Posted in Getting published
On my desk, right in front of the computer screen, lies a pile of paper. This pile gives me headaches, keeps me awake at night, and is a source of frustration on sunny weekends. It is the pile of unfinished manuscripts, gathered and carried along from earlier positions as a postdoc. Every paper has a story attached to it. Some papers are only in their first version, hardly more than a collection of raw data. Others have seen many revisions, have passed the eyes of multiple co-authors, and have got stuck just before submission, because something just is not quite right. There are papers of PhD students, co-workers, and of myself as leading author. Some contain data taken two years ago.
I am wondering how others are dealing with their unpublished data. Do you have a drawer full of brilliant work yet to be published? Or are you completely up to date with your results? For some people, it may be a reason for boasting: look at how many data I still have on the shelf! For a starting academic, unpublished data can be a life saver in times that you are starting a new lab and you need results to cover the gaps in your publication record. However, the pile also represents months of painstaking experiments, data analysis, and theory, lying there going to waste and most importantly – not being cited.
As you progress in an academic career, it is unevitable that you get many tasks unrelated to science. Some of us teach, others take on administrative or management duties, organize conferences, or travel around the world giving talks. As the pressure increases from different sides, the time simply fails to catch up on writing these publications. The combination of guilt and work addiction leads to spending evenings, weekends, and holidays trying to wrap up some of the papers. Unfinished manuscripts have the tendency to take over your life.
Perhaps some results are like wine or cheese: they need time to ripen and to reach their full glory. Indeed too many papers are written in a rush, driven by the need to disseminate, gain citations, and show grant organizations that you are worth funding. On the other hand, maybe some data are simply not worth the additional energy to convert them into a publication, as it is already clear that they will not get picked up by a large community. Some results will only be bread-and-butter papers, useful to flesh out a CV but not world-shaking. Some people would choose not to publish small results and to go for the big hits. Maybe I am wrong, but to me even those less important results are still worth publishing.
As many others this week I was caught by surprise by the air traffic disruption. Luckily for me it happened just before I was leaving to a conference in Switzerland. The luxury of a partly empty agenda (most of it filled up rapidly again by teaching duties) gives some air to take another look at the pile and see if we can finish off one or two papers out of it. It will be a very good feeling when this happens.