How to write a letter to the editor when submitting a manuscript for publication.

First of all, check the submission guidelines for the journal that you want to submit to. If there is any information regarding cover letters to editors for manuscript submission, this will overwrite everything I say here.

Second, disciplines vary widely in their conventions regarding cover letters and in some it is in fact considered bad taste to write one. If you don’t know what the standard in your field and there is no information on the journal page, ask senior colleagues or email the journal or editorial office if you should submit one or not. (Be ready to receive an arrogant reply because people are often ignorant of the fact that cultures and conventions can differ substantially but by no means take it personal.)

If there are no clear guidelines against a cover letter and you have not encountered horrified faces/email replies when asking around, just write it. Even if it is not obligatory, just do it. The goal of this letter is to make the editor’s job easier (remember these are overworked academics who do this as a side job) and this ultimately can have a positive effect on how and how fast your submission will be processed. Here are tips how I do it (template and mini-summary below):

Here  is my template for a cover letter. Feel free to use this alternative template (sorry I forgot where I got it from) or another template from one of these pages with more helpful tips:

https://thinkscience.co.jp/en/articles/writing-journal-cover-letters.html

https://wordvice.com/journal-submission-cover-letter/

What I need you to take home from this:

  • Know and communicate what article type you are submitting and make sure it fits ALL requirements in the guidelines for authors!!!!
  • be concise and professional, jokes are strictly prohibited (even if you are best friends with the editor!)
  • do not oversell your research
  • avoid jargon and name dropping
  • clearly communicate why your article should be published in this journal
  • make sure you include all legally required statements (Guide for authors!)

How to review a manuscript for a journal.

Good reviews are supportive, constructive, thoughtful and fair. They identify both strengths and weaknesses alike and offer concrete suggestions for improvement. Good reviewers acknowledge their own biases and knowledge limitations and justify their conclusions.

Bad reviews are superficial, petty, and arrogant. Bad reviewers are very opinionated but typically don’t justify their biases. Their reports focus on weaknesses only but don’t offer solutions or other form of helpful feedback.

In today’s session, I walked you through the review process and told you how I write review reports:

 

Here you can find a template for the review report.

Additional ressources:

https://authorservices.wiley.com/Reviewers/journal-reviewers/how-to-perform-a-peer-review/step-by-step-guide-to-reviewing-a-manuscript.html offers a detailed step by step guide.

https://editorresources.taylorandfrancisgroup.com/reviewers-guidelines-and-best-practice/ offer additional advice and concrete examples of how to express criticism diplomatically.

http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/09/how-review-paper features a lot of personal strategies and experiences which are often different from what I do.

Where I stole the summary from (almost word by word): https://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~rterry/NECTFL/How_to_Review_a_Journal_Article_NECTFL.pdf

How to deal with rejection & frustration

Being able to deal with rejection and frustration is a key academic skill. The earlier you learn it, the better. Whether you get roasted in a Q&A session, have to deal with constant cynical remarks from peers, get a series of papers or grant proposals rejected, or deal with the endless frustration of university bureaucracy and interpersonal conflicts – negativity lures around every corner. It’s time to pick your weapons.

With my friends Dr Molly Berenhaus and Dr Christina Bergmann, I chatted today about our strategies to deal with the everyday rejection and frustration in academia. In the session we talked about First Aid as well as Long Term Prevention strategies. You can rewatch the discussion here (most important take home messages below):

  1. Understand that this is part of your job. Your experience is not unique to you -everybody deals with the same shit. Promised.
  2. It is also rarely personal.
  3. Never, NEVER act in the heat of the moment. Buy yourself some time and try to keep the situation under control.
  4. No public rants about your failures, unfair treatment, or colleagues. There is a time and place for the much needed venting, but this is not on social media and not in public.
  5. Take it as a lesson to become better as a researcher, as a writer, as a reviewer, as a teacher or supervisor, as a colleague, as a recruiter.
  6. Try to localize the problem and be open to change.
  7. Internalize the constructive message, not the negative feedback.
  8. Reach out for help. Avoid getting isolated at all costs.
  9. Protect yourself from negativity by keeping a lot of work in the pipeline. Don’t put everything on one project.
  10. Celebrate each success.

Academic side hustles

Today, I talked about academic side hustles. You can rewatch the session here (mini summary below):

Most side hustles are helpful for networking, developing and communicating your skills, and can generate a side income. You should only invest in side hustles which will help you achieve your goals or are fun. Keep in mind that these are usually voluntary activities which should in the first place benefit you and your career.

If you are very early in your career, I suggest you focus on fewer things. Most helpful side hustles for pre-doc researchers are reviewing (you can ask your supervisor to help you get experience or volunteer for conference abstract review), teaching (don’t overdo that, it is very time and energy consuming), as well as volunteer and science communication services (public outreach, valorization).

If you are at least halfway through your PhD and have finished one project from start to publication, you can also think about doing a side project (one is enough for the beginning). This can be a research project unrelated to your thesis work, supervising an undergrad or master’s thesis, or a collaboration with people outside your lab.

Towards the end of your PhD or in your first postdoc, your focus should be on networking and communicating your skills in order to increase your visibility and establish yourself in the research community. Good side hustles for this career stage are (co-)editing special issues, organizing lecture series or a symposium, online tutorials, external collaborations (the latter two go well with research tool development).

