January is a great time to look at yourself in the mirror and ask what your plan is for improving your record of publication.

What are your usual hurdles that get in the way? What are the current hurdles?

What works to get you moving?

My biggest problem is me.

We're at the point in my lab where available data are not really the issue, we have many dishes cooking along in parallel at most times. Something is always ready or close to being ready to serve up.

The problem is almost always the wandering of my attention and my energy to kick something over the final step to submission.

The game I have taken to playing with myself is to see how long I can go with at least one manuscript under review. I made it something like 14 mo a few years ago. Of course I then promptly fell into another extended dry spell but....

The other game I play with myself is to see how many manuscripts we can have under review simultaneously. That is, of course, much more subject to the ebb and flow of project maturation and the review process. But if we happen to have a few stacking up, sure I'll use the extra motivation to keep my attention pegged to finishing a draft.

When all else fails there is always "We need this published in order to help get this next grant funded, aiieeeee!"

39 responses so far

  • odyssey says:

    When all else fails there is always "We need this published in order to help get this next grant funded, aiieeeee!"

    That's my constant one.

  • L Kiswa says:

    "What works to get you moving?"

    In the short time that I've been in this gig....early January is annual evaluation time. To have any hope of a manuscript counting for the next round of evals, I know that it needs to be out the door by May/June at the latest. I find myself pretty energized in the first few months of the year, shepherding drafts through to the point where we are happy enough as a group to send them out. This energy seems to remain high with revisions etc through ~August. I struggle with the revisions in the August-December time frame.

    I really would prefer to have a moderately high, but steady, level of enthusiasm throughout the year.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    "We need this published in order to help get this next grant funded, aiieeeee!"

    I usually find writing manuscripts to be a painfully slow process, but the fastest paper I ever wrote was in response to an upcoming competing renewal.

    From brand new blank word document to submitted in 2 weeks (accepted to an IF 6 journal with minor revisions).

    If only they could all be like that.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    My biggest problem is that it is just myself and a technician, and we are reliant on other people's equipment. The majority of our data comes from quantitative microscopy of single cells which is time intensive. So, my rate limiting steps tend to be the experiments and associated analyses. We can only move so fast, and I do not have a great track record in terms of number of publications (which was compounded by a K award project that wasn't feasible causing a large gap in my record). Also, we have caught up in terms of useful available data and papers, so I will be starting from scratch and beginning new experiments.

  • SidVic says:

    Sounds as if someone may be coming into a manic phase.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I have certainly had times during which data production was the rate limiter. Probably will get there again at some point. so when the data tap is flowing hard, I appreciate it.

    Any chance of starting up a line of work that doesn't depend so much on other people's major equipment?

  • Dave says:

    These days, it's just trusting data coming from other people that I have running experiments, and getting the paper out. With my first couple of senior author pubs, I certainly don't want any errors, or non-reproducible findings. It delays things a little bit, but I think I'm learning how to delegate experiments, and whole projects, such that things are right the first time (hint: it's usually poor communication on my part!!!).

    I use cell culture experiments for a constant stream of CHEAP and FAST data. We have all our own equipment and functional assays all set up in multiple cell lines, so we can quickly test ideas in relevant cells. Obviously this limits you in terms of journals, but there are plenty of good biochem journals to choose from that don't need 'in vivo validation', and it can work as prelim data in grant apps.

  • Dusanbe says:

    Biggest problem is collaborators or trainees who think writing a paper is like writing the Poetic Edda. People who think 6-plus months is not only acceptable but necessary for writing a first draft. I'm ok if the data take a long time to gather and analyze, but not when the bottleneck is typing into Word.

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ DM

    I have to separate lines of research that can fit under a general theme. I was only able to do so since they rely on similar assays which saved time. But they both require equipment I do not own.

  • Philapodia says:

    "What works to get you moving?": Looking at my mortgage payment and the kids extracurricular activity bills.

    Usual hold-up: trying to write a magnum opus that covers every possible question instead of keeping it simple and to the point.

