Category Archives: academia

How to write, and read, a (manuscript) rejection letter

Several months ago, I wrote about how to write, and read, a job rejection letter.  I know a lot about those.  I also know quite a bit about manuscript rejections (as most of us do).  I’ve received so many I’ve lost track, and I’ve written as many or more as an editor.  Just as with job rejections, there are better manuscript rejections and worse ones. Continue reading


Can we stop saying reviewers are unpaid?

Image: Coins by KMR Photography CC BY 2.0

Reviewers, we all tell each other to remember, are unpaid. Sometimes we’re being scandalized about it, as in “Megapublisher X is making unconscionable profits on the back of unpaid reviewers”.  Other times we’re being laudatory, as in “We should be grateful to reviewers for all the help they give us, since they’re working for us without pay”.  I’ve said versions of the latter many times: for example, in The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, in this older post, and more recently and more explicitly in this post.  But the thing is, it (mostly) isn’t true.  We should probably stop saying it. Continue reading

The power of “thanks”

Image: Scrabble tiles by Wokandapix via, released to public domain.

Warning: a little saccharine.

My mother, no doubt like yours, was right about a lot of things (although she was wrong about some other things).  One thing she was really, really right about was the importance, and the power, of saying “thanks”.

I know, that seems trivial; but we sometimes forget.  This crossed my radar recently because I saw a tweet exhorting people to thank reviewers and editors (that is, members of journal editorial boards) who had worked, unpaid, with their manuscripts.  A reply* expressed surprise that journal editors might be unpaid (and therefore, implicitly, deserving of thanks).  I had several reactions to all this.

First: some people might think “why should I thank those power-wielding career-destroying gatekeeping mean people”?  I plead guilty to having this thought myself, occasionally and temporarily. Continue reading

Canada’s 150th, and how should we think about incomplete progress?

Image: Map of Canada by Pmg via, released to public domain.

Canada is 150 years old today, and there will be parties, and speeches, and fireworks.

I’m Canadian, and proud of my country – we’re mostly progressive, mostly supportive of diversity and human rights at home, and mostly a force for good abroad in the world.  We’re also mostly getting better on all those axes.  But we aren’t perfect on any of them, and like everyone, we have darker history (both pre- and post-Confederation) than we’d like.  Continue reading

How to write, and read, a (job) rejection letter

Photos: Header: (part of) one of my many, many rejections.  Embedded image: the whole thing.

I’ve gotten a lot of rejection letters over my career.  Job rejections, grant rejections, manuscript rejections, fellowship rejections – you name it.  Every scientist does.  I’ve also written quite a few rejection letters – mostly, in my roles as an editor and as Department Chair.  I don’t like writing them much more than I like receiving them.  But if there’s a bright side to this coin, it’s that my all-too-extensive experience suggests that there are better rejection letters and worse ones.  I can suggest a few ways to steer the ones you write, and the ones you read, towards the “better” category (and please add your own thoughts in the Replies). Today, rejection letters for academic job applicants.  In a future post, I’ll tackle rejection letters for manuscripts. Continue reading

Stephen King and me

Photo: The Dark Half, and Heard and Kitts 2012 Evolutionary Ecology 26:879

Do Stephen King and I have the same job, or different jobs?

This is, in one sense, a silly question with an obvious answer.  Stephen King is a popular-fiction writer, and I’m a scientist.  Stephen King’s job is to generate novels about the world as it isn’t, while my job is to generate understanding of the natural world as it is.  Clearly, Stephen King and I have different jobs.

At least, that’s how I would have answered my silly question early in my career.  Continue reading

No, your field isn’t “broader” than mine

Photo: Railway tracks and vanishing point, by annymoamo via, CC0.

It happened again last week.

I was sitting in a meeting, and someone explained that our cell biology course is different from our other courses (like my ecology course) because cell biology “is such a broad field”.  This has been explained to me over the years about cell biology, molecular biology, physiology, earth science, and I’m sure a few more I’m not remembering.  It’s been explained in the context of undergraduate curriculum, faculty hiring priorities, funding levels for granting agencies, library journal budgets, and more.  Every time, it makes me see red. Continue reading