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Ted Hart

I’m a senior data scientist in silicon valley and adjunct faculty at the University of Vermont. I build things for data: things that process it, parse it, visualize it, and analyze it. I like my beer cold, my snow deep, my mountains high, and my data open. I am a recovering academic.

Ted Hart

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ecologist / data scientist / developer

A meditation on rejection

This is an unfinished story of a single manuscript. It started 14 months ago in February of 2012 when after months and months of work my old advisor, Nick Gotelli, and I submitted a manuscript to Science and found out it was going out for review. Going out for review in Science launched my hopes. Back then I was still hopeful I would find a career in academia, and this manuscript seemed like it would be the key. <!-- more --> I had recently seen another friend's career launch with the publication of a manuscript in Nature and I thought: This will be my moment!. All those fears that we all harbor as post-docs: Will I get a job? Will I get a job where I want to work? Will I be trapped in lecturer limbo? Gone with the opinions of just two people.

Those first days of hope were short lived, only about three weeks before Science told me "Thanks but no thanks". But it went out for review in Science I thought so it must be good. People chimed in with positive stories about manuscripts rejected there and that were published in Nature, so I thought why not try there? Well that process continued, from Science -> Nature -> Nature Climate Change -> PLOS Biology -> Ecology Letters -> Ecology. Each time it went out for review, and each time it was rejected. By the time it got to Ecology Letters another study had come out that was similar and I was told this was fine science but not novel enough. This morning I received the rejection from Ecology, and that was the nail in the coffin for me. Fourteen months of rejection was a bit much for even my tough skin.

I had devoted three years of my life to the experiment, and each time rejection I held on to that first bit of hope from being reviewed at Science. But that's all gone now. It's hard to look all those rejections in the face and not just feel like a failure, to not feel like I wasted those three years. I wrote to Nick simply saying "Whatever the secret is to successful academic publishing I clearly don't know it." I've exhausted all my anger at reviewers. Do I think it's stupid that just 2 people get to judge 3 years of my life and it's better to just publish it and let 100% my peers sort it out later? Sure, but that's not the world academics live in. Right now that world is more like a Red Queen of publishing. We all have to publish faster and faster just to keep up. In academic publishing it's not just about where you publish, but the rate. It's nice and all to say: "Just dust yourself off and keep your chin up", but jobs wait for no one and gaps in publishing because I was trying to be optimistic about the fate of a paper won't matter to any hiring committee.

Well, to an academic hiring committee anyway. Since those first days of hope, I've let my academic aspirations wither and die. I've taken a different non-academic job that excites me way more than the slog I clearly saw myself going in for with academia, but that's a different post. This paper though, what's going to happen with that? I've decided that I'll try one more non OA journal, and after that it's going to the PeerJ. I'm still not sure how to get over the string of rejections though. I guess without thinking much about it I did internalize them and switched career paths. I decided to stop running to keep in place and just went to a different place.