  • Dave says:

    Looking at my mortgage payment and the kids extracurricular activity bills

    LOL. I hear you there.

    Usual hold-up: trying to write a magnum opus that covers every possible question instead of keeping it simple and to the point

    Ah yes, the 'complete story' lie fed to us by glam. Surely has killed the careers of many,

  • Emaderton3 says:

    @ Dave

    That complete story stuff! I just keep on bashing them over the head with the way I want to do it lol! Which is by the way a terrible strategy but got me a large grant finally. Or, I say forget this journal and move to one in another field with tangential interests, and bam, I get a great publication. It has happened twice now, and both times, I ended up in journals with better impact factors anyway.

  • drugmonkey says:

    and both times, I ended up in journals with better impact factors anyway.


  • jmz4 says:

    How do you guys deal with the students that really want to try to push their stuff into a glamour mag, even when you think it won't make it (either at all, or without a lot more work)? Do you decide the journal to send it to, or do you have a conversation about the options with the first author?

  • drugmonkey says:

    I see journal selection strategy as an ongoing part of mentoring. Occasionally one has to let the trainee learn a lesson the hard way but hopefully in most cases you are on more or less the same page.

  • qaz says:

    Historically, in my lab, when my students want to push their stuff to a GlamourMag and I don't think they've got the hook, they've been right and I've been wrong. Man, I love being wrong.

  • MoBio says:


    Here I've found that being honest up front about where the work is likely to end up saves a lot of time on the front and back end.

    In the past I sent in papers 'where there was no chance of getting sent out for review' at urging of trainees and found this not be be particularly useful for either morale or as a training tactic.

    @GAZ: I've never had this experience--glad to hear of it though.

    WRT CNS papers I don't look for a 'hook' (as you put it) and typically run the paper by an Editor (either at a meeting or via email) to gauge enthusiasm.

    FWIW those findings which we believe to be a discovery/new technology or a new structure elucidated are aimed to that arena.

    I've found them to be brutally honest, rapid and generally fair with feedback.

  • The Other Dave says:

    I'm a tenured full professor now at a big R1. Twelve years in and I've still got six figures of startup left. Plus active funding. And I think our best stuff is still ahead. And I've got plenty of open invitations into higher paying full time admin if my lab totally went down the toilet. That's a lot of freedom and power.

    I have been thinking about publications. It's increasingly clear that scientific society is having a re-think about where and how to disseminate scientific information. No one likes the impact factor game. No one likes pub counting. But no one knows what to do about it. We're all in this giant prisoner's dilemma game where we're afraid to betray the system we hate.

    Well fuck it. Not all of us have to play. Of course I still want to share my lab's results with colleagues. There's no point doing science if you don't share the results. But I'm not going to obsess about cranking out publications. I'm going old school. When we have something important to say, and are sure it's correct, then we'll write it up. Before then no problem we'll talk about it at meetings and stuff. But publications are not going to be the goal. Figuring things out is the goal. Making the world better is the goal. I think that scientific stupidity will change only when enough people are willing to walk away from it. People have got to start refusing to move to the back of the bus and use the other door.

    The only stickler (and I wouldn't mind some advice from you internet peeples about this) is that I can't figure out what to do for the people in my lab. I personally have freedom and security, but they are still at the start of the stupid career treadmill. I can't screw them over. And though people know me in my field I'm not like a Nobel prize winner or anything where my letter alone could make up for what might look like, on paper, to be a lack of their productivity. They still need to compete for stupid little high IF gold stars for their CVs. But in doing that, we perpetuate the system.


  • jmz4 says:

    ^Don't hire trainees. Hire staff.

  • L Kiswa says:

    Off topic, but somewhat related to TOD's post. I'm an assistant prof, ~3 years in. First postdoc was hired after a collaborative grant came in, and has done very well -- a couple of first authored pubs, and a couple more in the works. When ze came in, I was very clear that funds were only available for 2 years. Well, we're now 1.5 years in and the \( are about to run out. Although very productive, I am concerned about job prospects.

