First Publication (part 1)
Posted by Pete Hague on 11 Aug 2012
I'm currently preparing to submit my first paper to a peer reviewed journal. I've decided that I'm going to blog about this process as I go through, as it may be of interest both to people wishing to study physics at this level, and perhaps of interest to those not planning a career in science, but who would like to know more about the inner workings of it.
The first stage of the process is the initial submission. I've been pointed towards MNRAS (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society) and ApJ (Astrophysics Journal) as important and widely read journals in my field, so these will be the ones I am going to be submitting to. After submission, the paper will be distributed to appropriate (anonymous) reviewers, who will pick apart everything we have done, and the return some comments - assuming they don't reject the paper outright, which I sincerely hope they don't. This process will go back and forth until everybody is happy, at which point the paper will be published.
I was initially surprised when I found out that reviewers were expected to be anonymous. I had imagined a more personal discussion with them than an anonymous exchange of messages via the editors. This is one striking difference between the undergraduate journal and the real thing that I've spotted so far. In the Journal of Special Topics, we knew which students were reviewing us, and we talked about the papers face to face in many cases. Anonymity protects people from retaliation, so perhaps it wasn't needed for JST because there was less at stake.
(I don't mean to disparage the undergraduate journal - it was a great experience, good preparation for the writing I am doing now, and given the exposure of some previous papers it could arguably be considered a more important publication than some professional journals!)
Both the journals above require payment to access (although MNRAS papers become free to access after a certain time. I'm not sure about ApJ.) A version of my paper will be available on a preprint server (probably arXiv) so I will be in principle sticking to the stipulation in my STFC funding that require me to make my work available for free so long as this doesn't violate copyright.
The last clause in that sentence is what makes the stipulation I agreed to pretty much toothless in terms of enforcing open access, of course. I don't know if there are any open access journals I could publish to, but the fact is that the non-open ones are the ones people in the field I am entering read, and starting a career in science, I need my work to be visible and my name has to be recognisable to people in the specific area of astrophysics I'm researching. It is easy, then, to see why changing the access culture in science is slow and difficult.
As for the topic of the paper; if you hadn't guessed from previous posts, my work this year has been on dark matter. I approach the subject from a dynamics point of view (how much non-visible matter is needed to make the motions of stars+gas make sense) rather than a particle physics point of view (what is dark matter and how can we detect it directly?).
The paper has myself as the first author, and my supervisor Dr. Mark Wilkinson as the second author. At the present moment, Mark is editing the paper and I am occupying myself by reading some previous papers on the topic that we need to mention in the introduction. Hopefully, we will get the paper into a fit state for submission before the end of the month.
This post is going to be the first of a series; I'm planning to post through the entire process as it goes, so you can get my impressions. I won't be discussing the content of the paper in any detail until after it is accepted - when I'll provided a summary of my work this past year, and links to the pre-print and pay access versions of the paper.