Early career researchers, however youthfull and lacking publication practice, are strongly motivated to shove their way through the academic publishing world—a world utter of frustrations, ups and downs, and more frequent disappointments than successes. Some of the frustrations these researchers encounter are infrequently addressed. Editors often write editorial chunks on how to get accepted or published, go after guidelines of the journal, or conduct decent research, all of which are very useful and informative topics. However, what early career researchers could indeed benefit from, for example, are tips on how to improve their manuscript after it has been rejected by a journal, especially in the case of desk rejections accompanied by the generic response of “not of interest to our readership.”
I have attempted to learn about the issues that lead to rejection, as they strongly affect researchers’ lives, but I couldn’t find too much guidance. People don’t talk about these things enough. For example, researchers in the West are vaguely aware about publication biases but don’t necessarily encounter many real-life cases.
For a junior in the field of publishing, getting published in a high-impact factor, prestigious journal is a desire come true! You spend a year or two conducting a investigate with grant funds; this includes procuring materials and equipment, conducting experiments, collecting and statistically analyzing the data, and of course writing the paper. So we’re talking 2-3 years to finish and write up a research investigate. Further, the regular challenges are compounded in a country like Jordan, where you are faced with added hardships. For example, research funding is scarce due to limited resources; academics are hard-pressed for time to conduct good quality research due to powerful instructing fountains; and in some cases, English as a 2nd language may be a barrier to voicing meaningful research ideas and drafting publication-ready manuscripts. Then comes getting the paper accepted in your target journal, which could take anywhere inbetween 1 and Two years. And this is when you very first get a taste of the world of academic publishing, a world that doesn’t seem to care how much time and effort you spent on your work; even if your research is good, your manuscript could lightly get rejected.
This brings me to a few frustrating issues that I and many of my colleagues have encountered but are not openly spoken about:
1. Racism in publications: I find that many good submissions get rejected just because the author hails from a developing country/region, such as the Middle East, or any region other than Europe (for European journals) or the US (for US journals). I and many dedicated researchers from my institute have experienced this. It’s frustrating to work indeed hard to get published and then end up getting rejected, only to find another inferior research paper getting accepted in that same journal, presumably because the authors are from the country the journal is published in or from the West. Or sometimes I see papers with errors (some major and some minor) get published, while it seems like my paper was scrutinized under a microscope to find anything that could be deemed an error.
Two. Preference for well-known figures as contributing authors: There are pioneers in every field, whose contributions are undoubtedly very valued. However, even if their contributions become outdated or repetitive (I say this from practice), any publication with their name on it means a prompt publication.
Trio. Selection of a reviewer who isn’t fairly well acquainted with the research topic: It is enormously upsetting when a reviewer gives comments that highlight his or her limited skill of the research subject (in addition to spelling mistakes while voicing his or her views), and worse still when the editor determines to reject the manuscript based on this reviewer’s decision, even tho’ the other reviewer recommends accepting the manuscript and has no major suggestions for improvement. This hardly makes any sense to me.
Four. Bias of the editor/or an editorial board member against the idea, methods, or materials used in the research: It is difficult to complain to anyone about a bias harbored by the editor or one of the board members because you usually come to know about it by word of mouth, or from this person’s coworkers. However this is upsetting, you indeed can’t do much about it, as this person has the power to simply reject your manuscript.
Five. Desk rejection without an explanation: This is the worst of all! Assuming that you’ve read the journal instructions cautiously and matched the journal scope, I find desk rejection justified only when the editor explains in detail the reasons behind the decision. However, most of the time (>95% in my opinion), the reject decision letter seems to be based on how the editor “feels” on that day, accompanied with a hidden tone of “how dare you think I will even read this from you!!!” I have many examples, in the form of emails that I have received, which demonstrate how unprofessional some editors are. They just copy and paste a template statement and reject your paper. I wish they would outline the reasons for rejection, give constructive suggestions on how to improve the manuscript, and suggest alternate journal names as far as possible.
These are some of the frustrations faced by early career researchers in Jordan. I wonder: Are these problems real, or are we just unlucky? And do researchers from western countries or the USA face similar problems? I’d love to know!