    Ze would be excellent in industry (and has experience there post-PhD), but wants an academic career, despite knowing how bleak the picture is right now. No luck with TT apps. Has an offer for a second postdoc in a BSD's lab in an attractive location, but \) will be tight. I've suggested Postdoc contact other groups in the field (not necessarily BSD, but more senior people who have had recent experience mentoring folks who got academic gigs), but ze thinks this is not good form if there is no job ad. I've offered to make introductions to those I know.

    Are there other things I should be doing?

  • jmz4 says:

    "ze thinks this is not good form if there is no job ad."
    I don't think most positions are advertised. I can't talk from the PI standpoint, but when I was finding PD labs, I did keyword searches on NIH reporter for topics I was interested in, and looked to see who had gotten a grant in one of those areas. Then I sent out unsolicited apps, and a bunch were ignored, but enough hit that I had some interviews. Also, networking at conferences is anoter way my colleagues have gotten their pd interviews.

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    @ToD - "Well fuck it. Not all of us have to play." "But publications are not going to be the goal."

    I get the sentiment behind this and definitely feel the same every once in a while. However, I am a early career researcher and cannot afford to not think about publications. Good for you that you are in the position to entertain this in the real world. Based on the tense of your sentence, I'm guessing you haven't implemented this yet. How do you think this is going to work for your trainees? Or, as jmz4 said, are you planning to hire staff for this?

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    "but ze thinks this is not good form if there is no job ad."

    This is totally untrue. When I got my first postdoc position, I started by sending out cold emails to labs that I liked, *tailored* to each lab (mass email = junk). I got responses from at least 25% of them, interviews at a couple and a job offers from two - one of which was a BSD lab at an Ivy League. Tell your PD to send those cold emails out, like, yesterday!

    "Are there other things I should be doing?"

    One of the best things you can do for your PD is to send them to meeting(s) in your field/subfield armed with a poster on their latest data. Ask them to boldly go up and interact with PIs and postdocs (who's PIs might be hiring). I have secured two offers doing this and when one gets to connect a face to a name and have an in-person conversation with that face, it makes a huge difference.

  • Luminiferous æther says:

    @TOD - *an" early career researcher.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @jmz4: Staff is a good idea. I have resisted that mostly because though I have had good techs, I haven't had any tech who is nearly as productive as most trainees. I don't blame them for this. Techs are doing a job. But science needs to be a passion.

    Maybe an intermediary is trainees who do NOT want an academic career. Maybe I should cultivate friendships in industry and get the same sorts of great connections there that I have in academia, so that I can train people more for that, and help them get good jobs that don't require the same stupid hoop jumping that academia is currently fond of.

    And yes, jmz4, you're right on target with regard to seeking postdocs. Hardly any jobs get filled via advertisements. In my experience, PIs send emails to their buddies asking whether they know anyone who would be interested. There really is an effort to help each other's trainees out whenever possible, and ensure that good people move through their career easily. It really is all about connections. It's important for grad students to get out to meetings and communicate with people in the field and get known. Sometimes when it seems like a PI is being a jerk making the trainee do all the contacting, it's really helping them get out there. I also get emails regularly (once a week or so) from people looking for postdocs. I don't consider those cold contacts bad form at all. Sometimes even if I don't have money I try to help figure out how to get funding for them.

  • The Other Dave says:

    If it helps anyone feel better, Hitler also had postdoc woes...

    (If you understand German just turn off the sound for these videos).

  • drugmonkey says:

    I agree with jmz4, TOD. Do it with permanent staff that can also afford to ignore the JIF chase.

  • drugmonkey says:

    "Science needs to be a passion".

    Mmmhmmmm. You want it both ways. You want people working desperately on the rat race of competitive science careers and yet you want to remove yourself from it. I am not sure I see how this adds up.

  • The Other Dave says:

    Yep, DM, I know. That's what makes it hard and why I'm asking for advice.

