All the manuscripts that still need to be written

Sep 25 2014 Published by under Academia, industry, new job, publishing papers

How many manuscripts do you think lay somewhere on a shelf - half-written and abandoned by people who have no time anymore* to write them because they have left academia? How much data goes to waste because it will never appear in a manuscript after people leave?

I want to get these papers published** but at the moment I have no clue when to get that done.

*Yeah, it's weird but outside of academia people are busy too.

**Yes, we can argue about how much I need to do this, but right now I am still under the impression that it is useful enough to sacrifice free time for this.

17 responses so far

  • Bioenergeticist says:

    Yes! I just got 1 of 2 papers obviously left over from my postdoc published 15 months after leaving academia. I'm really hoping the second doesn't take another 15 months! And yes they're totally useful. You never know when someone will read that paper and make the connection to the fact that you're a "real" scientist...despite the fact that you've *always* been a real scientist...

  • drugmonkey says:

    If it isn't published, you never did it. So of course it is important to you to publish it. Write that sucker up!

  • drugmonkey says:

    and btw, "you want" and "you need"....what about your co-authors and the institutions that paid for this work? Do you have any responsibility to them to produce a paper?

    • babyattachmode says:

      Good question and I honestly don't know the answer. Manuscript 1 is from my post-doc and since my PI left academia and this is mostly my work there is not a lot of pull from my co-authors there. But it was funded by NIH so I guess I have some responsibility there. But that is an interesting question in itself: do I have to do unpaid work now because I got paid by them earlier?

      • drugmonkey says:

        Or are you finishing the work you were already paid to do, but didn't finish?

      • Reader says:

        You don't have to do unpaid work now because you were paid by them earlier. If they wanted you to publish the work, they should have paid you for the time required to both do the research *and* publish it.

        You may choose to write up the results, but I wouldn't advise you to base that decision on a misplaced sense of 'owing' them something...

  • Whoosh says:

    If I'd leave academia today I'd leave about 5 papers in various stages on the shelf. It would be hard to still get them published if I'd have to do this in my free time - but otherwise it would be a waste of all the work that already went into them and, yes, the taxpayer money.

  • Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    It's only "unpaid work" now because *you* made the decision to walk away from it when you were getting paid to do it.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Not entirely. My post-doc lab in the US closed its doors and I made the decision to continue to do experiments until the last day. And I can imagine that in the current funding situation this happens more often: that labs close without all the data being written up.

  • ecologist says:

    In my (long) experience, no funding agency ever provides enough support to write all the papers that come from the data accumulated by the experiments carried out to explore the ideas that got the project funded. In particular, they NEVER provide funding for a duration that takes into account the time required to get a successful paper from submission to acceptance. The idea that one would have papers to write, but no funding to write them only because "you made the decision to walk away from it when you were getting paid to do it" just doesn't hold up.

    That said, everyone I know uses time from project N to continue writing papers from projects N-1, N-2, etc. That's a strategy that can't work forever, and doesn't work at all if the scientist involved no longer has a project N, because of leaving academia or any number of other reasons. The solution is not obvious (to me, anyway). I know of one case in which a retiring scientist with lots of data from a long research program approached a much younger person in the same field and said, basically, "look at all this data ... want to work on analyzing it with me?" The result was some good publications that would probably never have happened without the involvement of the new guy. That's probably not a generally workable solution, though.

  • drugmonkey says:

    But iBAM has just related her decision to keep collecting data right up to the last minute instead of working on papers. The notion that it is just the timeline of publication is nonsense. There are plenty of people who decide, just like iBAM, not to prioritize finishing writing up papers as the clock runs out on a given job or grant or fellowship.

  • chall says:

    I am of the opinion that you should write it up. Obviously it's harder if your PI left academia as well and it makes a particular delicate process if the reviewers argue for making more experiment. Good luck! and maybe someone else is still in academia with lab space in case they want something corrected/extra experiments?!

    However, I would say that part of this problem would be that you collect data up until you leave and not try and write - as in the post doc leaving my job earlier this fall. He left without writing it up and his PI is now trying to finish the paper. I lobbied for them talking through it before leaving since the PI really needs the paper for their tenure.... not my level to decide.

    ah well, some things never change. I wrote up three papers after leaving my grad school - during my unemployment time. it's never fair or easy.

  • qaz says:

    Of course you should write it up. You should write it up because it is an important scientific contribution that you as an academic scientist (whose career is dependent on making science) want/need to get out.

    My rule on papers is two-fold.

    1. Nothing exists until it is published.

    2. If I need it published (for my career, contributions, etc), then I should work on it.

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