A week in academia

It has always been my intention that this blog should help explain what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ as well as showcasing completed research.

I spent some of this week marking MPsych coursework. I had asked my masters students to try out a behaviour change technique on themselves for a week, and to reflect upon what they had learned from the experience of doing so. I was impressed by how much effort they put into making a genuine attempt to change their behaviour, and how well some newer as well as tried-and-tested behaviour change strategies worked. Their results underlined the assumption behind our research, that motivation or ‘willpower’ is not something you either have or don’t have, but rather is something that can be trained and nurtured. Having said that, it was clear that previous experience of working towards difficult goals provided resources for succeeding with new goals.

Another portion of the week was spent tidying up the paper on FIT and snacking that featured in a previous blog. It is easy to get carried away with celebrating when a paper has been through the review and revision process and is finally accepted, but the process doesn’t end there. In the case of this paper, we submitted the manuscript to Appetite and revised it on the basis of two reviewers’ comments. The reviewers read the manuscript again and left the editor with a dilemma: one felt it was ready for acceptance and publication, while the other felt that the rationale we gave, that FIT should be better than motivational interviewing, did not fit the design of the study, which did not include a motivational interview control condition. The editor accepted the manuscript on the basis that we revise it once more, addressing that reviewer’s comments. The paper is much better now and this is something I have learned through experience: however frustrating it is to find that a reviewer seems not to understand or appreciate your work, papers are always improved by addressing reviewers’ comments. It is always worth doing. After all, why would you only want some readers to appreciate your study if you could have all of them do so? The more critical reviewer was right – we did not need to justify FIT as an improvement on motivational interviewing; we could explain its virtues directly, as an intervention that strengthens motivation by incorporating elements that increase strength and frequency of desire to achieve a goal.

Having submitted the final version of the manuscript and had it accepted by the editor, there were still additional processes to complete. We had to sign forms handing over copyright to the publisher, and then decide how, and whether, we could disseminate the work. This is the most frustrating part of the whole process. The internet is a brilliant way of advertising your work and in recent years there has been a move to ‘open access’ publishing, which means that anyone anywhere can read your work for free, but you cannot just post your paper everywhere for people to read. Most journals give authors two options: pay an ‘article processing charge’ of hundreds of pounds to make their article immediately available to all readers, or publish in the conventional way and have the article readable only by people who pay to subscribe to that journal. As this study was not funded by a grant, we had to go for the latter option, but we can still disseminate the paper in some forms: the pre-review copy is ours to do what we like with (though we don’t want to, because the final version is better); the post-review copy or ‘authors’ accepted manuscript’ can be sent as a personal copy to people who ask for it, given to students we teach, included in a personal blog and even posted on an institutional repository that is not publicly accessible (but ours is publicly accessible – that is the point of it). After an embargo period, we can also post it publicly. I find this part really annoying, because in 2 years’ time I have to remember that I can now post a copy of the paper on Plymouth’s repository, PEARL. These regulations differ slightly from publisher to publisher and from journal to journal, making it doubly hard to remember what I can do with each paper.

Writing this has reminded me that I have forgotten to do the most important bit, which is to check the electronic proofs to make sure they are correct and ready for posting on the journal’s online site. A job for tomorrow morning. It will be months or more before the paper is published in the printed version of the journal.

Not so long ago, and well after it was possible to do it electronically, all this was done on paper and authors had to send multiple hard copies of manuscripts to journals for review – a large wodge of paper to be packaged up, weighed, stamped and posted while keeping your fingers crossed that you hadn’t made any silly mistakes, like leaving a page in the photocopier. It is still common practice for journals to request that figures are placed at the end of the manuscript, each on a separate page, from the days when those pages went off to a separate graphics department to be tidied up – making a decent graph was a more skilled job than today’s pressing of a few buttons in Excel.

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about different departments’ attitudes to teaching. Discussing one Psychology department’s reprimanding of lecturers who received poor evaluations from some students despite excellent evaluations from others, we both felt that challenging teaching – the sort that really inspires the best students and stretches their horizons – will inevitably make some feel less comfortable and confident than lectures that make everything easy and shy away from more challenging material. Students come to university with different abilities and ambitions and it is risky to move towards a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and teaching evaluation.

First thing tomorrow I shall read through applications from stage 2 students who would like to spend next year working on placement with Jon May and me. It is a privilege for us to work closely with some of our brightest students for a year and it will be hard to pick the one for next year.



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