Perish the paper

On a day when I am feeling increasingly dismal about the publication prospects of my current project, my mood was not lightened with the arrival of the table of contents for the current issue of a very high impact journal (say, cell/nature/science). One of the papers was right up my research alley and the lead author is someone junior to me. Why is it that the other guy is getting a very high profile paper and I'm struggling to get results that will merit publication at all? I've got some suspicions, and I'm going to attempt to rank them from most charitable to least charitable.

  1. He's luckier than me. He got a project that worked. (I'd like to think this was the dominant reason, but I think the following points have an influence on luck.
  2. He dared to submit to C/N/S.
  3. He's got more resources to throw at the project than I do.
  4. He worked harder than me. Hard work begets rewards. (Sure would be nice if that were dependable.)
  5. His project has simply had more time devoted to it. Science like wine gets better with time. (Or not. My project seems to diminish with age.)
  6. His co-authors are bigger names than mine. They've published in C/N/S before.
  7. The reason he has big-name co-authors is that he had and used better connections than I did when we were at the grad school hunting stage of the game.
  8. He hasn't made choices that compromised balanced his professional aspirations against a spouse, and now a child.
  9. It makes no difference to him whether one of his co-authors doesn't like babies and maternity leave. It did to me.
  10. He's smarter than me. (But I don't believe that.)

But, hey, at least I've got one big advantage over him (for the moment). I'm already in a tenure-track position. Though with a C/N/S paper to his credit (and other pubs as well), I'm sure he won't be far behind.Scratch that. He's got one lined up...Any surprise that it's at a very prestigious place?

I know that his prestigious publication in no way harms me. It just makes me feel inadequate right now.

Damn. At least it's really cool work. Good for him.

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so because he is a guy, you think he has not concerns with 8 or 9? or is he single and therefore you know? As a grad student I had many concern with 8 and 9, since I was the father of two children at the time, and my spouse has several serious health problems.

I think you need to look no further than your last, implied reason, an unlisted number 11. He is not in a tenure track position, therefore he ONLY has to play with research and papers.

He's single.

And I thought about your number #11 but it seemed wrapped up in #5.

because of the wine analogy, I thought you meant age of research...on going from years, not time devoted currently.

yes, single scientists, male or female, have all the time (and money) in the world. I had a friend on the same stipend as me take a trip around the world, while I was scrimping to but milk with out going to much further in debt.

while there are days I would switch places, I am happy with the choices I made in life, esp. putting family first in most of my balancing equations.

"single scientists, male or female, have all the time (and money) in the world."

Um, hello, no we don't. We also have dependents, financial drains associated with them, and every other problem married parents have.

The problem of attaining a standard of one job = what one person with a full set of human responsibilities can do is big enough without adding divisive fictions into the mix.

ScienceWoman, from what I've seen, #6 has a lot to do with it.

#9 is absolutely horrifying.

I meant single non-parent. of course (as do DINKS-duel income no kids)

but then singles-no kids and dinks have there own set of problems, just never been one in adult life.

with regards to #8, and possibly #9 - whilst having to juggle family and paper writing is a good reason for the paper to take longer to produce, it is not a reason for you to produce a paper that is of lesser quality than those of your single colleagues.
Reasons #1 through #7 sound more likely - and less paranoid. Do not forget that that all the paper writing fathers who have had to satisfy the demands of family and work have managed to help fill journals for a very long time.

with regards to #8, and possibly #9 - whilst having to juggle family and paper writing is a good reason for the paper to take longer to produce, it is not a reason for you to produce a paper that is of lesser quality than those of your single colleagues.
Reasons #1 through #7 sound more likely - and less paranoid! Do not forget that all the paper writing fathers, who have had to satisfy the demands of family and work, have helped to fill journals for a very long time.

What about 11:
He designed his experiment to have interpretable results with broadly applicable implications.

4,5,8,and 9 should be testable simply by looking at his methods. Did he actually do more work, in terms of number of measurements, length of experiment, etc? Or did he just get more mileage out of a similar sized dataset?

Also is 12 a possibility (which we can't judge since we have no idea what paper/ field this is):
He is trying to produce high profile papers instead of doing good science.


Don't forget that, until recently, nearly 100% of the paper writing fathers have had wives dedicated to caring for the family while no more that 10% of the paper writing mothers have the same level of support. Besides that, there's more to the paper than writing it, and the juggling is going on all along. It is really hard to think deeply about Teh Science when trying to remember bottles, diapers, clean clothes etc. for daycare, pumping several times a day, and then going home to the nonstop need-machine that is your beloved child.

