Saturday, February 17, 2007

Oh, irony.

I respond to rejections of papers and grants much as I do to the death of friends or family. I'm in shock at first, it takes a little while to sink in. Then I'm angry only briefly before I fall into absolute despair.

I wasn't always like this. I used to have a lot of fighter in me. But the fighter is tired. The fighter is like that little robot guy on the car commercial who fights too hard and blows a fuse.

So why is it that the day after a paper or grant gets rejected, I always get an email asking me to review someone else's paper or grant?

ALWAYS. The day AFTER. Seems to me that if it came earlier, I'd be compelled to spread good karma, with the vain hope that some of it would come back to me. I'd be flattered, even, because I haven't been asked to officially review very many things, so it's still kind of a novelty to be asked.

No, it comes the day AFTER. When I am feeling that I can't get past this setback, much less face the reality that if I choose to stay in this profession, I have nothing but a lifetime of more rejections ahead of me.

I know all too well that turning every rejection into an acceptance and funding is going to be a battle. And I'm feeling like the armless, legless knight in Monty Python. It's comical to even talk about trying.

These requests for reviews are always addressed to Dr. MsPhD, which I never get tired of seeing. They are sent to me because someone is finally, somewhere, following up on something I did before, which I thought nobody cared about.

And I love reviewing. I really do. I think it has to do with wanting my opinion to count for something. So I am happy to be a reviewer.

It's just the timing that makes no sense.

So I'm thinking geez, it's a stupid reason to stay in science, just to get to review stuff occasionally.

Then I wonder, if I went and started a turkey egg farm somewhere in middle America, would they still ask me to be a reviewer? Probably not, eh?

So it's really fucking with my head.

Is it a conspiracy? I'm picturing a huge database in the sky where they keep all the author information, and there is some little bald man in a suit, cackling as he assigns the paper/grant to me. The dialogue bubble above his head says:


Right now I am fighting, really hard, the burning desire to take my guitar and a styrofoam cup and go play on a steaming sidewalk grate. Jury is still out on whether I will continue to show up in lab, or make a really dramatic exit announcing why I quit. I keep fantasizing about this.

For a while I was thinking I would pretend not to mind this kind of setback. Just take it as a job and keep working, take my lumps as it were and keep going. I know I wrote in the past about hoping to become what I pretended to be. But lately it feels like a lot of work to keep up appearances.

Where was I with that bridge? Oh yeah, jumping off.


In other news, I am catching up on reading Augusten Burroughs. I read Sellevision a while back and found it amusing in a guilty fun kind of way. Yesterday, in an attempt to remember why I should not throw myself off a bridge, I read Magical Thinking.

To me magical thinking is the best explanation for this attitude of fake optimism everyone says one should have. You know what they say: Think positive, and good things will happen for you. Turns out that optimism of this degree is actually pathological!

For me, the best thing about Augusten Burroughs is his confessional, sarcastic style that typifies our generation. These are my peeps! I read his stuff, and I want to write books like that.

My next goal is to see Running with Scissors, although it's another case where I'm not sure if I should read the book +/- seeing the movie, and if both, then in which order. Perhaps it will convince me that, while potentially interesting to some, my life story, written as a series of short stories strung together, would not bring blockbuster sales.

Ahh, delusions of a career with a drop of grandeur. Where are you, fleeting hope and speck of inspiration?

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At 4:59 PM, Blogger ~profgrrrrl~ said...

Ooh. Sellevision. I liked it, too.

Argh re: the grant thing. Sounds frustrating.

At 5:08 AM, Blogger Am I a woman scientist? said...

Oh little robot, your anger is your power. Don't let it convert into powerless despair. Look at the criticisms you get, and remember the constructive ones. Those are the ones that will help you improve. Take the useless ones, write them on pieces of toilet paper, and wipe your ass with them.

Then, the next day, when you are asked to review something, do it. Your opinion counts. Before you send off the review you've written, read through it as if you were the one being reviewed. Would you want to wipe your ass with your comments? If so, rewrite the comments.

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Female Science Professor said...

I always get asked to review something within a day of sending off another review; I think that there is a vast conspiracy of editors, and they know exactly when you can no longer claim that you have too many pending reviews to take on another. It's great that you like to do them.

As for the paper/grant thing: resubmit resubmit resubmit. It's (usually) worth it, it really is.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

FSP, I know you're right. And sometime around 4 AM today, when I couldn't sleep, I suddenly got angry enough to think I could probably at least make myself go through the reviews again and start figuring out which comments I can address, and what I would do about them.

The suggestion to literally write the stupid comments on toilet paper had me laughing out loud.

At 6:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hang on in there. I'm in the middle of a > 6 month battle to get a paper into a big name journal. We've now managed to get to the stage where the referees totally disagree with each other as well, thereby spreading the angst around!! The whole thing got me down enormously at the start (since when we posted the paper on the preprint server we got awesome feedback), now I am trying to regard it as a playing a game with the referees. The bad cop referee is now getting tetchy and rude, however, which I am hoping are the first signs that he/she is crumbling...


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