Five academic behaviors I try to unlearn

This week I have been quite busy in the academic writing landscape, having worked on a series of collaborations in various stages of writing. One was an old collaboration that is now pretty much ready to submit (final polishing editing). Another one was a last-author manuscript that was led by a PhD student that I co-supervise (final checks and submission). A particularly fun one was an early draft introduction of a first manuscript co-led by two other PhD students under my supervision (rough editing for flow and storyline, shaving words). Then there were three manuscripts I handled as an editor for two different journals. And last but not least, I was revising my own manuscript that has been gathering dust after a long round of critical feedback from many coauthors (taking some punches).

Reviewers comments, coauthor feedback, editorial feedback, and of course, the feedback given by me. I think this week I have seen it all.

It’s been an interesting ride actually, with many lessons learned. As I told one PhD researcher earlier today, I learn most from the fuck-ups from other people. My strategy forward is to avoid things that annoy me (and adopt admirable stuff, that’s for another post maybe). My reasoning is that if something or someone annoys me, this probably annoys many others, so best to steer clear of these behaviors (or sometimes also the people).

So for today, here’s five things reviewers, editors, collaborators, or coauthors regularly do that make me want to punch my screen:

1 – Forgetting to point out things you appreciate and why. I cannot say this often enough. We all are learning continuously in the writing journey. Hearing that certain parts, sentences, or thought processes were appreciated can make the difference between a shit experience and a good one. Be nice!

2 Enough with the exclamation marks!!!! You are more likely to convince the other party that your arguments make sense with appropriate use of exclamation marks. Using more doesn’t make your feedback correct, or more important. The exception is when you want to tell someone a certain aspect of their work is awesome. In that case you can use all the exclamation marks you want.

3 – You’re human, it’s okay to be wrong. This is true for the writer, the reviewer, and the editor. I think nothing is as admirable as one’s ability to say: I didn’t know that – I stand corrected. Especially in academia, the process is often one of finding the optimal description, through dialogue. On the other hand, few things are uglier than someone who’s not willing to change their ideas, even if presented with logic and evidence. Allow yourself to be corrected.

4 – Being unreasonable in demands. This is a common thing especially during the review process in academic journals, but I’ve also seen it from collaborators. You can always measure more, do more, hypothesize more. Realize that not everyone has the same privilege, army of helpers, financial resources, or time to meet all your demands. It’s easy to suggest how you can measure more. A good reviewer stands out by suggesting how things that are given can be used in a better-fitting way. In collaborations, this could (should!) come with potential offers to help. Producing a paper should be a team endeavor.

5 – Providing zero references to your claims. I’ve seen too much of it. People that claim all kinds of crap, but cannot provide a reference to support it. It’s hard enough to build an argument in a paper. It’s even harder if you come in with unfunded claims to truth. You’re probably right, but without references you’re just wrong.

These five things I’ve seen too often, even just this week. I try not to be that guy. I might slip up, too, but just tell me, and I will stand corrected, and hopefully will be better next time.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

5 thoughts on “Five academic behaviors I try to unlearn

  1. I published three papers based on my master’s thesis work, and luckily the reviewers for all three were very reasonable. That probably has at least something to do with the methodology; autoethnography gets so personal that I think it inspires people to be nicer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting. Admittedly, I had to look up autoethnography. I suppose in this method, the writer’s reflection on the experience is kind of the point, isn’t it? In that sense, reviewers may find it hard – or perhaps pointless? – to argue with the writer. Seems like an interesting process, which I will read some more on today :).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, can’t really argue with personal experience. There were some suggestions around theoretical bits they thought I should have incorporated, and questions about ethics and anonymity. I had gotten ethics approval from my school, but I hadn’t gotten consent from the people included in the stories I was telling. It was a very interesting process. I was doing my masters in psych nursing and had never taken a sociology course in my life. I happened to stumble across autoethnography and thought ooh, I want to do that! It was fun.

        Liked by 1 person

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