Monthly Archives: August 2014

SCIENTIFIC WRITING FOR DUMMIES

Some weeks ago my first postdoc paper was accepted. Some of you might be familiar with what a paper is and what is mean “accepted”. Today´s post is for those of you who are not.
So after you come back from a cruise and analyze your samples, one has a huge amount of data to organize and graph. Then comes the funniest and more difficult part, writing stories about what’s going on in the field/experiments. Let’s say it is like, “Once upon a time…” but with scientific writing and structure: Abstract, Introduction, Material and methods, Results, Discussion, Conclusion, Acknowledgments and References. I should say this is the part I find more challenging; when I am starting a new paper, it takes me forever to speed up my typing. Some weeks are 0 words and at other times while revising, everything written before is deleted which equals negative writing speed.
However, suddenly, a good idea lights my brain, and then another and the words flows without effort. Once you have the structure, the main message, the main character (in my case it is normally CO2 with its different outfits) and an end, you send to the co-authors (people who participate in the same project, your bosses…). After this stage, I have different experiences: sometimes some co-authors do not bother to read, some flick through and pick typo mistakes, sometimes they disagree with the structure itself (and you have to reinvent your story) and others nit-pick the little details and the manuscript that returns has more of his/her works than yours. After some toing and froing with your co-authors, you send the manuscripts to a journal. You choose the journal depending upon your subject, the importance of your work, your past (or your boss) experience, free or open access…
Once submitted, you wait for the editor’s response. If the editor thinks the subject or the quality of your job is inadequate for his/her journal he/she rejects it immediately (that case never happens to me!) What the editor normally does is send the manuscript to different referees (expert in the area) who may agree to comment on your work. Of course, when you are in the play, you will be asked to review other authors’ papers (I still remember how happy I was after I received my first invitation! But now it starts to be too much work).

These referees can choose to be anonymous and a few, under the anonymity umbrella can be really rude (I have one in a paper from my PhD who even started writing in capital letters like he/she was shouting at me!!) They can be, like co-authors, skimming or diving through my work. Normally, one receive constructive comments that greatly improve your manuscript. These referees make a suggestion to the editor: reject, invite to submit again, major changes, minor changes or accept as it is. I have always had to make adjustments. Again, you modify your manuscripts according to the referees’ comments and send back the manuscripts. Some referees ask to read the manuscripts again and at other times the editor makes his/her own decision.

It’s like a tennis play, you fight to get the ball to the other end against co-authors, editors, referees and it takes a lot of back and forwards until you succeed.
After so much effort and pain (and time, the whole process can take more than a year), you can imagine who happy you feel when you received this email:

Email informing about acceptance of my last paper

I received the email confirming my first accepted paper when my partner was in my office and in the attempt to embrace him, I was so excited that I erroneous bit his head, hahahaha… now we always laugh when I tell him I have another acceptance, he always answers: “Congrats my darling, should I need to put on a helmet?!”

Helmet and papers :)

Helmet and papers 🙂

PAPERWORK NIGHTMARES

I have been away from the blog for a while because these last weeks have been crazy. As I told you in the last post, I had an interview for a new postdoctoral position and was offered the post. So after several pros and cons lists, a lot of talking with my family and colleagues and a phrase written on a wall on my way to work saying: “taking risks is better than taking none”

Taking risks are better than taking none

Taking risks are better than taking none

I decided to take the job. LET’S GO TO GERMANY!

Anyone who has any small relationship with the Spanish government knows that it is a nightmare of paperwork even doing the most simple formality. So you can imagine if we move towards a more complex administration: I have an international marriage so believe me it is difficult/expensive/annoying to sort that out!!

So, when I arrived in the UK I was amazed how simple things can be (they don’t even ask for my PhD certificate to sign my contract as a postdoc!) and sometimes faces stared strangely at me when I ask “that’s all?” or I ask for a “certificate of attendance”. Because we quickly adapted to the “good life” and it’s more than a year since my partner received his European passport (so we forgot about any kind of formalities), I was shocked when faced with German bureaucracy… all the difficulties of the Spanish way plus the handicap of sworn German translations (by the way, this service does not even exist in the UK!!). What is this European PhD certificate (with the nice blue stars) worth all the trouble?!?!

Of course they need the originals to complete all the paperwork, so I wear my heart on my sleeve and put in one envelope the most valuable papers I have kept in “important papers folder”: PhD certificate, Master certificate, Marriage certificate, past employment contracts… You will never guest where the addressee of this envelop finds it… In the store window of a Taylor shop underneath a bench of clothes!!! Track and sign service are not as trustful as I thought and this gave me sleep problems for three days.

Anyway, now it is all sorted out: I’m looking forward to meeting the friendly lady from Human Resources who helped me through the process and the translator who went on the hunt for my documents. We have booked the ferry, and short-term accommodation in Wilhelmshaven, we informed our landlady in Southampton, and registered with a German course (all these years going to the official language school in Spain wondering “why in hell I’m doing this, I know English, why should I learn German?” I finally have the answer), we end our contract with phones and internet, I sign my resignation letter (first time ever, it feels rare!!)… how exciting, tiring, expensive… it can be to move from one country to another!