Thursday 26th July saw the launch of SciLogs.com, a new English language science blog network. SciLogs.com, the brand-new home for Nature Network bloggers, forms part of the SciLogs international collection of blogs which already exist in German, Spanish and Dutch. To celebrate this addition to the NPG science blogging family, some of the NPG blogs are publishing posts focusing on “Beginnings”.
Participating in this cross-network blogging festival is nature.com’s Soapbox Science blog, Scitable’s Student Voices blog and bloggers from SciLogs.com, SciLogs.de, Scitable and Scientific American’s Blog Network. Join us as we explore the diverse interpretations of beginnings – from scientific examples such as stem cells to first time experiences such as publishing your first paper. You can also follow and contribute to the conversations on social media by using the #BeginScights hashtag.
Michelle Wynn is a PhD candidate in Bioinformatics at the University of Michigan, working under the supervision of Sofia Merajver and Santiago Schnell . Her thesis work involves the use of systems biology methods to understand the dysregulated signaling and metabolic networks associated with breast cancer development. Her long-term goal is to direct a multidisciplinary research group that operates at the interface of theoretical and experimental cancer biology. She hopes to defend soon.
In graduate school first-author publications are especially important because they represent a key milestone in the transition from trainee to independent researcher – something we all work very hard to achieve. In October of last year I published my very first first-author research paper. It was a lot of work and took far longer to write than I anticipated. I know first-hand that preparing a manuscript can be very difficult and stressful – especially the first time. I learned a great many things throughout the writing and submission process. Below, I have listed three of the most important things I learned in the hope that they may be useful to others.
Meet regularly with co-authors.
In my case, we were collaborating with colleagues in Argentina and France. We recognized early on that completing the manuscript was going to be very difficult if we did not have regularly scheduled Skype meetings. We met every few weeks for about 2 months . Before each meeting, I sent out revisions to the previous draft and made sure figures were updated and of publication quality. I did this out of necessity because it would have been too difficult to have a remote meeting without a very good draft to refer too. While very helpful, meeting as often we did may not be practical for everyone. If possible, I recommend trying to have at least 2 formal meetings with co-authors where you review the nearly finished manuscript. If this is your first time as a first-author, you will almost certainly benefit from repeated critical reviews with your co-authors. I know I did.
When you think you’re finally ready to submit, you’re probably not.
Ask someone in the lab not involved with the paper to read it over and give you feedback. If that is not possible, take a break from reading it for a day (or even an hour if things are rushed). Then, print out a hard copy and read it slowly and carefully, looking for typos and other errors.
Don’t take reviewer comments personally!
This will most likely be your first time reading critiques of your work from anonymous reviewers. At first, some comments may be upsetting but, in my experience, reviewer comments serve to strengthen the paper. If you receive a negative review, you will not be the first and you will certainly not be the last. Albert Einstein did not like having his papers reviewed and objected to the emergence of a formal peer review system. Nonetheless, in at least one prominent case, Einstein appears to have clearly benefited from a negative review (see Kennefick, 2005 and Carrol, 2005). It may be that the negative review will be a correct assessment of something that you overlooked. If so, there is more work to do. If not, and you are sure that the reviewer is mistaken in his or her critique, this strongly suggests that a key aspect of your work is not well explained in the manuscript. Either way, the final manuscript will have benefited from the reviewer’s comment.
Do you have any top tips? Feel free to share them in the comment thread.