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

Respect goes a long way: why all research fields matter

Agricultural extension is one of the oldest forms of information dissemination methods that are used in the public space. It is the application of scientific research and new knowledge of agricultural practices through farmer education. The practical application of Agricultural extension encompasses a wide range of communication and learning activities that are purposefully made suitable, acceptable and relatable for farmers particularly those in rural communities. It is these learning activities and communication methods that I am most interested in and would love to contribute to the growing knowledge of keeping them relevant to changing technology times and information requirements. Over the years I have learned the importance of the Agricultural Extension discipline. I have also come to understand the fundamental principles upon which it was founded which have cultivated a visceral sense of appreciation in me. 

However, over the years I have been ridiculed a lot in the discipline that I have chosen. I have learned that respect for various disciplines within the agricultural space as well as other academic spaces goes a long way. In fact, it does not show respect only for the field but also for the people who are in the field that I have learned. I often hear people ridicule certain study fields that they believe are inferior to theirs because they are not “Hard Sciences” which makes me wonder whether it is plain ignorance, or do they just assume that they are better or is it straight up arrogance with a huge dose of disrespect. I may never know but I do know that it is has a lasting impression on the minds of those to whom the disrespect is thrown.

Consequently, I developed an inferiority complex which stuck with me for quite a while. Initially, I thought I had the imposter syndrome but now I understand that the years of taking in the ridicule and disrespect led to the development of an inferiority complex deep within myself. When I registered for my undergraduate degree I was excited and hopeful until I started attending classes and I realized my classmates (the agricultural extension class of 2012) and I were treated differently by the “hard science” group of students. Reason being we had registered a Bachelor degree instead of a “Bachelor of Science degree”. According to them a bachelor of Agriculture was not worth their respect, the disrespect was real. 

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My classmates and I were bombarded with sinister remarks such as “the dumb peoples’ degree” or “are they even scientists really?  “If they are what on earth are they doing?” This treatment continued until our Honors year.  By the time we got to Honors level, a number of us had changed the degree for various reasons of course but sometimes I cannot help but wonder whether the disrespect was part of the major influences that convinced my classmates to change their degrees to “hard science degrees” Those of us who of course decided to stick with our choice in life continued to endure the demining remarks.

Needless to say, it is not only within the agricultural disciplines that such behaviour is prominent. More-often-than-not academics in various disciplines exhibit disrespect towards each other in one form or another. For example, differences in opinion about which field is more demanding and more important exist between natural science and social science scholars. Just like how one is considered to have worked less or is inferior if they are a “Doctor of Philosophy’ rather than being a “Medical Doctor”.

I am glad I stayed…

I have said this before that I have come to love and respect the discipline because of the rudimentary principles it was founded and still functions on.  But this liking and being certain that I want to stay in agriculture did not come without me doubting whether or not I should continue in it. It is true that “life will test your choices” and through my experiences as a Bachelor of Agriculture graduate, it has.

So for the longest time, I have questioned my belonging in the academic space. I wondered whether pursuing a career in academics was worth it because academics for me was that one space where I experienced a lot of self-doubtsjuly 1. Fast forward to now, I work on an interdisciplinary study and I strongly believe that healthy interdisciplinary study and work environments where we as individuals make the informed, civil and kind decision not to undermine, and make sinister jokes about each other professions are the kind of environments we need to grow the body of knowledge.  Truth is we need each other to co-exist.