Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Life of a Political Scientist

Darren just called me, all excited about some news. His article "Democratization of Some Country in Relation to Criminal Courts in the Somewhere of Something as Relating to Previous Democratizations of Something of Somewhere" was accepted into International Organizations, a very hard-t0-get-into political science academic journal. It is considered a "top tier" journal, as ranked by other political scientists, one that he has been striving to publish in for many, many years.

He hasn't sounded that excited since he saw his peas poking through the ground last April. He informs me we will seriously celebrate. He said something about"uncorking the champagne" so to speak. How does one do this if one doesn't drink? We'll see what he has in mind.

Publishing, as I am learning, is brutal test in exhibiting abnormal patience. In political science, first you spend months thinking of an idea and then running that idea by your colleagues who may shoot it down in five minutes. If they think it has merit, or if they think it doesn't, you begin the process of collecting data and researching. Most often you have the help of an RA (research assistant) but sometimes not, if you've blown your research budget on other things like fancy computer software or Turkish baths at your latest conference in Turkey, the one on "Defining International Democratization as it Relates to Blah, Blah of Blah Blah, and How that Theory is Instrumental in Shaping the Blah, Blah or Blah Blah."

Then you painstakingly sift through all the data, and form your conclusions, all while wishing your were back in the Turkish bath where your true creativity can flow. Then you write. Depending on your pace, sometimes this takes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years. Along the way your colleagues critique your work and offer constructive suggestions that you may or may not consider.

Then you submit your work to a journal. Then you wait, perhaps up to six months or more. Then you get a letter saying, "revise and submit" accrording to the reviewer's comments. Some reviewers are kind and constructive of your work. Others are downright mean and nasty, and make suggestions as if they were undergoing some sort of physical torture at the exact moment when they were reading your article. After sinking into despair for a few days because your ego is not shot to hell and needs serious plumping, you decide what to do. Are you willing to do as the reviewers suggest and get in the coveted journal, or does what they suggest compromise the integrity of your work? This you must decide.

If you decide you want to be in that journal no matter what, you get down to the business of rewriting, a process that can also take weeks, months or years. If it is a co-authored article, you must discuss with your co-author how this is to be done. On occasion there is a disagreement between the two of you as to how to proceed, you spend another month working that out. Then you begin reworking. And hope your colleague does too, and doesn't decide to have a mid-life crisis, leaving you with the bulk of the project. When he calls you from the beach in Hawaii to discuss his lack of progress, you start to wish you'd never started.

At times, when you have the best idea yet, the one that will solidify your work, your wife calls to tell you the refrigerator is leaking and you HAVE TO COME HOME RIGHT NOW!!!! She is yelling into the phone. You feel your precious thought struggling to stay alive. You quickly jot it down so you don't forget and go home to face the fridge. The next day the idea is there but why you liked that idea and why it fits so well into your work is gone, and you begin cussing modern applicances and all their shoddy workmanship that has ruined your career. Your colleagues console you. They are kind because they are also in the middle of revising and resubmitting. Their hair is turning gray at an alarming pace.

If you can wade through these setbacks and get it done, you send the article off again. You wait months to hear back. This time they may like it and accept it "provisionally," meaning they will publish it IF you make the following changes that are listed on the next three pages. Again, you must decide if this compromises the integrity of your work. At this point you can't remember what was even original about your work. It feels dull and weighted down with facts and other people's demands.

Two months later you mail it back with all the "provisions" changed according to the three page list. Not only is your hair gray, but it is falling out. Six months later you hear back that it will be accepted, congratulations, by the way, and you'll see it in the Fall 2011 issue.

But, HEY, it's a "top tier" journal. I suppose there are sacrifices to make in every career. What I learn from this is that patience pays off . . . . . . . eventually. If you begin a project in Fall of 2005 you will taste the sweet fruit of your labors sometime in 2011.

Way to go, Darren!

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Congrats to Darren; Hopefully he's more excited about the article than the peas!