Stages of Rejection

Four reviews. Two and half years. From major revision to accept with minor revision. A revolving door of reviewers. And then rejection. The peer review process can be brutal sometimes, and I find myself reacting in predictable ways when it gets rough.

First I want to crawl into a hole. Not angry, but beaten. Then comes the confusion and anger stage. Why did they send it new reviewers? Were they searching for a reason to reject it? Is it my work, my affiliation, or my background? Why did they keep moving the goalposts? Did I get screwed over?

And then the self-doubt. Perhaps I am just bad at this. To go from an accept with minor revision to a rejection must mean a screw-up of epic proportions? Right? Which of the minor changes I made resulted in a major change of heart from the journal? Is my work poorly done, or worse, irrelevant?

Next comes thoughts on opportunity cost. If I had sent this elsewhere, it would likely be published by now, and would be the first look at this issue rather than a manuscript that is late to the party. Why did I go for this journal when I could be having an impact with my work by now? Was it vanity? A desire to be accepted into a research community that hits above my weight class? Have I been sucked into a part of academia I never wanted to be a part of?

Thankfully (and with good guidance from mentors wiser than I), I get practical. What part of the rejection is relevant? What journal do I try next? What is this piece really supposed to be? Now, everything aside from the practical stage is really just pointless self-indulgence, but hey, we are human beings right? I teach the Hawthorne experiments and complaining makes people feel better (up to a point)!

At the end of the day it really does not matter why a paper gets rejected by a specific journal. It may be quality, it may be fit, it may be a change in the editorial board, or something else. Journals know that they want, and have every right to publish what they want how they want. I find the best feedback is usually from the work itself, the more I do this the more I am able to tell the difference between my A+ work, and my less than A+ work.  Good work will find a home. Rejection is part of academia, everyone experiences it. Back on the horse.



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