Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The self-loathing never ends

I got the verdict on the article I submitted this summer: revise and resubmit. This is good news, I know, and yet it has made me mope for days.  It's hard for me to remember, whilst staring at the entire list of suggested revisions by both reviewers, that I am not obligated to do all of them, nor any one in particular, but rather those which I think are good ideas and feasible within a reasonable amount of time.  Instead, I went to bed in a deep funk last night, excoriating myself for being a fraud of a pseudologist* who would never properly understand theory and would have to read for six months at a shot to grasp what everyone else already knew.

In short, my academic self-loathing returned the moment I read the critiques.

Really, I was in the same headspace today until I consulted a colleague about it, and zi assured me that R&R was definitely good news, and that it's just a matter of talking with my editor and figuring out what needs to be done and what needs to be politely refused, based on what I want the article to be.  It all feels astonishingly like grad school, which especially surprises me because the form of the correspondence of this R&R resembles the revision process for my book manuscript far more than any dissertation chapter I ever drafted.

Do other people feel like this when they receive an R&R on a journal article?  Am I actually responding in part to the thorny matter of my research statement for my job applications?  To my general anxiety that I won't land a job this year?

And of course, to pose the question is to provide the answer.  Of course my reaction is influenced by all of those scary existential questions of what I will do for a living a year from now.  I'm genuinely curious, though, whether or not other people temporarily despair when they receive an R&R, rather than celebrate not being rejected.

*How's that for meta?


  1. Ack! Don't succumb to the self loathing. You have written a book for God sakes, this does not make or break you. But honestly, when I receive an R and R or really when I see the article response in my email, before I even open it my heart sinks a little bit. Sometimes I hesitate to open it for fear that the editors and reviewers can see my reactions through the computer. Some advice I have gotten was to read the reviews and then take a few days to process them and then read them again in a calmer state. Sometimes they seem more reasonable with the second reading. (Sometimes...) People also tell me that an R & R is a great sign that one should never lose sight of. (However I have gotten a rejection after and R & R). Although, at this point I rejoice with good criticism because it's coming from people in my field (usually) and it's more consistent and concise than the feedback I received in grad school. I don't know what else to say, other than - I feel your pain.

  2. My profs in grad school emphasized that an R&R was what we were aiming for, and they still aimed for. So I'm excited when I get one.

  3. An r&r was the best news any writer ever got upon first submission to the journal I worked at for three years. I think this is fine news. Good news, even. The truth is, every article should go through a sturdy revision/editing process. This is like the smart students who go to writing centers for good feedback -- you benefit as a writer and researcher from criticism. Anyone who says you're perfect out of the gate is NOT doing you a favor but a disservice.

    If I get an r&r on either of the articles I have out right now, I'll be having a party. So buck up, buttercup. You wrote a book. You're no phony.

  4. Short version: yes, it's normal to feel this way--even though, as all your colleagues and commenters are saying, an R&R is generally good news, especially if you've shot high with the venue you submitted to.

    I was mopey about my last R&R, even though I'd been convinced beforehand that I'd get a straight rejection. And my extremely talented and well-published spouse has been grousing about his latest for the past week.

    There are specific and reasonable causes to be angered or depressed by an R&R (if the suggestions are obtuse or hostile, or if one has reason to believe the journal will weight the negative review in a split decision more than an enthusiastic one), and sometimes one really needs a specific new publication on one's vita ASAP.

    But more often I think it's that one's academic self-loathing/imposter complex is so profound that the only thing that seems capable of overcoming it is total, breathless adoration and acclaim--or its nearest substitute, a straight acceptance. Even a minor setback feels like failure since we're always already primed for it.

    Really, though: no single success is enough to overcome the fear of failure. It gets better, even much better, as one gains more of a record of accomplishments. . . but I doubt it ever goes away entirely.

  5. An R&R is good news, but your self-loathing is likely from other sources. You don't have to do anything they suggest, if you can explain why you are refusing to do it. It's your article, your perspective, your research. Not to say they may not have valid points. If you can take care of the major issues (even though they may actually be somewhat minor), you can turn that R&R into an A!

  6. This is about how I feel when I get an R&R. Even when I read the comments later and it turns out they're super useful. Even though I know, for a fact, that R&Rs are a good thing. Even now that I have a job, and therefore Should Be Beyond This Anxiety. Flavia's point about "total, breathless adoration and acclaim" is spot on, at least to my experience. Sigh.

    Give yourself a few days to be pissy, and then figure out how to make yourself keep going.

  7. Oh P.S., to echo everyone's thoughts that an R&R is a good thing...celebrate it! Go out to dinner or something. I try to celebrate the steps in between submission and publication because the process can take so long. If you save the celebration to the end it may feel anticlimactic when one has been so worn down by the process. So celebrate now (and later!).

  8. As everyone else has said, R&Rs are good. However, I absolutely sink into a puddle of nothingness every time I get ANY criticism about my work. I can't read it all at once; I can hardly read it at all. My stomach is leaden. And then, a day or two or six later, I can calmly and rationally process what they're telling me, be psyched that I didn't get rejected, and see how incorporating the feedback will make my work better.

    So I get it.

    (And I even think that "total, breathless adoration and acclaim" would freak me out, because HOW COULD I EVER LIVE UP TO THAT???)

  9. Thanks, all. It's oddly reassuring to know that my neurosis is at least partly an occupational hazard that others share with me. And my new favorite phrase is "buck up, buttercup." :)

  10. Sorry I am coming to this so late. I always see only the negative and discount the positive, so I think I know what you're talking about in terms of despair.

    One thing that might help is to ask a friend or a colleague to read the reports & summarize the upshot for you. If you have someone else flagging and highlighting both the compliments and the criticisms and boiling it all down for you, it might be that spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.