A first for everything

I recently had a nerve-wracking experience, my very first manuscript was finally ready to be submitted to a journal but when it came time to press the “submit” button, I froze. I had been working on this manuscript since my honours year in 2015, it has been 4 years, there have been countless drafts, my co-authors (my supervisors) were happy with it and they were ready to let it go. I think I reread the final draft 87 times, checking if I had dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s, I found myself making excuses to not submit, it wasn’t ready (after 4 years it really REALLY was though!), I wasn’t ready and, frankly, I was TERRIFIED. This would be my introduction into the ‘real world’ of research, the very first piece of writing I put out to my research community for them to critique and read.

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So, what did this millennial do before pressing submit? Naturally, I went to Twitter and told my online support system that my impostor syndrome had crippled me. I was overwhelmed at the response, many people offered advice, words of encouragement and some even offered to press submit for me, it helped me feel less afraid. Many researchers shared their feelings about their first submission and their first rejections. It has now been just over a month since I submitted, I am still anxious and check the submission status constantly but I feel more confident now, even if the paper is rejected, my online support helped me realise that it is not the end of the world, it is simply a hurdle that I will overcome.

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So, in honour of my first baby, my first paper, I thought I should put together a post that helps guide other first-timers in the world of publication! There are many fantastic detailed guides online, one of my favourites is from Dr Melanie Seiler on the blog The Female Scientist. This is a good guideline for writing a paper, outlining what is expected in each section and how to go about writing your first paper. Also check out this guideline on Enago, How to Write a Research Paper. These are REALLY helpful to start your writing process! Below I detail a few of my own tips, the last one being my favourite. My editor, Prof Inglesi- Lotz, has also contributed to this area of interest in a SAYAS blog post which is worth the read before going into a panic about publishing your first paper.

  • Find a good support system

I was fortunate enough to attend a publication workshop early last year hosted by The Centre of Excellence in Paleosciences at WITS University and led by the phenomenal publishing machine that is Dr Jennifer Fitchett. Dr Fitchett covered the publication process, she explained things like H-indexes and choosing journals and navigating this scary space. If your institution offers writing support like this, I encourage you to attend, it is great to work through problems in groups and to bounce your ideas off researchers that could be in a completely different field in order to test the clarity of your work.

Your support system can also consist of your co-authors, your supervisors and your peers. They are probably familiar with your work and if you ask, would be happy to provide feedback. If you love Twitter, like I do, then an online community can also help you navigate through your fears.

  • Choose your journal wisely

Most journals have an outline of the research work they publish and often a guideline for authors. Make sure to check your prospective journals’ homepage and learn about their format, submission and review processes. This will help you decide if it is the right journal for your work and assist in preparing your manuscript. Another way to decide if a journal is a good fit for you is to look at your own reference list and the journals you frequently cite, this could be an indicator of the right type of journal for your research work. Aim high and even if you are rejected, chances are you will receive some feedback that can be helpful in revising your paper. If that is not for you though, try to pick a suitable journal based on the research at hand, this requires an honest look at your work.

  • Get a second, third or fourth opinion

It is okay to feel unsure! It is great to bounce your ideas off other people whose opinions and input you value. The manuscript can be circulated (confidentially) for you to get some constructive feedback. This is also why conferences and seminars are so important, they offer an opportunity to present to an audience who can provide feedback and act as a room of reviewers. Discussing your work with others may encourage new ideas and insights and take you out of your mental bubble.

  • Stop that impostor syndrome

ff8827a44ceb7590b70c0fe0f5e63bbe.jpgMy wonderful SAYAS editor also reminded me that just a few weeks before my panic, I had written a blog post on Impostor Syndrome and my dealings with it, she reminded me that I was capable and that my voice, my research and my perspective mattered. Sometimes that is all you need. It is going to be difficult and your fears are valid, but you cannot let that stop you from sharing your research work. You matter!

  • Press SUBMIT!

This is probably the hardest part, once you press submit, your work is out there to be judged. Reviewer 2 is real, and they will probably have feedback but that can all assist you in presenting the best possible work. If you need a gentle nudge, you could always ask someone you trust to press the button for you. I promise once it is done you will feel a sense of relief! Sometimes it is about changing your perspective, although it is nerve-wracking, think of the feedback and how it will help you improve your work.

  • Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you

If your paper comes back with revisions, or it is rejected, do not let that stop you. Take a moment, maybe more, reflect on the feedback, dust yourself off and TRY AGAIN. There are many reasons why manuscripts are rejected and take the feedback and rework it, change your approach, change the journal possibly but do not give up.

  • Congratulate yourself

I pressed submit before 11AM on a Monday and you know what? I had a glass of wine and didn’t feel an ounce of guilt. Celebrate that you were brave enough to do it, you deserve it!Instagram-Simple-as-that-6a4430

Oh no, public speaking!!!

Ever since I was young, I dreaded speaking in public. I hated the English and Afrikaans teachers the most because they would make us have prepared reading, unprepared reading and all those other readings that required us to stand in front of the class with everyone listening to you. Over the years as I grew older, I thought that maybe this fear of public speaking would go away but it never did. I am a very friendly person who can literally befriend anyone in any situation but why was is it so difficult for me to speak to a group of people at once?

There are different techniques people recommend that normally help with public speaking like picture everyone naked or take a deep breath before you start and you will be fine. All I can think about the second I open my mouth is how I would like to be done already.

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When I got to university and was seated in a lecture room with more than a hundred students, I couldn’t help but have this satisfying feeling that I never have to speak in front of anyone for the next three years. Unfortunately, my excitement was cut short when I got to the second year major physics, we were expected to give project presentations all the way to Honours.

Finally, I started my MSc and I was certain that I was done but to my dismay, I was told I would be attending conferences and would have to give a talk about my research. I was overwhelmed with fear when I got to my first international conference, especially since I was not just giving a talk but I also felt the pressure of representing the University and the country. I remember the night before my talk, I tried really hard to practice my slides but I couldn’t get anywhere. I decided to get some rest and I would “go with the flow” during my presentation the following day.

When I got there in front of everyone, I had a very tight knot in my stomach that completely disappeared after I started speaking. I stood there in front of everyone and started talking to everyone about my research. That was the day it finally made sense to me why they call it a “talk” instead. The idea is to engage with your audience, talk to them instead of trying to recite as much information to them as you can in 15 minutes. Ever since that day, I don’t have sleepless nights when I am told I will be giving a talk for anything. Obviously, I still prepare for presentations but I don’t spend countless hours trying to cram what to say in every slide.

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I overcame my fear of public speaking by realising that the people in my audience are there to either learn something from me or the experts in the field are there to teach me something. I realised that giving talks is a great platform to get peoples’ input and ideas on what I am working on. What I do now is I only add content that I am 100% sure that I know and understand in my slides. I do not add words I do not know their exact meaning or diagrams that I have no idea what they are representing. I stopped looking at giving talks as punishment and I honestly believe that exactly was the day I also started enjoying speaking in public.

Another thing I do is always remove my glasses, that way I can make eye contact with the audience and yet I don’t actually see them because my eyesight is a little impaired.

I am mastering the art of communicating my science, just watch the space. My postgraduate journey so far has equipped me with communication skills, something that I struggled with all my life. I can now give a talk, present a poster and generally just speak in front of a group of people without feeling like the air is becoming less in the room.