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Rejection is part of the process: Turning your dissertation into an academic paper

In the second instalment in our series of blogs about publishing your MSc thesis, Dr Anne-Marie Boylan spoke to Colm Andrews about his experience. Colm is a Clinical Research Analyst at Oxford Eye Hospital. His work spanned two disciplines, which meant he faced challenges in finding a home for his paper. He highlights the importance of persistence.

What challenges did you face in getting your thesis published?

My dissertation ‘Sleep–Wake Disturbance Related to Ocular Disease: A Systematic Review of Phase-Shifting Pharmaceutical Therapies’ had a few challenges to being published. As this is a reasonably new field of research it only found four relevant reviews, which may have put some journals off. It also falls somewhere between ophthalmology and circadian biology, which made it challenging to decide whether we should submit to ophthalmology or circadian journals. In the end, I submitted to four different journals before it was accepted by the fifth – Translational Vision Science & Technology.

What did you think about the reviewers’ feedback?

The level of feedback we got was very variable depending on the journal. For example, JAMA Ophthalmology explained that only 20% of manuscripts are eventually accepted but said that “The manuscript simply does not meet our current priorities for publication” and a short explanation that seems like a stock statement. Although it would be nice to get a greater level of detail in the reply this does speed up the process and meant I could resubmit elsewhere more quickly. However, despite concluding that ‘It is probably too early to attempt a systematic review of phase shifting therapies for ocular disease-related sleep disturbance’, Chronobiology International gave much more detailed feedback which really helped to shape the next submission.

How did you feel when your article was rejected?

Due to the overlap between ophthalmology and circadian biology when the article was rejected it was difficult not to feel worried that we would not be able to find a journal where it could have an impact. It’s never nice to have something that you are so heavily invested in rejected but it is important to remember the value of the work that you have produced and to be persistent.

What are the key things that helped when it came to getting your thesis published?

Having the support of my department and my dissertation supervisors really helped. When your article is rejected knowing that your co-authors believe in the project and recognise the importance of getting your findings out there is invaluable. Having to repeatedly edit your article to match different journal styles can be dispiriting but when you recognise the importance of getting your article published it can help keep you motivated.

How did you feel when your article was accepted?

It was a great feeling when the article was accepted. A mixture of pride in the work I have produced and relief that it has finally found a home. It felt like a moment that I should take time to celebrate.

What would you say to other students who are preparing their thesis for publication?

I would say prepare yourself for the possibility that your article may initially be rejected. Keep in mind that this is part of the process and not a sign of failure. Be proud of what you have achieved and remember to keep on trying until you find the right journal for your article.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Keep in mind that reviewer’s comments are suggestions. If you feel that they have misunderstood something then don’t be afraid to say so. As long as you can justify your point it is important that you feel confident in challenging the reviewer’s comments.

Read Colm’s publication in Translational Vision Science & Technology