The seven-year scientific manuscript

by Janice Nigro

My colleagues and I just submitted a scientific paper we have been working on for seven years. Seven years.

It’s hard for me to admit that. Maybe I shouldn’t admit it.

A lot can happen in seven years. Babies have been born, and people spread around the western world like they were all running from something: Germany, Croatia, Norway, Luxembourg and the USA.

You might be thinking she is suffering from an extreme case of academic brainwash (it’s my calling to do this) or a simple lack of motivation. I assure you, it was neither. I had high hopes for this project, but the hammer came down on it more than once, and in ways I would never have predicted.

Enough said.

Still, we did what I feel was the impossible. And I ask myself how exactly did we manage to get it done finally.

Stay in touch.

It’s a relationship. It doesn’t require nurturing so to speak, but the main ingredient is respect like in any other. A project might not be your priority, but it only takes a couple of minutes or seconds really to acknowledge receipt of materials or that you will think about something and get back to the group.

It’s so easy to communicate today and yet, it’s so easy not to communicate. “Ghosting” as it’s called in the urban dictionary, is what I would call it. Your colleagues deserve to know your position on the project, even if it’s to say you’re no longer interested.

Simple.

Do your part.

Collaborations are difficult already. Especially international ones which are highly desired by funding agencies as another way to evaluate the level of value of your project by your peers.

I would say at times in this project, my role was just to get the right reagents to people when they requested them. It was especially tough because I had moved from an academic environment to a non-academic environment in another country on another continent. My job then was to ask others to complete tasks I could not do myself.

I leaned heavily on my colleagues, but a couple of them I was especially grateful for. They would complete each task I asked of them without hesitation. These are the kind of people I want to work with. And that’s the kind of person I want to be.

A project is not just about what’s in it for you.

Not all projects garner fame or high impact for you personally. Things can’t possibly work out that way for all projects. Sometimes it just doesn’t turn out to be anything great even though the original premise was met with much enthusiasm. Sometimes the project is designed for a student or postdoc to fulfill some requirement to move on in their career.

Maybe they are not high on your list of contacts, but for them, it means everything to have a paper. Thus, take it on as your responsibility in whatever position to help them and not hinder them from achieving this goal. Don’t be the one to drop the ball. Everyone is busy.

Be flexible.

Seven years is a long time to stick with a single idea. I still have one goal I would love to achieve, but considering so much time has passed, it’s probably not going to happen. The paper that resulted from our original agreement wasn’t exactly what I had imagined. Still, it’s a well-performed and well-presented piece of work that I learned some science from.

The results won’t make or break anything in the field, but I accepted the progress and the direction it was going, as valid as my original concept.

Maybe it was better.

Flexibility goes also for changing motivations and positions, professional and otherwise. Life happens. Accept that people have families and other goals they want to accomplish.

You can’t predict the future impact of the results.

Even if the work doesn’t seem important now, it could be one day.

Once I was on a paper where we made an unexpected, but difficult to globally validate observation with the technology available at the time. It was my job to complete the work. Years later, the process was in effect rediscovered, providing insight into one of the most basic processes taking place in just about all eukaryotic cells.

In the end, I earned the spot of senior author on the paper. The truth is, the paper probably would have been completed without me. But still sometimes, it’s the little things that get the job done.

The review process, well, let’s hope that it doesn’t take quite as long. But for now, it’s time to celebrate a little bit.

©Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, PLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.

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