after shelving it for a time to clear my head). I don't need to find strategic ways to procrastinate. If there's a job to do, I do it. And if I need respite from a job, to use the words of the post, I do that, too. I can walk away from a job if I'm not ready to work on it. But I don't need some external circumstances to do what I know is best for me.

I have "self-discipline" because I spent years learning how to develop it. In the Marines. In college. In graduate school. It is possible to be proactive about discipline. Look, for instance, at those on this thread who review articles in very short spans of time. Work comes across their desks, and they sit down to do it. It really is possible.

And yes, I do know many humans. And many of them do lack self-discipline. They procrastinate, and find ways to justify it to themselves. But the fact that many humans fail to develop a trait is not proof that the trait is a myth. I hear the same bullshit from my students who simply can't imagine that a person could sit down and read an entire book, or spend significant time in a library researching, or begin working on their papers more than one weekend in advance.

Anonymous said...

I'm not willfully misunderstanding you, but objecting to your conception of self-discipline.

It may have been misleading of me to imply there is no self-discipline. There is, of course, in just the way you've described. Instead, I reject your strong opposition of self-discipline to lack of discipline. A better contrast would be external discipline (e.g., paper deadlines) and internal discipline (e.g., a history in the Marines).

This is relevant, since it means your advice to the OP is impractical. If internal discipline is the product of a history of external discipline, it's too late to say, "Get some self-discipline." True, he can start developing it for the future. But if internal discipline comes from a history of external discipline, then that's exactly what he's *already* doing by using external circumstances to train himself.

The advice is also questionable in its implied moral judgments. If internal discipline principally comes not from the self, as you admit, then it's not obviously to one's credit that one has it, or one's fault if one lacks it.

E.g., it's not to our credit that we--unlike our students--can sit through an entire book. We weren't actively conditioned by every aspect of our upbringing, technology, and culture to have zero attention span--correction, to have excellent "multitasking" skills.

Yes, the students can and should start developing such discipline, but that's it's not really a lack of *self* discipline that's the cause of the deficiency, but a lack of *social-cultural* discipline. Self-discipline is the outcome, not the cause, of discipline.

In sum: if the OP, I, and others can get good stuff done in strategic ways, and the alternative is not to get good stuff done, then that's a good thing, right?

Anonymous said...

"In sum: if the OP, I, and others can get good stuff done in strategic ways, and the alternative is not to get good stuff done, then that's a good thing, right?"

Ultimately, yes, that's a good thing.

My problem, and perhaps I feel a little strongly about this given my background, is when people require others to provide the boundaries that they should be developing for themselves. A professional in the field, as Zero is, should be developing his professional discipline. Not because I (or others) find it to be a moral good, but because it will help him to progress in his career and maximize his contributions to the field he so clearly loves. If he "needs" a respite from his work, to step away and work on something else, then it's in his best professional (and personal ) interests to develop the professional work habits that allow him to step away from his work without requiring that journals do a shitty job of responding to submissions.

I'll also admit that part of this is the underlying assumption on Zero's part that journals *should* do a shittier job of responding to submissions, in the event that those like him need a break from their work. Also, I find it hard that he's "slightly sad" that this journal did its job, and did it well. It's more likely that he's sad at his own lack of discipline, and projecting that on the journal. (Not unlike people who complain that fast food outlets are everywhere, and then blame McDonald's for their inability to eat healthy.)

I think this is a great opportunity for Zero to put something on a shelf and then address it on his own timeline, taking exactly the amount of time he needs to step away, move on to other projects, and then return to it when it's best for him to do so. And I have no doubt that he can, given his success in graduate school and in the field (based on what little we know of his career through this blog). To earn a PhD in Philosophy, one must have discipline. The skill is there; it just needs to be refocused. (I advise student athletes, and tell them the same thing. I've never met a college athlete who was not extremely disciplined in his/her sport. They can learn how to treat academics similarly.)

Ultimately, yes, getting good work done is the goal. But maximizing one's efficiency and productivity - by learning to develop the work habits that match one's goals and needs - is also important. And I have met many professional philosophers whose success is tied much more to their work habits than the quality of their contributions.

Anonymous said...

So the ex-marine is sad "when people require others to provide the boundaries that they should be developing for themselves"?

Anonymous said...

FWIW, "giving 110%" is totally a meaningful phrase. Obviously the baseline isn't the maximum amount of effort that's humanly possible; it's normal effort, or sustainable effort, or something like that. And it's obviously possible to temporarily exert more effort than that.

Anonymous said...

not related to topic, but interesting...
Adjunct Crisis infographic/poster

Anonymous said...

Where are these adjuncts who make 20K? I could use a gig like that!

Anonymous said...

I (used to) adjunct at two colleges in the NYC area and made on average 35K a year. Teaching 12 classes in that year, paired with cost of living, I would say I had it much better making 12K in a smaller city teaching 5 classes.

Anonymous said...

Those adjuncts are clearly giving a measly 100%. Thanks, meaningful phrase!