Monday, January 30, 2012

[1246] a few tips from a journal intern

I did some time as an intern at a scholarly journal. It was eye-opening.

"'Accept?' What the hell is this
I haven't been in this whole academic world long (well, aside from the first 22 years of my life, I guess), but it doesn't take much time at all to realize that getting published is a necessary evil--emphasis on the evil. The process of submitting to a journal is frustrating, disheartening, and ultimately unavoidable for most. The much sought-after "conditional accept" is nearly mythological; I mean, who even gets those amongst the sea of "revise & resubmits" and "rejects?" Let me actually go ahead and answer that for you: Next to no one. Trust me, I know. I'm the girl entering those decisions into the database, and the appearance of an "accept" totally throws off my autopilot.

I don't tell you this to dissuade you from submitting or to make it seem hopeless. If anything, this should make you feel a little better. When you open up your email and see that bright, shining rejection letter, know that you are in the company of hundreds of other super smart and talented academics from top schools and institutions all over the world.

There are some things I learned during my internship, though, that might be helpful for those trying to close that gap between reject and R&R.  And that also just might make you feel a little less crazy. While trying to get published can be daunting, it can also be a great learning experience and a fantastic opportunity to get feedback from your academic peers. So here we go....

Academic Journal: Headquartered
where signs like this are not only
necessary, but hotly contested.
First off, the process is long. You're going to need to come to terms with that. If the journal website gives you a timeline for how long it'll take, that's probably a minimum. It's going to take longer. A journal is not Vanity Fair. If you're imagining a big ol' staff of people working 'round the clock in some bustling, New York high rise, you are sadly mistaken. If you were imagining a cramped office with the thermostat perpetually cranked to 90 and a few overworked and overheated staffers doing their darndest to make sure the massive influx of submissions are processed each day, go ahead and collect your $200. On top of the staff shortage, journals rely on external readers who may not be super punctual in returning the critiqued manuscripts. On that note, if you are asked to read a manuscript for a journal, know that a lot of thought was put into asking you and everyone's relying on hearing back. You hold the fate of the author in your hands, and if you don't send it back, you've put the person in publication limbo.

When it comes to submitting a paper, don't just throw buzzwords against the wall and see what sticks. One of the head honchos of the journal lamented the volume of submissions we receive that feature a certain set of hip and happening key words, but that lack any useful contribution to the dialogue. We can probably all name five things off the tops of our heads that EVERYONE'S talking about in our respective disciplines right now. It can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon, thinking you're on the fast track to publication if you can get in on that action. You're not. You're quite likely to become another disappointing bit of white noise that leaves everyone with that feeling like when you take a sip of what you think is going to be ice cold lemonade and discover it's actually lukewarm Mountain Dew.

Your point should be significant, but you don't have to come up with something that completely blows all other research out of the water. To paraphrase something a board member said recently, you don't have to be the first word or the last word; you just need to engage the conversation. Let me reiterate, though: Your point should be significant. It doesn't have to foment revolution or change the trajectory of all future studies, but it should also be more than just a cool story. It's that white noise thing again. I've watched whole editorial board get super excited about the subjects of papers, only to then have to reject them because, while they were fun to read, they didn't add anything to a larger conversation.

Make sure you know what you're talking about. If you claim to be the first person to ever talk about transnationalism, intersectionality, and the Jumbaco, there'd better not be an entire anthology of Jumbaco studies readily available on Project Muse. And if that anthology does exist, wouldn't it be a fantastic idea to see if you can dialogue with some of the current scholars? The journal is going to send your paper out to readers who are experts on your specific topic. If you can connect with someone who's already established in your field, that person can probably tell you whether you are the next shining star of your discipline, or you're the next Stephenie Meyer. I'm a big advocate of showing any kind of paper or proposal to as many people as are willing to read it. And as one of my profs recently pointed out, most academics have been in exactly your position and consider it paying it forward to be able to help you out. You might not be able to get the top scholar in the discipline to critique your work, but you can probably get your grad advisor to do it. There's really no excuse for yours being the only eyes to have seen your work before it lands in the journal's inbox. And when your profs, friends, conference audience, or whoever else gives you suggestions, you should really take them into consideration.

