Cover Story

Lisa Flores, PhD, still remembers the sting of rejection she felt while reading the editorial comments she received after submitting her doctoral dissertation for publication in a psychology journal.

When the reviews came from the journal's editor, she was crushed by what she thought was a complete rejection of her work.

"I was so disappointed, something I'd worked on for so long for two years was literally ripped apart by the reviewers," said Flores, an associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

She questioned whether she was cut out for a career in academe and was so disheartened by the tone of the comments, she held off calling her research collaborator until the next day.

She was stunned by her colleague's response: She was enthusiastic, describing the editor's comments as positive. What Flores hadn't caught in her first reading of the editor's letter was an offer to reconsider the work upon revision.

Two resubmissions later, the journal accepted the manuscript for publication. And Flores, who earned her doctorate in 1999 and has had 17 peer-reviewed journal publications since then, now serves as editor of the Journal of Career Development. Speaking at APA's 2006 Annual Convention at a session hosted by APAGS on the challenges of dealing with rejection from editors, Flores cited that experience as she urged psychology graduate students to think about a rejected manuscript as an invitation to grow as a researcher and a writer.

Along with fellow speakers Chris Blazina, PhD,of Tennessee State University, and Rory Remer, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, Flores emphasized that even the most seasoned researchers' manu-scripts are frequently not accepted the first time they submit them.

"Be persistent. Don't give up. Persistence is one of the most important qualities that prolific researchers have," Flores said.


TURN REJECTED INTO ACCEPTED

To help students get published, she suggested they:

  • Know the journal. Read the journal editor's statement, and make sure your manuscript's topic is relevant to the editor's vision for the type of studies he or she wants to publish.

  • Develop a back-up plan. If your first journal pick won't accept a manuscript after revision, have a second and third journal picked out.

  • Proofread. Be sure your manuscript adheres to APA guidelines, look for grammar and spelling errors, and have a faculty member review it and make suggestions. Before you submit, make sure you include the most recent citations in the literature on your topic.

  • Volunteer. To learn more about the editing process and research, serve as a student ad hoc reviewer for a journal in your field, and collaborate with other students and faculty on research projects.


GET MAD, THEN GET WORKING

"Don't expect acceptance." That's the basic principle that Remer has learned throughout his 35-year career teaching educational and counseling psychology.

Remer has authored or co-authored 55 papers and served as assistant editor for Personnel and Guidance Journal and as an editorial board member for the Bulletin of Educational Psychology and the Journal of Counseling and Development.

Despite that experience, he still feels let down when he submits a manuscript and gets a letter calling for revisions. But then the grief he feels gives way to anger, then a kind of bargaining where he figures out how to move forward and resubmit the work, he said.

"The anger is, 'How the hell can they say that to me? I know what I'm talking about,'" he said. As the anger fades, Remer starts to think about what he needs to change: "Well, what was good about what I did, and what was not so good?"

For all the studies he's had published, Remer said he's only had work published twice without an initial call for revisions, both times for articles that weren't research papers.

So, when you receive that letter, don't delay from starting revisions, Flores advised, because it's important to revise while your ideas and research findings are still fresh in your mind.


USE YOUR SKILLS

Students facing a rejection letter can also tap their psychology training, Blazina noted. Students should disconnect their emotions when responding to comments about their work, he noted, and instead simply analyze what they need to change.

Blazina also recommended that students:

  • Sort through what needs to be addressed. Sit down with your co-author or a colleague you trust and work line by line through the editor's notes to understand what's being explicitly and implicitly said about your paper's strengths and weaknesses.

  • Submit a cover letter with the revised manuscript. Go point by point, page by page, detailing how you have addressed the points made by the reviewers.

  • Think of research as a developmental process. Even the best researchers are continually learning new aspects of their craft, and rejection letters can help a student understand where they excel and where they need to improve.

"What you learn from rejection letters is what's your research identity, what are the things you do well, and what do you do not so well, and you shouldn't lose hope about that," he said.

“Be persistent. Don’t give up. Persistence is one of the most important qualities that prolific researchers have.”

Lisa Flores
University of Missouri–Columbia