Friday, October 17, 2008

Change I Didn't Need

(apologies to the Obama campaign for altering their nice slogan to fit my blog title)

When I was an early career scientist and still writing papers based on research I did as a graduate student and postdoc, I submitted a manuscript on a sort of side project I had done with some other graduate students. The paper had some interesting elements to it and was worth publishing, but it wasn't an awesome piece of transformative research, so I submitted it to a mid-level journal.

The paper was accepted and published, but when it came out, I realized to my horror that the editor had changed the title without consulting me. The title that my co-authors and I had submitted was something like "Moderately interesting topic with some significant implications for processes that people care about," but the editor had changed the title to "Totally obscure topic that 3 people in the world might have some vague interest in if they have nothing better to do". This made me angry at the time.

I just checked the citation index for this paper and it has just ooched into the double digits after ~ 15 years, but several of the citations are by one group of researchers who have recently started working on this topic. So, my pessimistic guess that 3 people would read the paper is an underestimate. The number is probably closer to 5 or 6.

This situation is not especially tragic, my career somehow managed to survive the sinking of this paper into obscurity, and life went on.

I mention it today because this month during some travels I met for the very first time the editor who changed the title lo these many years ago. I had sort of forgotten about the incident, but the moment the former editor introduced himself to me, I remembered. And I felt annoyed all over again -- not hostile, angry (anymore), or bitter; just annoyed in a semi-bemused kind of way.

My good intentions to let bygones be bygones were, however, cast aside because, when introduced to me, this man gave me a hug and a big smoochy kiss on the cheek. Did I mention that I had never met him before and have not had any communication with him whatsoever except for that required for the review and publication process of my manuscript more than 15 years ago? Did I mention that I do not like involuntary physical contact, even of this apparently harmless sort, with people I meet in a professional context, especially if they have negatively impacted my citation index at some point in time?

Instead of changing paper titles, this guy should change how he behaves with female colleagues. I cannot possibly be the first woman who expressed displeasure with his method of greeting and walked away, refusing to converse further with him, so I am not optimistic that he can make the change we need.



28 comments:

Helen said...

Well that probably provides the full explanation for his sabotaging your paper.

Oh, and EW EW EW.

Alex said...

What the hell?

What's really sad is that with the way hugging has been normalized there were probably people in the room who didn't even realize that what he was doing was inappropriate. I resent the way that hugging has been normalized to the point where avoiding it is almost seen as rude. People seem to think that not hugging me is a special accommodation of my "hangup" rather than a simple matter of appropriate boundaries.

Anonymous said...

Did you confront him about the title change? Or the way he greeted you? I sometimes face similar situations and wonder what a suitable way to handle it would be...

Female Science Professor said...

Way back when I expressed my displeasure at the change in title, even though it was too late to fix. I did not bring it up in the recent encounter, my interest in talking with this person about anything at all having been completely extinguished.

Anonymous said...

And I bet he thinks he did you a big favor back then, right?

If it were me, I would have ripped him a new one - I never forget crap like that either.

Zodia said...

I once had a Scandinavian female friend whom I met during my study in her country. I remember that she used to hug/kiss on both cheeks my Spanish colleagues. Then, she warmly greets me verbally (no hugs. no kisses. not even a hands shake).

Being a middle eastern guy with a clearly Islamic name, I soon understood what's going on. She was being extra careful that probably I won't approve such intimate ways of saying hello. After all, I have been friends with her and her fiancee for a couple of years. Smart girl. Pity me though :)

Anonymous said...

I have written several book reviews for the "Times Higher Educational Supplement" in the UK. Ok so it was not research, and citations are not relevant here, but the editor(s) always changed my review titles without asking and this annoyed me intensely at the time.

It took me several goes to find out this was policy and thereafter I sent in reviews with titles such as "You will change this anyway so why should I think up a title".

Also, pictures were inserted occasionally, though these were often not relavant to the book or topic. When I had once given an Undergrad text praise (fullsome, one might say) about its comprehensive coverage, the picture chosen was of a transparent brassiere with the legend "Cups overfloweth: the range of materials covered is vast".

I was furious and I was expecting "FSP"s (or anyone else for that) to think I had some input to this (the picture, unlike the changed titles, did not appear at the proof stage).

Anyway, that editor has moved on and I don't get invited to review anymore.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

ooched

I fucking love that word.

A Life Long Scholar said...

Some cultures (and even sub-cultures) greet *everyone* with the hug/smooch combo. Was this editor, perchance, raised in such a group? If this is how he greets *everyone*, I see no harm in it, but if he limits that greeting style to only 1/2 of the available genders, it is inappropriate.

Ian said...

I've heard many more complaints about the reverse -- editors changing cautious, but accurate, titles to "On our cure for cancer: A simple solution" or even more flamboyant titles. (If it's Nature, the title will also include a lame pun that is almost, but not entirely, unrelated to your subject.)

Chic Scientist said...

Ugh. The hug and the smoochy kiss from a senior male colleague. I hate it when that happens. The sad thing is that it's not really all that rare.

Short Geologist said...

He may well have remembered your anger and is trying to "smooth" things over with a display of fake friendliness.

Psych Post Doc said...

What was his reasoning for changing your title? I've had some copy edits done to my manuscripts before but never a full blown title change.

And the hug and kiss... ew, ew, ew what an ass.

Average Professor said...

Ew. And also: weird.

