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In scientific publishing, failure is also an option

In scientific publishing, failure is also an option

Yesterday I received the confirmation that my manuscript for the Dutch journal Limosa will be sent to the editor for the final touches. Four years ago, I tried to publish a similar paper in the same journal, but it got rejected (and rightfully so!). Looking through my old mails, I discovered many more rejections. Most people only see the published papers and don’t know about the several rejections and revisions leading up to the final publication. So, I will give you an overview of my rejected manuscripts during my PhD. My published papers are highlighted (in bold):

  • Patterns of hybridization in geese (Wildfowl, 2013)
  • The generic concept in ornithology: Monophyly and introgressive hybridization as criteria (Ibis, 2013)
  • A generic classification of Anatidae (ducks, geese and swans) based on monophyly and introgressive hybridization (The Auk, 2013)
  • Hybrid geese in the Netherlands (Limosa, 2013)
  • Hybridization to distinguish between natural and anthropogenic hybridization between goose species (Ardea, 2013)
  • A generic classification of Anatidae (ducks, geese and swans) based on monophyly and introgressive hybridization (Journal of Ornithology, 2013)
  • Hybridization in birds: an update (Science, 2015)
  • The Avian Hybrids Project: gathering the scientific literature on avian hybridization (Ibis, 2015)
  • A Modern Synthesis of Avian Hybrids Zones and Patterns of Introgression (Biological Reviews, 2016)
  • Hybridization in Geese: A Review (Frontiers in Zoology, 2016)
  • A Tree of Geese: A Phylogenomic Perspective on the Evolutionary History of True Geese (Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 2016)
  • A Modern Synthesis of Avian Hybrids Zones and Patterns of Introgression (BMC Biology, 2016)
  • Birds in a Bush: Towards an Avian Phylogenetic Network (The Auk, 2016)
  • A Modern Synthesis of Avian Hybrids Zones and Patterns of Introgression (Journal of Avian Biology, 2016)
  • A History of Hybrids: Genomic Patterns of Introgression in the True Geese (Evolution, 2016 – cascaded down to Ecology and Evolution)
  • A History of Hybrids? Genomic Patterns of Introgression in the True Geese (BMC Evolutionary Biology, 2017)
  • Avian Introgression in the Genomic Era (Avian Research, 2017)

 As you can see, I suffered many rejections before publishing my first paper in Ibis. All my publishing attempts in 2013 – with a manuscript on the use of hybridization in taxonomy – can be seen as a wild goose chase. The idea was interesting but not feasible (I now realize). However, my fruitless attempts introduced me to the peer-review system of publishing and helped me improve my scientific writing skills.

In 2016, I published several papers in quick succession. There was, however, one big manuscript that kept haunting me. A long review on avian hybrid zones and introgressive hybridization was rejected three times (Biological Reviews, BMC Biology and Journal of Avian Biology). The rejections were mainly due to the summarizing nature of this manuscript. The reviewers wanted to see more future directions. So, this year, I decided to shorten the paper and focus on the use of genomic tools. This manuscript – Avian Introgression in the Genomic Era – was published recently in Avian Research.

A lesson in pragmatism
This overview of failures nicely illustrates that scientific publishing is not easy, but that you can learn how to increase your chances of getting a paper accepted. As Winston Churchill said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

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Image credit: Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth)

Dr. Jente Ottenburghs (@Jente_O) is a postdoc at Uppsala University, Sweden. This story was published on December 28, 2017, on Dr. Ottenburghs’ blog, (available here) and has been republished here with his permission.

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