If you get a revise and resubmit, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, REVISE AND RESUBMIT!! And do it soon! Most of the people who submit don't get that opportunity, and when you do, it's a sign that, not only did some external readers think your paper had merit, but then the powers-that-be at the journal discussed it, too, and determined that they'd really like to publish your work with the proper tweaking. They've got a ton on their plates as it is. They don't ask you to R&R just to screw with you. Giving you an R&R means that they are willing to take time out of their days to read your paper AGAIN after you've heeded their suggestions. That's right. These extremely busy, established scholars have signed on to read your work twice with the distinct hope that it will be publishable. Take a moment to soak that in. That's kind of awesome, right? Yes, you might still be rejected after going through the R&R process, but now you've been rejected with a ton of feedback that could help you get published elsewhere or write something that might be a better fit for the original journal. You know what they're looking for. Use it.

And now a note about getting rejected...

I see no possible way that this could be harmful
to my reputation with my peers...
It sucks. I know. And you might feel indignant. You might think your paper is the best thing to happen to Jumbaco studies since the inception of the discipline (about three paragraphs ago). Surely, those shortsighted hacks at the journal will rue the day they turned away your masterpiece. That's fine, but you REALLY shouldn't tell them so. Even in a passive aggressive way. I've seen everything from the I-wouldn't-want-to-be-published-in-your-bleeping-rag-anyway missives to the I'm-sorry-you-couldn't-see-the-timeliness-and-significance-of-this-groundbreaking-research digs. At the end of the day, the journal's readership is not suffering due to the absence of your submission, and you've just sent off a really cranky email to a fairly influential group of your peers. Who now know your name. So next time you're about to have a kneejerk reaction to the cruelty of rejection, maybe back away from the Gmail for a bit, go look at some lolcats, and try to keep in mind that your poorly chosen words in the heat of the moment may be the reason your academic idol cringes when s/he sees your name in a conference program.

Note: Opinions expressed in this blog are, as always, purely my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the unnamed journal for which I was once an office jockey. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

[1239] twitter is for conversations

If I hear someone say ONE MORE TIME that Twitter is dumb because "no one wants to know what you had for breakfast," I may have to break somebody. (Cue clever commenter who insists on repeating this immediately after reading. Har dee har har.)

I have been on Twitter since December of 2008, and I'm sure on occasion I have had a breakfast so stellar that I've felt the need to tweet about it. This is not the norm. Twitter is for conversations.

LJ friends since 2001.
Clearly middle-aged men
who live in their mothers'
When I follow someone on Twitter, implicit in the act is that I feel like I'd totally hang out with that person. I don't plan on passively skimming his/her updates as something to do to pass the time between my own 140-character bursts of brilliance. I plan on responding, interacting. I follow because we study the same things, have mutual friends, watch the same TV shows, have similar senses of humor. These were the same reasons I picked Livejournal friends back in the day, or frequented the Switchfoot boards and Flicker Records forums. I wasn't looking for neat little avatars to add to a harem of fans that made me look popular. I was looking for friends. And I found them. In the past several months, I've hung out with no less than four friends I've known for nearly a decade over various forms of social networking. Y'know, back when everyone who talked to a teenage girl online was supposedly some sort of predator in disguise.

On Twitter, like I once did on Livejournal, I come to know people's stories. I know the names and personalities of their significant others and their kids. I know the anxieties and the victories of their job hunts and Ph.D. applications. I know their favorite bands, their political views, their passions, and their idiosyncrasies. There comes a point at which I stop referring to people as "Twitter friends" and just start calling them "friends," although it always feels like I'm hiding something to do so. In 2012, it's silly to still feel embarrassed about knowing people from the internet. Especially since, dammit, we have some amazing conversations!

Yesterday, a quip I made about Joe Paterno turned into a fantastic dialogue about Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, and separating the art from the artist. You can read the conversation for yourself right here in this pretty little Storify story I made out of it. This is NOT out of the ordinary! These kinds of talks happen all the time! If you choose the people you follow wisely, you'll get a lot out of it.

lolz. weatherz dumb.
im goin on twitter.
Now don't get me wrong: Sometimes mundane details about life add to the dialogue of Twitter. They help us get to know each other. Not every conversation we have with friends IRL carries immense gravity or importance either. Michelle and I have been known to begin our conversations with the phrase, "I like my face today." In the very rare instance that we have something actually worthwhile to say, we preface it with "OMW," meaning "Oscar Mayer Weiner," meaning something that's really not worth explaining, but isn't as full of innuendo as it sounds. My point is that our conversations are usually so unimportant that we actually make an elaborate distinction when we DO have something of note to say. So if someone happens to Tweet something like, "Waiting in line at the DMV, ugh," or "Eating a pancake. #omnomnom," or "SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS!" this does not discredit Twitter as a medium anymore than it discredits face-to-face interactions to mention the weather.