And I don't think that #9 is such a stretch either - when I was looking for a lab at the start of grad school, I had to rule out many high-profile PI's because there was no way I could work for them without ending up being charged with child neglect. Many big-name people run their labs (and I assume collaborations) in a way that is completely unworkable for those of us with family commitments. Luckily there are also those who manage to do high-profile, (and good) science while allowing room for real life, but if you have to pick from a smaller pool, it can put you at a disadvantage.

Oh, and I do think we should not underestimate the importance of #2. Does anybody know if there have ever been any studies done on the submission choices of different groups of PI's (male vs female, white vs non-white, etc). You don't get published in C/N/S if you don't submit...

I commented over at DrugMonkey/PhysioProf's, but the gist is: Don't beat yourself up. Not all great science ends up in C/N/S, and not everything in those journals is great science (double duh). Impact factors are based on how much a paper gets cited for two years only, while good science endures much longer. I'm also too quick to compare myself unfavorably to others, but as my hub reminds me, that's one of those negative voices women too frequently carry around.


I know where you are coming from, boy do I know. I spend time now and then wringing my hands over these exact issues. I, like you, have a tenure track position, kids (two of them even), and a science husband. The fact that we are still standing (you and I)- doing our jobs and doing them well (if albeit a bit more slowly) in the face of all of these factors, is more remarkable to me than any C/N/S paper.

I can hear the collective gasp, but I don't care- gasp all you want.

Really, if you have chosen your research area right, are asking the right questions, in the way to get the definitive answer, and are connected to the correct people- these things will come. We just have to do the very best we possibly can with the tools we have available at the moment- and stop worrying about how everyone else is doing...our circumstances are unique.

Thanks for your comments everyone. Before I respond, let me point you to Physioprof's post, where he offers his take. A few days removed from my initial surprise at seeing the paper in C/N/S, I would say that physioprof's #13 (trying to produce high-profile papers while doing good science) is probably a big factor, along with my #1 (getting lucky - the project produced some surprising results). I think that the senior co-authors (#6) probably had a lot of influence on the choice of project, the push for publication venue, etc. because they have careers built (partly) on such projects. But I don't think we should discount #s 7,8,9 as to why it's him and not me that happened to work with these people. When a prospective post-doc and prospective mother hears through the grapevine that a particular PI doesn't believe in maternity leave or reasonable length workdays, that can make a big difference in her choice of whether or not to pursue a post-doc with said PI. Instead, she may go for a "safer" project with a lesser name PI who has a history of being women- and family-friendly. For the single male, it's doubtful whether such information is even passed along the grapevine in the first place. I'm not faulting anybody for either him/me for choice of PI, (I'm certainly happy with how my life has turned out) but these "culture of science" vs. treatment of humans issues have ramifications all the way down the career path.

Question for drdrA regarding:

and a science husband. The fact that we are still standing (you and I)- doing our jobs and doing them well (if albeit a bit more slowly) in the face of all of these factors, is more remarkable to me than any C/N/S paper.<\blockquote>

Is it remarkable for science husband to still be standing?

You know I'm sick of this myth that high achieving males somehow "get it all" including getting to play daddy at home.

Male CEOs and "big shot" scientists have almost no connection to their kids. Their wife or baby sitter does the raising, the male has a very low profile.

Its the same thing for women "big shot" scientists--to get to that level you have to give up on being the primary caregiver of your kids, regardless of whether you are male or female.

The real difference is that the men dont really give a shit whether they see their kids or not--whereas women are deeply torn about it.

#2 and #6. no question.

The rest is just self-doubt. give yourself a break.

It's true that some projects are better suited to publication in C/N/S than others. And timing counts for a lot. So that could count as part of #1.

From what I can tell, two equally good projects can be end up at opposite ends of publication spectrum when the equation looks like this:

3 parts ambition + 1 part spin

The trick is to see it when
a) you've got something really good and
b) you know how to convince other people of that fact.

My observation has been that by the time we're all postdocs, on average my male peers have gotten a LOT more positive feedback and mentoring in that regard, so they do have that advantage (fits in with your #6 and #7).

And yeah, even DINKS have dependents. Sick parents, siblings with sick children, etc. So you never know.