  • MoBio says:


    "Hardly any jobs get filled via advertisements."

    Yes and no.

    I've found some amazingly talented folks via ads (typically I use the free webposting services) and since the ones I use are free nothing is lost posting there.

    For reasons not entirely clear to me some awesome post-doc applicants get no/minimal mentoring on 'how to find a postdoc' and go to the ads first.

  • Established PI says:

    @TOD, DM - Hiring really good permanent staff is easier said than done, although that might be changing now that there is serious talk about investing more in staff scientist positions. Still, high-paid techs and staff scientists will remain a luxury for senior well-funded PIs unless the NIH starts getting serious about funding this or if institutions step up to the plate and underwrite these positions for new hires. I have a very long-term (15 + yrs) tech and am in the process of appointing a postdoc as a research associate (non-TT faculty position) but have no illusions that this is a luxury that not many can afford. It's not just the money - most labs can't offer the stability needed to attract really good staff scientists and techs. If you can do it, great, but this is not a solution accessible to most.

    Regarding high IF pubs, I find it hard to be too high and mighty about this when it comes to postdocs. Grad students can do fine with solid papers but glamour pubs are life-changing for PDs on the job market. Sad but true. Maybe Mike Eisen's PDs can get jobs with PLoS One papers but few others can pull that off.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @MoBio: Just because some jobs are filled via ads doesn't mean that the vast majority are not. According to a recent Nature story, there are over 60,000 postdoctoral appointees in the U.S. How many postdoc job ads have you seen lately? Thousands every month? I didn't think so. The vast majority of those postdocs got their jobs some other way.

  • Dave says:

    @L Kiswa: As someone constantly skirting around the edge of a pharma move, I would say that it is becoming very hard to simply apply for advertised position at the big firms and walk in. Networking is very important, and almost a requirement for the popular entry level scientist positions. So if Ze has any interest at all in this, she/he needs to make moves early. One thing you can try is to set up collaborations with industry and expose Ze to the people there. It might change Ze's mind about the industry as well.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @Established PI: Totally agreed with regard to the IF game and trainees. And with regard to techs. I am still liking the idea of trainees NOT interested in academia. If anything, it shows that they're smarter than most 😉

  • drugmonkey says:

    Another thing that gets in my way- lengthy lists of comments that need to be addressed. Sometimes it unjustifiably puts me off and then when I return later I'm thinking "Easy-peasy. Why didn't we just crank these out and get it resubmitted somewhere else the next week?".

    So I try to shorten the mourning process after a disappointing review as best I can.

  • MoBio says:


    I'm just giving you my experience--some of the best postdocs I've gotten have been via ads (free on-line type).

    And yes most get postdoc positions but the outliers are the ones that I was referring to.

  • The Other Dave says:

    @MoBio: I'm not disagreeing with you. I had a great postdoc via an ad.

    But that makes the advice to network even more important. If people are waiting to apply to ads, then they're missing most of the opportunities. And they're also putting themselves into competition with a lot of excellent applicants.

  • Salif says:

    I definitely struggle with the wandering attention to new, novel (more exciting) research ideas. One thing I've realized helps (and maybe is more inherent in being a PI than a grad student) is having others (peer level) involved in the project. That is, the more other grad students/UGs whose names are on the paper, the more social pressure kicks in to get me to "kick it over to submission". In the past, I'd only observed this effect. Now, I try to use it by getting my stuff intertwined with others' so that by working to make sure I hold up my end of the bargain, I'm getting my stuff done and out there. Sometimes this looks like an abstract submission with the project's lead UG as first author so I know that if I don't do my part, their work would be in vain. Again, this would intuitively become more inherent in a PI role, which I don't have yet.

  • Collheesi says:

    I'm off of the publication hamster wheel, since I work in industry now but Husband is in panic mode due to a major part of his first postdoc work being stuck in peer review purgatory. He wants to write a transitional grant but needs to get everything from previous lab out ASAP.

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