Slow and steady… gets published eventually?

Lately, I feel like I’ve been talking about fracking nonstop. I’ve been researching fracking as a public health scientist since January 2018, but in this transitional time for me—graduation looming, the job search ever continuing—it seems that the last two and a half years of fracking research are all flashing by one last (?) time. In job interviews, I frequently find myself pontificating about fracking, sometimes formalized in slide decks. Then there’s my undergraduate honors thesis, which I just defended this morning in front of a faculty committee, where I describe my newest evidence that fracking activity may increase hospitalization rates in local communities.

So there’s a good chance I was speaking about fracking during an interview yesterday when an email popped into my inbox, declaring that my first paper—on fracking, of course—was finally published. (Even better, it’s open access, meaning you can read it without fancy university credentials; that privilege only cost our research fund $5000.) It mostly follows from the realization that fracking companies need not disclose the chemicals they inject into the earth to stimulate greater oil production. My co-authors and I investigated a prominent effort to improve public disclosure of said chemicals, but we concluded that it ultimately fails.

The funny thing is that the work described in the paper is mostly stuff I did two years ago or more. The paper itself was then written, rejected, reworked, rejected, entirely rewritten, rejected, reformatted, rejected, revised, then ultimately accepted. It went through five different journals, the last one requiring three rounds of back-and-forth peer review. Along the way there were such frustrations as:

  • having to redo all the analyses because the submission & revision process had outlasted an entire year of new data (for a while, I was afraid I’d have to do this a second time)
  • duking it out with adamant reviewers who had unbridgeable differences with us about our methodology
  • completely forgetting why I’d done some small detail in a particular manner, despite my best efforts to keep good notes (this one’s a real head-banger!)

The process was so slow and excruciating that, by the final few steps, it was the part of my job I dreaded the most. There I was, having to dredge up two-year-old code, data, and thought processes, just to satisfy some reviewer’s particular inquiry. Now that the paper’s out I do feel some pride, but even that feels rather muted because it’s no longer super relevant to my current research. By the time there was any light on this paper’s publication horizon, I had long since moved on to far more interesting projects. I wonder when will those be published?

I suppose it’s the old 80/20 rule – final delivery is the hardest part! But academia is a particularly slow-paced environment. That’s its great value: researchers should be able to afford a careful, focused, methodical approach with thoughtful feedback cycles, away from the pressures and influences of the corporate world. But to a college senior eager to launch a career, it all just feels so tortoiselike sometimes!

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