Vexing Issues for New PIs: Picking Corresponding Author, Potential Reviewers, Blacklisting and Other Angst
Yay! You’ve finished your first substantive paper from your group as a solo PI, and you’re ready to submit. It’s easy to move from being excited to being anxious really quickly without a mentor over your shoulder as you upload your work. Fear not. Fighty Squirrel has chalked up a few pubs and edited for journals here and there, so hopefully these protips on Corresponding Authors, Reviewers and Blacklisting will help you land your publication.
First, go with a really good journal. Seriously, you’re probably underselling yourself and the only way to find out is to give it the old college try. Let ‘er rip. Have a run at it. Shoot the works!
Now that you’ve stepped up your game, let’s take on your uploading angst problems from easiest to the most challenging.
Corresponding Author: For data papers, this should be you now that you’re the PI. Even if your grad student or post doc does the leg work of uploading the manuscript and is first author, you’re the Corresponding Author. You need collaborators, funding agencies and future trainees to be clear that this is your lab’s work and know who to look for when they are reaching out to work with you. While this is pretty much true for all submissions, if a trainee has a review paper that reflects their vision of the field more so than mine, I often encourage them to be Corresponding Author.
Blacklisting: This sounds a lot more dreadful than it is. It should be reserved for people who are incapable of being honest or impartial about your work. My go-to example from my fellowship is a paper I published in 2001. My boss was excited, gave a talk on the paper we had coming out, and his old boss told him he loved the ideas. Turns out he loved them so much, he proceeded to republish our paper (with 5 overlapping figures! 😡) in a higher impact journal. So that crew is on my blacklist pretty much whenever I submit. Also, no Christmas cards for them.
We all know these sour pickles. The good(ish) news is that they aren’t just being dreadful to you; they are doing it to others. Journals keep their own blacklisting and ‘on probation’ lists for those who behave poorly, and they are hawkishly watching for bad reviewers. Not just mean spirited ones, but also those who are too lenient for the journal’s standards. Even if one horrible reviewer gets through with off-point and onerous suggestions, your editor is there to help you parse out positive comments and things that will help your work. Ideally, conflict between reviewers should be resolved before you get your reviews back, with editor’s gathering a consensus when possible and pulling in third reviewers as needed.
Recommended Reviewers: Some folks are pretty hard core on this issue, claiming that “if you don’t know who the movers and shakers are in your field, you have some soul-searching to do.” I have no soul to search (I surrendered it to the Dean when I got my lab), and also admit I absolutely worried about how open minded reviewers would be, particularly when I was a younger PI.
- Look through Table of Contents of the journal you want to publish in and search back issues on your topic for solid ideas of who that journal regards highly enough to publish and, more than likely, review for them.
- Go through your own references as a source of folks with like-minded interests.
- Look at your study section roster as people who have been vetted (at least somewhat) for fair feedback relevant to your field of interest.
- Know that the editors have your back and they weed out bad reviewers even if you select them. There are quality metrics journals collect all the time in order to curate a database of fair, fast and smart reviewers. While most journals appreciate your suggestions, your input isn’t going to make or break the process.
- Review for the journals you want to publish in. You’ll get a very good sense of their standards and ingratiate yourself to some hard working editors.
- Think that smart people are always good reviewers. Writing good reviews takes practice and you may think someone is fabulous, but the editors know otherwise. Have faith in their decisions.
- Under no circumstances should you recommend anyone at your university review your work (conflict of interest)
- Submit the names of folks you have published with previously. Some journals have a ‘if you haven’t published together in five years’ model, but I just don’t put down former coauthors.
Parting Pearls: Having your work reviewed is an excellent time to hear critical outside thoughts. It is not for the faint of heart, and can be particularly tough if you take it personally (don’t). Take a deep breath and know that staying in a safety zone of like-minded individuals isn’t going to help you in the long term. You absolutely want your harshest critics to give you fair feedback early and often.
Good luck and please share any protips you have below.