Once you are a more experienced postdoc, you should figure out what your ideal career path is and what skill set you need. This should define which side hustles to pick above everything else. You want a managing position but don’t have much experience? Get some students or RAs and volunteer for some committee you find interesting. You want an internationally established research lab? Get external collaborations (maybe through editing a special issue?) and good students to do some exciting extra projects. You want the security of a tenure or teaching position? Apply for a guest lectureship or volunteer to take over a course. You want to explore your market value outside academia? Time to get your website shiny and communicate your skills (maybe via a blog or online tutorials). You can also consider starting to freelance and rent out your skills to companies on the side (e.g. consulting, data analysis and data visualization, editorial services, research tool development (hardware and software)).

Not for everyone are admin and committee services. You should only volunteer for these if you want to learn about institute politics and management. Same goes for non-obligatory teaching.  If you don’t care about teaching, don’t want to learn it, and rather change career paths than doing it regularly, just don’t. Teaching is often treated as a central post of every academic position and it is not. If you would rather quit academia and do private sector research than teaching undergrads, don’t waste your time on this. Rather make sure that you do things which help you get around teaching in the future (e.g. research grants, industry interface research). Another thing which is only great if you enjoy it, is having a blog or online tutorial series (or a very active twitter account). If you don’t think this would be something for you, stick to a clean personal website and keep the rest of your online presence clear.

Actually making money on the side can be done by offering editorial services, teaching, consulting (e.g. a friend of mine is external adviser for a gaming company who value the input from a psychologist/neuroscientist), analyzing data or data visualization. Keep in mind that making money with this requires that you already have the skill set or are able to develop it fast. These can also be great opportunities to set a foot outside of academia and explore your market value.

How to juggle multiple projects

In the first Academic Crisis Line session, I talked about tips and tools which help organizing your work time efficiently so that you can manage multiple projects without getting overwhelmed. You can rewatch the video here:

Here is a mini summary:

  1. Day to day business (microlevel managing)
    • Tools: timetable, calendars, planners, spreadsheets, post its, Google Tasks, Trello,…
    • Make a week overview with all the regular events to see which blocks of time you have available to work on your projects. Don’t forget to insert private events to see which evening you can realistically work longer and which not.
    • Your week will now be chunked up into smaller and bigger time windows. Try to get two entire days of uninterrupted work without meetings, lecture series or other obligations (1 full + 2 half days will do, too). These are the days on which you can work on more challenging or demanding tasks or for writing, developing new ideas etc. Protect these days! This is where you get the important work done!
    • Use all the smaller chunks for smaller tasks which can be divided into small units easily like admin, emails, meetings with students.
    • Don’t waste your time. Do things when they are fresh and you are on top of things (e.g. write up your analysis and results during or after analyzing). When you have to go back to things weeks after you did them it costs you much more time to do it.
    • Review your progress weekly and reassess tasks and important next steps. Make a plan for the coming weeks!
    • Avoid micromanaging! It feels productive, but don’t let it fool you. Organizing should save you time, not eat it up!
    • Procrastinate efficiently: Ask yourself why you are procrastinating (Overwhelmed? Waiting for feedback? Unclear were to start? Too much of the same type of work for too long?). Take immediate action to find a solution (Ask for a meeting with adviser. Look for help online. Send the email.). If your problem cannot be solved immediately (Yay Google! Someone had exactly this problem and wrote about it!), leave this problem for now and work on something else. Most importantly: Don’t allow yourself to get stuck!
  2. Organizing multiple projects over months (and years)
    • Tools: progress charts, calendars, spreadsheets, OSF, Trello,… (whatever you do, stay consistent!).
    • Be clear about your role and workload in each of your projects. Plan realistically how much work it will be (plan buffer and downtime!!!) and when work intense periods will occur (e.g. data acquisition, deadlines for conferences).
    • Avoid having too many projects in the same progress stage. Ask yourself which tasks can go in parallel and which not. Plan some downtime after each step in a project to allow yourself to reflect about it before moving forward. In addition, plan some buffer time for certain phases in the projects where things can go wrong (e.g. data acquisition taking longer than expected, technical hiccups, etc…).
    • Take a few minutes to write up new ideas and store them in a central location for when you have time o start a new project.
    • Regularly rethink priorities and project progress (what are the consequences if a task does not finish on time) and adapt your plan if something changes. Even with the best planning, things can go wrong and you have to be flexible in finding a solution.
    • Accept that you cannot every variable which can influence project progress and that you won’t be able to give 100% at all times. Talk about it with people involved in the project and try to redefine priorities and find solutions.
  3. Don’t loose track of your big plan (macro managing to achieve your career goals)
    • Tools: 5 year plan, 10 year plan, annual goals
    • Take sometime at least once per year (Christmas break?) to reflect upon where you are in your career, where you want to be, and how you can achieve this.
    • Write down what you want to achieve this year (publish this paper, submit these other two, apply for this grant, learn a new analysis technique) and keep this list visible. This will help you decide on priorities.
    • Make time in your schedule once in a while to learn new things, keep up with the literature, reflect on research lines and brainstorm new ideas.

If you have questions, please send them to me or comment underneath. I will answer but want to keep all in one place.

UPDATE: I now upgraded my project planning to a digital online based method allowing direct collaboration. Have a look: Upgrade to digital project planning. A follow up on ‘how to juggle multiple projects’.