It’s hard to believe that Dormivigilia is going six years strong. Sure, I don’t post as often as I did in graduate school, but hopefully my readers haven’t given up total hope. From being selected as the official neuroblogger of the neuroendocrine and homeostatic section at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting five times in a row to having more than 10,000 viewed posts in the past year alone, I am honored. So thank y’all!

What I want to discuss now is advice for those struggling postdocs feeling the pressure to get that Science, Nature, or Cell paper. I’m with you. Since being on the job market, I thought that I was competitive with my sustained NIH funding and 10+ original research publications in respectable journals–broad and/or field-specific–but nope! Funding is tight and job search committees want you to have that “R”-equivalent grant coupled with an “S” “N” or “C” paper. Well, I’d like to think that the project that I have been working on since starting my postdoc and one that was already five years in the works is close to being an “SNC” paper. But to be totally sure, I contacted a colleague of mine in chronobiology who recently got a beautifully designed study published in Science without using any gee whiz techniques that most scientists seem to think is a priori for funding and high-impact publication nowadays. You’re wrong. Here is a paraphrased email exchange between myself and the last author. Basically, you have to be committed to getting an SNC paper on many levels. It’s not just about the science, but the writing and making it clearly understandable to a skeptic/curmudgeon (ie, reviewer) outside of your field.

“I spent a long time thinking about what I wanted to say, and then wrote the first draft in an hour.  The paper then went through about 10 full revisions with my collaborator.  We nitpicked over every word, period, comma, etc.  Long talks on the phone going over it together.  Sleepless nights, etc.  I sent it in, without any supplementary materials, and was shocked when they actually sent it out for review.  The important point there is that your cover letter really matters.  They rejected the paper.  One reviewer loved it, the other hated it.  The hater was rather angry that we didn’t have any electrophysiology or molecular biology.  Predictable.  Healso listed several things that he felt we should have done.  Those things were already in the paper, however.  I emailed the editor, pointed out the fact that he was not being responsible, and she said, too bad, go elsewhere.  I protested again, and she took the issue to her colleagues.  They offered to send it out for arbitration, which I didn’t know even existed outside of labor unions.  I was then invited to rewrite it and resubmit, i.e., start all over.  So, I incorporated the helpful comments and resubmitted.”

“Three single-spaced pages of comments came back from the arbitrator, and a single paragraph from a new reviewer, who thought it was fine as is.  The arbitrator clearly had no background in rhythms or learning and memory.  I spent 6 weeks 24/7 doing nothing but generating all of the data in the supplementary materials, writing it up, and calling ex-students to see if they could locate information that we usually don’t keep track of.  My cover letter in the reply was 15 single spaced pages with 25 references going back to the 1970’s.  I had to explain the history of SCN lesions, detailed discussions of statistics, and so on.  That letter and the supp materials went through at least 8 revisions each.  It was accepted 4 days after submission, at the end of a 5 month process.”
So yes the bottom line is that if you want to dream big, you have to be willing to put in the work and time.