"For our sake, you guys." 
You don't have to like Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or whatever other social networking site I happen to enjoy. But when I tell you I like it, for the love of Peter, Paul, and Mary, please refrain from telling me it's stupid because of some unfounded reason you came up with when you logged in this one time and didn't immediately get it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

[1232] letters

I have become completely obsessed with letters. Formal, witty, intelligently written letters.

You see, it started with a box sent to me by my dad's best friend Weezie. I receive packages from her sporadically, filled with little things that belonged to Dadoo--photos, newspaper clippings, books, etc. One of the more interesting packages contained a section of this genealogy book that my Aunt Irene compiled a while back. As a sidenote, before I get to the letters, I discovered while thumbing through this genealogy book that a good portion of my family is from NORTHERN Ireland. I mean, they came to America quite a while before the Anglo-Irish Treaty, but still. It's like my love for Norn Iron was in my blood. And here I thought all our blood had in it was alcoholism.

But back to the letters.

"I ain't even mad." 
In the loose pages packed into the box from Weezie, there was a series of letters from my grandpa to various relatives, mostly his sister Joan. And they were funny. Articulate. Full of cutting jabs in elegant and refined prose. My family's love language is mockery, and I marvel at how effectively my grandfather employed it. In one exchange, he writes, "After the cracks you made in the letter, I wouldn't count on any more revelations. That little piece of blasphemy ranks with the choices bits of Voltaire + Bocaccio." (Man, would I ever like to know what blasphemy was in her letter.) Later, he tells Joan, "If you're passing through Pennsylvania anytime before I get a chance to, you might do one of your special rock-and-window jobs on Carlisle Barracks -- the stinkers haven't forwarded any mail yet and I know there was some to be forwarded. I'll give them another 2 days + then I'm joining the Japs." I hope you'll pardon the language. It was 1944 and Grandpa was obviously in the military.

In one of my favorite digs, Grandpa all but calls his sister a drunken hussy: "Have you sobered up yet -- you seem to be making the rounds, from the Biltmore Bar to the Old Brew house... Such frivolity in a med student -- tsk, tsk! Of course, as Ogden Nash says -- 'Home is Heaven and orgies are vile -- but you need an orgy, once in a while.'" And in a bit of snark that sounds like something I might say to my own sister, he writes, "How are the exams coming? You must have been awfully worried to consider, even momentarily, studying."

"Go kill yourself."
- H.L. Mencken, the original troll
One of my favorite blogs is Letters of Note, which posts letters to and/or from famous people, often in the period before they gained any form of notoriety. This makes for good reading, as the letters are often painfully discouraging and incredibly myopic--if only in retrospect--on the part of the senders. A recent posting contained a letter from H.L Mencken to aspiring magazine editor William Saroyan in 1936. Mencken writes: I note what you say about your aspiration to edit a magazine. I am sending you by this mail a six-chambered revolver. Load it and fire every one into your head. You will thank me after you get to hell and learn from other editors there how dreadful their job was on earth." 

I want to write letters like this. And receive letters like this. I mean, the other day I actually used the phrase "fo sho" in an email to a professor. And to another professor, I wrote an email with the subject line, "Ostrich love. Guh." WTF, mate? Surely I can do better than this. I'm a Vaughan, dammit! A proud yet self-effacing Vaughan with the excessively extensive vocabulary and penchant for harassment trademark of our clan. So who wants a pen pal? 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

[1217] i resolve

Girl power and what-not.
Another fantastic New Year's Eve party behind us. Between the fantastic new friends I made (Nate, Erin, Will) and the old friends I hadn't seen in for-eh-ver (Mo, Tremper), it was one for the record books. Plus, everyone's '90s costumes were amazical. Calling it a big time win.

No one could top Nate &
Will's Just Dance
I don't think I've made a New Year's resolution since 7th grade or so. I resolved to stop biting my nails, and it actually worked for nearly a year. But then they'd get long and I just felt like it was easier to bite 'em off than to cut 'em, so that habit's been back in full force for a while now. This year I've decided to give resolving another shot, albeit in a slightly different way.

Instead of making one sweeping resolution that I'm supposed to actually remember and take into account throughout the whole year, I'm going to attempt monthly resolutions--things I probably should be doing anyway.

So here's month one, and let's hope that I can remember to keep doing this. Happy 2012!


To Read:
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
The Lost World by Michael Crichton
A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

To Do:
Submit to 3 calls for papers
Thesis proposal
Spend more time at Back Bay
Buy some Gotye tunes

Doesn't his voice just make you want to cry?