#five2read: on the danger of journal branding, reviewer rewards, finding our Black Moment and more

It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.

– Hugh Laurie a.k.a. House M.D.

Last week I talked about becoming a doer. This week I stumbled upon this quote by Hugh Laurie on his Facebook page. It indeed seems that people wait for… for… for what exactly? 

Creativity doesn’t fall from the sky by waiting for it. Creativity comes from taking action. So does my weekly list of five pieces that I found worth sharing. Without doing the writing all that I read may be out of my head after a while. By writing I store the most important pieces in a format that I know can find again – with the benefit that you also have them at hand.

Writing them down allows me to set those ideas into a bigger picture. And become more creative in consequence.

Whether it’s journaling or writing a regular blog. It’s the action that causes progress. And you definitely will never be ready, because there is always more to do. But by getting started we are already half way done.

So let’s start with this weeks #five2read:


1. Brand addiction to academic journals erode most efforts to improve the academic publishing system

In academia, journal brand is everything. […] The judgment of quality is lazily “outsourced” to the brand-name of the journal. If it’s in a Nature journal, it’s obviously of higher quality than something published in one of those, ahem, “lesser” journals.

If you work in academia (and I’m sure most who read this will) then discussion where to publish has become a central issue in any manuscript you work on. And surely you or your PI strives for the highest possible outcome (read: IF).

Philip Moriarty summarizes the three main principles of academic publishing (hint: flawed business model, impact factor abuse, use of open access) in this LSE blog and why it is so hard to overcome the apparent shortcomings. Or worse: why everybody still actively contributes to the problem instead of practicing what they preach.

I myself preaching along similar lines, yet it is hard to really practice this much-needed change. For a young academic like me, it could mean academic suicide. And I also realized that senior peers on fixed position have the same problem: They will fear of budget cuts and lowered grant success rates.

To be honest, the publishing business is a nearly perfect system as a business model (kudos!) despite being harmful to science. This need to be separated (read also here). In the end, it seems that all we can do is continuing preaching and take action where it is not threatening our careers (e.g. by using preprint servers or stop engaging in peer review).


2. How to value peer reviewer’s work?

“[…] all of the benefits accrue in a single direction, unless you count the warm feeling reviewers might get from doing something you think you should be doing

Peer reviewers are a crucial cogwheel in the academic publishing business. Especially their work is not compensated. Instead, there is the widely accepted belief that this work is a give-and-take. For the publishers, that system is very profitable. For most scientists, it’s distracting them from their paid work. Because of this, there is an increasing number of peers thinking about ways how to compensate peer reviewers.

The article outlines the different attempts from printing lists of all reviewer to honor their action in the journal of a given year, to services as Publons where the reviewer can highlight their review activity to make it countable, to monetary compensation.

Consider Elsevier would pay 100$ every review – its costs would skyrocket to a conservative estimate of 100 Million $ annually. Even though the article mentions this I will repeat it here: That amount is only a small fraction of the annual profit the publisher makes which is at roughly a one billion $. Given that, financial compensation might offer new job opportunities to academics – e.g. as freelancing professional peer reviewers

Given that, financial compensation might offer new job opportunities to academics – e.g. as freelancing professional peer reviewers. But when consider again the 100$ per review example how much would such a freelancer earn? At one paper per day it would be 3k$ a month. Not too bad actually – yet far from other professional salaries. In the end, money might not be a great solution after doing the math.

Reviewers are subsidizing the publishing business. Their work – if compensated adequately – would likely to be more than the publisher’s annual profit. Even though a monetary compensation might be illusory it shows the power the reviewers have in the publishing business. Time to find a solution to reward them for their work – in whatever way.


3. Reach the reward behind your Black Moment 

When you get over an obstacle, that obstacle will never be a problem again

In story telling there is the concept of the Black Moment when the hero unexpectedly hits rock bottom during the second half of the story and must find a way to overcome his/her obstacle. And grow stronger.

You find this Black Moment in any good movie or novel. But this concept counts also for real life. Todd Brison explains that one reason why so many of us have problems to do what they want in life is that they haven’t yet had their Black Moment.

I like this idea. It seems that many successful people have had their very own Black Moments from which they need to get up from – and which formed the basis for their later success. However, many of us are over-cautious so they may never experience a true Black Moment.

Todd uses an own example of getting rejected by a publisher of a draft of his book which reminded me how I struggled with my first critical reviews of manuscripts. But over time your perception of these obstacles change. As Todd wrote:

Your suffering is proportional to any suffering you have previously endured.

And I can only agree with it.


4. Ten simple steps for writing

The hard part of writing a book isn’t getting it published. With more opportunities than ever to become an author, the hard part is the actual writing.

Writing is hard and we often think it’s more an incidental byproduct of our academic work. However, writing is one of our core skills as scientists. To recall Joshua Schimel: If you are a scientist you need to become a professional writer.

Written words are our main channel of communicating our research, hence it is important to practice it regularly because only with practice you can get better. This post by bestselling author Jeff Goins is about books but you can claim most of his steps to writing papers too (and to be honest if you write your thesis there is not much difference when it comes to word count).

I think one of the most important steps is to write regularly (i.e. daily) and to set reachable targets. With regular practice, you will get better – steadily. Reachable targets will keep you motivated. Most often people quit because they set their targets too high. Having a working process you trust will reduce the risk of quitting before finishing to a minimum.

This post offers a nice process which you can adapt to your own needs.


5. Don’t manage your time, own it!

There are four real ways to spend your time: thought, conversation, actions and distractions. Choose wisely!

Time management is one of the most crucial life-hacks you can read about and there is endless advice what one can do to be more efficient. Of course, not everything works because we are all different and need to find what works out best for us. But this post by Thomas Oppong gives this whole topic a whole new twist.

It also summarizes some important basics of time management, sorry, ownership, including knowing the difference between urgent and important, saying no, and practicing to work in short but intensive bursts of focus (called the Pomodoro technique).

I think the most important take home messages here is that you need to learn that you are the person who takes ownership over your time. So don’t let it be managed by someone else.


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