On a side note, I wonder if the title of a paper is beginning to matter less and less as electronic searches of abstracts and so on get better and better. If my fave abstract index pulls up an article that it deems some significant % relevant to my search terms, then I read the abstract, and may or may not even look at the title.

geomom said...

EEWWWW! YUCK! I hate that kissy/huggy thing.
But I bet he didn't actually try to sabotage your paper--I bet he's just clueless all around!

Female Science Professor said...

No, he was not raised in such a culture (as far as I know). If he had been, perhaps he would have known what was an appropriate level of embrace/kiss when meeting a stranger.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog quite a bit as a full professor at a research university in a 'not' physical science. However, I am struck by the kind of sexism that you encounter on a regular basis. In many instances, you describe things (like the smoochy kiss) that I have never encounterd myself (despite a visible career) nor have I ever heard about from other full professors I know at research universities in a 'not' physical science. I am struck both by the regularity of these kind of events as well as the extreme nature of them (getting a smoochy kiss from a new colleague strikes me as extreme). Is this typical for women full professors (or at any level) in your discipline?

butterflywings said...

EUW - no way is hugging / kissing someone you do not even know in what is meant to be a professional context appropriate. EUW.
NO.

I mean, I'm unusually resistant to being touched by people I don't know, even being tapped on the arm to get my attention grates on me. Where I work the tech guys often wear headphones, but I make eye contact and if necessary wave to get their attention. It is just not appropriate in the work arena. Ever.

Anonymous said...

This is a comment and question unrelated to your recent posting.

First, I have to say I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. I am a female graduate student in the physical sciences at a big name university.

My science postdoc boyfriend recently suggested that I form a graduate student union. He thinks, and I agree, that our grad student stipend is low for our big city location, and we don't receive dental care. His pay in grad school, different big name university, 2+ years ago is the same I earn now and he received dental insurance.

Do you have any insight or thoughts on this topic? My thoughts are that most faculty want to keep grad student costs as low as possible. My PI openly shows his dislike for paying grad student fees, wages, conferences...etc. Is there a constructive way to change the climate at my ($$rich) university? Should graduate students have the same rights as employees?

Thank you

Female Science Professor said...

Grad students should certainly have the same health care benefits (including dental care) as other university employees.

Keep in mind that professors aren't (necessarily) being cheap when we are reluctant to pay higher salaries etc. Grants can be hard to get, fringe benefits scale with salary, student fees can't be charged to grants, and some universities charge tuition to grants as well. The actual cost of a 12-month graduate RA salary is typically a much larger amount than the student's take-home pay.

Universities aren't making it easy for PI's to deal with the rising cost of grad RA's in the face of increasing difficulty getting research grants. As a student, you may well find sympathetic faculty members who would like to help you negotiate with the university to provide a better solution for all.

Anonymous said...

anonymous: unionizing was IMHO the only reason why the benefits were nearly as good at my old university as they were (still not postdoc, let alone faculty, but much better than the other offers I had). Not coincidentally, it's why I went to my old university.

Absolutely unionize.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I should give a link to my old university's union: http://www.cogs.org/

They'll be able to help answer any questions about organizing on your campus, I suspect.

GirlPostdoc said...

Unionizing is a great idea in principal but it can cause long-lasting divisions. I am all for protecting graduate students, especially since, I know that many are taken advantage of. At my home university, the TA's were all unionized and when we went on strike, it caused a major split in the school amongst undergraduates, faculty and grad students. A strong union is only as strong as its leadership. Graduate students have very little time for extra activities. Finally, the student population is transient - so continuity is an issue. Good luck, it is worth considering.

Silver Fox said...

I think that it's indeed not okay, and it doesn't matter if if only happens occasionally.

As for whether it's common in whatever physical science you are in (Re: Anonymous: "I am struck both by the regularity of these kind of events as well as the extreme nature of them (getting a smoochy kiss from a new colleague strikes me as extreme). Is this typical for women full professors (or at any level) in your discipline?), I don't think it's very common in the physical science I am in, it would be considered totally unprofessional unless people are old friends -- but there are always those slobbering few that can't keep their hands off people. YUCK.

Jill said...

I love your blog as it really gets to the heart of the obstacles women in science face. It would also be nice to sometimes give credit to the men and women who do make "the change we need". For example, the advisor who works late into the night to make corrections on a manuscript so that his or her advisee gets a paper out, or stands up to a colleague who blocks the progress of his/her students, etc., etc. Perhaps there could be one week set aside to praise all the people out there, including yourself, who do make the change we need. It would be nice to give them some attention instead of these bozos.

Ms.PhD said...

I would be curious to know how much titles of papers actually matter for citation. I've always been told that the journal name matters more than the title of the article, but that can't be the whole story.

And yes, strangers who do not come from kissing cultures have no excuse to kiss you, and even so, in a professional setting I would think EVERYONE knows that's inappropriate. YUCK.

flit said...

My last published article (non-academic), the editor removed the first sentence - which was the question than introduced the entire article.

Jumped right to the answer - but with no way of knowing what the QUESTION I was answering was, I'm sure most readers just scratched their heads and moved on.

gotta love them editors (and yes, I am an English student, as a matter of fact. Can't you tell?) :)

The hugging thing is creepy! I was rather uncomfortable with the many hugs people insisted on at my convocation earlier this year - and I knew those people.

RSMod56 said...

I know someone who had a paper rejected by very notable journal in its field, with the reviewers publishing the work not long after, and before the author had it published in another journal.

RSM56