Saturday, November 21, 2015

Rejection Is the Name of the Game

Much discussion lately about how much rejection is in this academic game.  I had a conversation yesterday with a pal who was finding it much harder, it seemed, to get work published after tenure than before. "I thought I knew how to do this."

Folks have been calling for the true CVs of people--where rejections would be listed.  Not sure that is going to happen.  However, in this week where I received news of receiving a fellowship to supplement my sabbatical, I thought I would list many of the rejections of my work along the way (my spreadsheet for tracking my work is pretty good but incomplete, just like my training in the Force):*
*  I have already enumerated my many rejections in the academic job market.

  • Ties That Divide: As far as I can tell, it got no interest from four presses before Columbia decided it was worth of review and then of publication.
  • For Kin or Country: Cambridge sent it to a comparativist who wanted the book to be a Comparative book and not an IR one, so that killed us there.  
  • My first edited volume got rejected by a number of places before being published by and then buried by Routledge.
  • My Inconsistent Irredentism piece in Security Studies was originally an R&R and R&R at IS.
  • My most highly cited piece, on institutions and ethnic conflict, was rejected by APSR, AJPS, and JOP before landing at Comparative Political Studies.
  • The key piece out of the NATO book got shot down by IS and IO before getting into ISQ.  One of the IO reviewers didn't think we justified why the article should be in IO--which stands for International Organization--as it was about NATO ... which happens to be an IO.  That piece was flawed so it deserved to get shot down at that time but not for that reason. The piece did get much better by the time we submitted it to ISQ as we figured out the theory and could express it more clearly.
  • Speaking of ISQ pieces, my work with David Steinberg that used ethnic conflict data and economic freedom data got rejected by a couple of journals before ISQ accepted it.
  • Pie Crust Promises turned out to be not just easily made, but easily rejected with two rejections before being published by Foreign Policy Analysis.
  • I have a piece that I am currently revising after being desk rejected twice (which means the editors didn't think the article was suitable enough to be sent out for review).
Grants are another opportunity for rejection.
  •  US Institute of Peace didn't fund my effort to build a dyadic dataset, but the Carnegie Commission did after an R&R.
  • The NSF, Carnegie and Ford didn't fund data collection on elections to expand the institutions and ethnic conflict project.  Ultimately, I got funding from Canada's SSHRC.
  • Multiple applications to the FQRSC (Quebec's version of SSHRC) came to naught so I stopped trying.
  • SSHRC shot down both my Diaspora grant and my current project before accepting them the following year. 
I have only a few projects that rejection utterly stymied.  The aforementioned Carnegie Commission grant produced a few papers, only one of which was published.  I dropped that project after a reviewer indicated that I was plagiarizing Saideman, as I was trying to test my previous arguments with new data.  It boggled my mind given that there are folks who focus on one argument for much of their career but seem to have no problem getting their stuff published with slightly new information.  My institutions and ethnic conflict project was put on hold for about a decade due to challenges to the Minorities at Risk Dataset, but now that there has been NSF-funded efforts to fix that dataset, that project is alive again.

The key thing about academia is that rejection is inherent in the enterprise.  Yes, sometimes a press or journal accepted something of mine, usually after asking me to revise and resubmit (always with journals, once with a press), without me having to work through a number of outlets.  But much of the time, I do have to go from rejection to rejection, revising along the way, until the piece gets better and/or the outlet is less selective/has better reviewers.  If you want to publish or get grants, taking lumps is just part of it.

It may be harder now than before as decades of few jobs and many sharp people getting Phds means that more and more people are trying to get good work published.  Which means that reviewers can get pickier, and editors have to be more selective.  I would say that the book game is less unpleasant than the article game, but I have a friend or two who have found the book publishing process to be brutal.  Anyhow, the take home lesson is be kind as a reviewer (finished one review this morning) since perhaps there is some karma in this business.  Or not.

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