This week has been going very well -- one paper accepted, a manuscript submitted (excellent grad student first author), a couple of reviews completed, and some progress on various other manuscripts. Then today I heard that a group in Europe has submitted a manuscript that is on a similar topic to one of mine submitted last summer. On the scale of my typical papers, my in-review manuscript is rather huge -- lots of data, and a big synthesis of work that has been ongoing for more than a decade. So I am anxious. We are not talking about fame or fortune here, just a topic (and paper) that I care a lot about. I am trying to keep some perspective: if my paper is any good, it will be read; if their paper is good, fine.
Even so, although some competition can be stimulating and fun, this is not one of those cases. The other group has been aggressive and vocal about the fact that they don't like my work. They are also sneaky. They started working on the topic after I did, based on one of my papers from about 10 years ago. They didn't inform me that they were working on the same thing, even though one of this group had been in contact with me to get some information for an unspecified purpose, and I had helped him with some analyses. A few years ago, this group wrote what can only be called an 'attack paper'. I call it that because it criticized me by name in 17 places in a ~20 page paper, and didn't seem to have much purpose other than that. Fortunately, the paper was published in a low-impact journal, but even so, it was not a nice thing to see. I didn't bother to write a comment, as that would be (to use the eloquent words of one of the commenters to this blog) "feeding the trolls".
If I force myself to look at the positive aspects of this, I guess I could say that it is a good sign that other people think at least some of my research topics are important. I can think of 3 other recent examples in which other groups started working on topics that I started working on first. That is much better than being isolated, working on something no one cares about. Perhaps I am being stereotypically female, though, by wishing that everyone could just be nicer about all these 'races'. Not less competitive, just nicer.
But then, I am not always nice: I won a 'race to obscurity' with another group last year when we submitted manuscripts on related topics at the same time; mine appeared in December and theirs was rejected. I am not happy that their paper was rejected, but I was glad that my paper was published (first).
9 months ago