I am writing you from Stockholm airport, where I am waiting my flight to Prague. The last three weeks I was in Linköping University working on our smartphone-based pesticide method. The results are promising and in the near future, hopefully, you will see them published.
Today, I would like to provide you an insight on writing and publishing scientific papers. The motivation behind this is a FoodSmartphone paper (UCT Prague leaded this effort, 5 different research groups contributed) that was recently accepted in Trends in Analytical chemistry (unfortunately, is not online yet ). Although I have already published other studies (you can find a complete list of my work here, https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=mqOrQSUAAAAJ&hl=en&oi=ao), this was the first time coordinating a paper with multiple contributors, as well as my first FoodSmartphone paper as the first author. But why publishing is such a big deal ?
Taking as an example our latest paper, it is common various sides to contribute in a paper. This is a challenging task since you need to collaborate with various people (having different scientific backgrounds), synchronise their input and finally edit the paper to create a homogenous and coherent version. Once this first “solid” version is ready, the “drafting” period is about to start, meaning that co-authors revise/propose/(dis)agree with the content. This is a dynamic process which practically can last forever :P. That’s why deadlines are necessary to deal with numerous comments and finalise a ready-to-submit version.
Up next, it’s the “peer-review process”. So, once a paper is submitted, an editor receives it, “scans” it fast to verify that it’s within the journal scope and finally forwards it to the so called “reviewers”. Reviewers are scientists with proven knowledge of the field that evaluate if the paper is novel/interesting/well-written/scientifically proper. This stage is the hardest part for various reasons, such as:
i. Reviewers are busy people and peer-reviewing is a voluntary process. Obviously, this process is usually slow. Sometimes you may wait for months and still not getting a response.
ii. While waiting you are feeling more and more stressed, having agony whether your work will be warmly anticipated. Putting down a scientific paper takes months in the lab, months in front of your screen to compose it and months to be evaluated. Nerve-racking situation…
iii. Reviewers can reject you. Who wants a failure? Despite failing and trying again, it’s the way to “glory”.
Hopefully, you got the highly-desired reviewers response. Then the “ping-pong game” begins. Potentially numerous back and forth mails between you and editor-reviewers to avoid any misunderstanding in the manuscript and/or typos. Staying in the positive side, the paper has been finally accepted initiating a new “era”, the “proofing”. Once again for people outside of the field, each journal features a specific style and template. Consequently, the accepted paper has to conform to these requirements. Setting a paper to each publishable version it’s a journal job and if you are wondering, this could be also a time-consuming procedure… So, more delays 😀
Overall, this is a general scheme of the publishing process. Although it’s complicated and stressful, it assures that the published paper is a clear input for the scientific community and, sometimes, has the potential of a commercial application. Most importantly, a published research can be exploited for future further improvement and this is how humanity rolls and improves so far. Last but not least, it’s a great asset for authors career and the only way to prove that you are an active scientist in your future trial for funding.
I hope to see you in the RAFA2019 conference, http://www.rafa2019.eu/, which will be held as always in Prague. On 7/11, the 1st European WORKSHOP on portable food analysis and citizen science will take and I will have the chance to give a lecture. I warmly invite you to attend and ask me about our project.