I often joke about harsh reviewer feedback. Why, I even made some memes about it here, here and here! But the real reason I make fun of the process, is that it’s the only way I have found to deal with something I feel somewhat uncomfortable about… It’s not surprising really. When you think about it, we have been brought up to associate criticism with failure.
However criticism, in a research context, means improvement. It means better and cooler research, no matter how hard it might be to swallow certain reviewer comments.
One reason for feeling like a failure, is that when you read a published paper as an early career researcher, you assume that the paper must have been submitted in a near-perfect state and that it has not been submitted and rejected elsewhere beforehand. No one explains to you that the truth is otherwise… It was only when I started talking to more senior scientists who were willing to share their failures, that I realised that #rejectionistherule.
In fact, most papers are rejected and go through tons of revisions. People who have a lot of publications, just juggle a ton of revisions and rejections. This was an eye-opener for me and made me realise that anyone can publish good research as long as they work hard on corrections and have a novel research idea.
It’s important to remember that no one knows everything on a subject. Someone else will always have input on your work.Therefore some changes will ALWAYS be necessary.
This was in a sense a relief. It stopped me from feeling unnecessarily depressed about the fact that my research was not perfect.
However, there is a world of difference between being “not perfect”, and being plain “incorrect”. Now that is a much harder lesson to swallow! As much as I know that revisions will improve my paper, and that other people go through the same process, it still hurts like a band aid being pulled off a hairy arm!
Now I have no magic solution to get over this feeling. A bit of distance helps. I just try to take it as part of the game and start working on edits. I find that once I start actually working on the changes, and seeing them in writing, and realising how much better the manuscript is – I cannot help but get excited about my research again.
And actually, over time, I have become extremely thankful to all the reviewers who have taken the time to rip my research to shreds and to teach me how to rebuild my research. Writing constructive reviews is no small feat.