I have all the time in the world…

…to publish in an academic journal.


I’m so thankful to the #FemEdTech community making this call to Journal Editors and Editorial Boards to support women in publishing at this time. This was in response to the observation that there is a drop in submissions from women contributing to academic journals at the time of the COVID-19 crisis, and that women…

“Take on more of the emotional labour of caring and pastoral support, labour that is rarely acknowledged or rewarded in the same way as research outputs and publications“.

My observation from recent experience is that the academic publishing could do an awful lot to help everyone by making the process more accessible and efficient. My main message is – submitting to journals is a horrendous experience. (Oh. I’m not in academia by the way, but I need to publish as part of my job). I can’t imagine the pressure that female academics and those with caring responsibilities must be feeling right now trying to home work pandemic work.

Assumed level of experience and technical support

I’m not part of a university of big research centre. I have no support to understand open access, how to navigate publishing systems and how to overcome the many technical hurdles. I’m slightly staggered at the stressfulness of the process, and assumed luxury of time and that technical support must be available to everyone.

Why no standard procedure?

Why isn’t there standard guidance for authors? I can understand Publishers wanting to maintain their own identities but why on earth when you’ve gone to the trouble of producing and openly sharing 4 sets of data, does one Publisher wish the open datasets to be listed at the end and the other wishes to include them as references? I couldn’t get that to work through my reference manager and spent time having to reformat 110 references. (Estimated 4 hours).

Why no standard citations and referencing?

It is just ludicrous that each Publisher has its own preferences and conventions. Why do I have to understand instructions on how to go into Mendeley and code a change of a round bracket into a square one? I couldn’t believe the time it took to go in and do extra coding, looking for the YouTube tutorials, and then finally succeeding. Then reference manager citations and reference lists always have to be double or triple checked. Numbered reference systems are prone to mistakes as you aren’t able to easily visualise what reference should go where. Recoding, reformatting and rechecking reference lists endless times? I always appreciated why students found referencing so stressful. (Estimated 3 hours).

Rapid article turn around or “I cannot be arsed reading your abstract’?

I submitted a meta-review (which is the type of research you do where several systematic reviews exist on a subject) to two journals. This research has taken me and colleagues nearly two years. It is extensive. Detailed. Precise. Four datasets. Two Editors just responded with the identical comment “why didn’t you do a systematic review?” My answer should have been “why didn’t you read my cover letter and abstract explaining why that is inappropriate and why we did the research in the first place?” I’m quite perturbed as to why separate journals made the same feedback, both failing to have read the rationale for the article or covering letter. Is there a central database of contaminated and unwanted articles?

And cover letters. Why?

This was a new thing for me entirely. Even the guidance for writing the covering letter is quite an extensive list of points to consider. Is there some cryptic clue that you need to include? I remember a bunch of us writing our PhDs would include a rude word in the middle of the dissertation just to show examiners didn’t read that thoroughly. And they didn’t. Placing basic information in the letter is clearly not getting through. I concluded these were a complete waste of time. (Estimated time 1 hour per submission).

And the submission process.

Admittedly on submitting to one journal I must have been exhausted at the end of a long Friday and the kindly Editor wrote back with 7 things I had missed – including uploading Figures, re-arranging the order of authors, placing the declarations before the acknowledgements, including my shoe size, and including an additionally signed checklist buried within the lists of instructions. And then the joy of creating an account. I can fully understand the need to create an account to submit to the online system. But for Elsevier this took ages and after trying two use two of my email addresses, I ended up setting up a completely new email address in order to create an account so that my Elsevier account could connect with EVISE. Why? (Estimated time 2 hours).

And recommending reviewers?

I can’t quite get my head around this one. I simply listed people I knew. This can’t make for a robust process surely? Clearly people who are part of large research teams can ask for reviewers from other large research teams. Probably an area where male researchers are quite advantaged from having access to stronger networks. The fact that you are required to submit reviewers shows how overburdened the system is I guess. (Scurrying round the internet for emails and addresses, 30 minutes).

So back to the #FemEdTech request:

An article first published at FemEdTech highlights that women, people of colour, early career researchers, precarious employees, and those on lower pay grades are routinely required to carry an invisible burden of emotional labour in providing care and support for students and colleagues”.

This is such an important point at this time, but I might, add at all times. Might this be the time for some permanent changes? Women always have to over-prove themselves to compete for opportunities and promotions?

  • Of professors, 26% were female in 2017/18. This has increased by one percentage point year on year since 2013/14.
  • Academic staff employed on other senior academic contracts comprised 36% females in 2017/18. This has gradually increased from 33% in 2013/14. (Hesa.ac.uk).

Females also tend to be part-time and presumably juggling many different personal and professional activities.

  • Female staff accounted for 48% of full-time staff and 67% of part-time staff in 2017/18. (Hesa.ac.uk).

Females are less likely to be reinforced by the presence of each other in publishing communities.

  • Females Are First Authors, Sole Authors, and Reviewers of Entomology Publications Significantly Less Often Than Males. (Academic.oup.com).

We end up being told that our lack of success equates to a lack of confidence, forgetting this is reinforced at an early age by teachers who support boy’s and penalise girl’s behaviour. At secondary school my headteacher used to call me ‘granite faced’ because I kept a stern face and tried not to cry – if I was a boy I”d probably have been called strong and resilient:

“Unsurprisingly girls in general get ‘progressively more silent in class and experience an associated drop in self-esteem’ ”

From Caroline Criado-Perez “Do It Like A Woman”  quoting The Equality Illusion by Kat Banyar in 2003, p261

As we try and resolve one level of inequalitywe create more. This is a travesty.

There is a management phrase – “don’t be a busy fool”. The publishing industry and the entire academic structure assumes people have all the time in the world. We surely should all be able to contribute and be part of a system that freely exchanges knowledge for the betterment of human kind. And our careers shouldn’t depend on it.

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