Compared to my friends who have gone out of academia, into business and the corporate world, I am moving at a very slow pace. They run several projects a year and publish reports, I still haven’t published results from research that was run in November 2017. Yes, that is effectively two and a half years ago. Most projects in the private sector don’t take that long to run fully, let alone if we are only talking analysis and writing up.
Academia, unfortunately, just seems much slower than the private sector. Not only does it seem slower, it just is. And there are a few reasons for that. The most prominent ones being the setting up of the study and the publishing process.
Setting up a study
If you have ever had an idea, and wanted it to exist in reality, you know there is a massive difference between theory and practice. In theory things work, in practice they are more likely to fail. Testing an idea is much the same. What you will have to come up with is a plan of testing something. This plan has to be well thought out and pre-registered, that is, specifying every detail of the study, including the recruitment process (tools, sample size), the methodology (what, where, which stimuli and actions), exclusion criteria and the analysis to be carried out.
This may seem rather obvious/self-explanatory, but all these things will have to be mentioned and justified in the write-up as well, so there needs to be a lot of reasoning and intent behind each answer to these questions. This process takes a long time.
Conducting the study
Now your initial set of months is up. What will happen now is that the study will be published online, and data collection will happen, or the study will be done in the lab or the field. With online collection you just have to wait, with lab and field experiments you often have to be present when the experiment is running.
You will have signups for different timeslots, not all people will turn up, they just never do. So account for that too, and probably double your expected running time. Especially if the study has multiple sessions, meaning a participant would have to show up to three separate occasions, expect a massive drop-out rate. It will take much longer than anticipated.
Now, however long it has taken, it is complete! Now, the analysis. The speed of this process depends on a couple of things, starting with your own skill level. If you are good at coding, this will go a lot quicker than if you are not and need a lot of help.
The pre-registration can help a lot with this, as you have essentially specified what you were going to do before you even conducted the analysis. But this can backfire. Sometimes the data isn’t shaped the way you thought it would be, and the original analysis doesn’t work. You’ll have to come up with a new one: more delay.
The writing process, just like the analysis, depends mainly on skill level. Are you a good writer? And are you a fast writer? Make sure you have good examples you can copy from.
Some people write without a journal in mind, they have a general version of the entire paper. Then they select a journal, and a category of paper within that journal. They then adapt the paper to fit the criteria of that journal and its style. Others don’t have a general version, they select a journal, and then write around these criteria, they do not write beforehand.
Writing does not just happen when the study and analysis are done. Most of the literature tends to be reviewed before the study is even set up, where else do the idea and methodology come from? A lot of the paper can be written before the experiment stage.
One version of the paper is finished. Excellent! I would recommend you take a moment to appreciate how far you have come. Now the paper should be in the right shape to submit to a journal. Upload your documents, following the criteria, fill in all your details (and those of co-authors) and select your reviewers and editors, upload cover letter and submit. Now you wait.
Depending on your field of work there is going to be a waiting period to see whether editors and reviewers like your paper and deem it worthy of publishing. This process can take very long, and during it, there’s not much you can do about this specific project. If the paper gets accepted it will be (often) with edits, which will also require work and time. Most often, the paper will be rejected.
After rejection, what you do depends on the comments given to you by the reviewers. Some comments indicate that your research would benefit from having more experiments, increasing the robustness of the result. Others need a better analysis. Some are just not a good fit for that particular journal. In the latter case, you have to re-write parts of this paper to fit a different journal and go through the process again. You might even need to start again, conducting more experiments, or doing the analysis and write-up again.
This costs a lot of time. So far, the time passed between an idea, and actually getting it published has been a long time already. And this is normal in academia.
If you have experienced this long process and have tips for dealing with it, tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Merle van den Akker is a PhD student with the Behavioural Science Group at WBS, looking into the effect of contactless payments on how me manage our finances. She tweets at @MoneyMindMerle.