I hate it when the review process works

· by Brian Anderson · Read in about 3 min · (548 words) ·

The nature of tenure track faculty positions means that we are compensated for our teaching, but we are rewarded for our research. While I don’t buy much into the ‘publish or perish’ mindset, it is stressful knowing that my future career options are based, in no small part, on my ability to produce research that is published in top management and entrepreneurship journals.

So when a paper gets rejected, it hurts. It hurts because it takes so long and so much effort to produce a manuscript you feel is worthy of publication, or at least consideration. It hurts because you are counting on each publication for promotion and tenure. It hurts to go back to the ground floor on a project you have already invested so much intellectual capital in. It hurts because the editor and/or reviewers may not even be in your field and thus less able to judge the paper’s potential. It hurts because your best effort just wasn’t good enough.

What hurts even more is when you look at the reasons why the editor didn’t grant the R&R, and the reviewers didn’t recommend it, and realize, yep, they were (mostly) right.

Now, I’ve had rejections where you read the decision letter and you’re pretty sure that the editor is talking about someone else’s paper. There is a lot of error and variance in the review process, and as we become more specialized in our theoretical conversations, the variance is arguably getting worse.

But as an author, you know that going in. You know that you need to ‘sell’ the editor and the reviewers that your paper has something valuable to say. That your paper adds something to the conversation; even better, your paper enables scholars answer a question that they couldn’t answer before.

You think that you’ve sailed a foot over that bar when the paper gets submitted. Then the reviews come back and uniformly agree that, well, nope, you didn’t even reach the bar, let alone cross it.

Last week I had a paper that I’ve invested about three years in developing, collecting data, writing, and presenting rejected at a top journal. After being really irritated—and reading the reviews over again—and trying some self-reflection, I realized the reviewers and editor were right. It wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was. Now that I’m rewriting a lot of it, I like the “new” paper better, and I think others will as well. In this case, the review process is going to help me make this paper better, which makes it more useful and impactful. The review process worked the way it should in this case. Dammit.

Being an editor, I now see the flip-side of editorial decisions and considering the author’s effort and perspective. Nonetheless, I feel confident in the editorial decisions I have made—including the desk rejections, which can be painful—just like I feel confident that the editor and reviewers for my paper made the right call. My paper didn’t cross the bar, and that’s on me to make it better.

So here’s to a temporary setback, and to better news in the future. I like this paper a lot, and I think it can make a ding in the entrepreneurship conversation. I just have to convince others that I’m right :)