The next blog in our special series on publishing is from Dr. Kathleen Marchetti, Assistant Professor at Dickinson College. In this piece, she tells us how the SLGR Young Scholars Outreach Program helped her navigate the path to publication.
As a junior academic, the path to publication can be a confusing one.
Though we’ve all read published articles for undergraduate and graduate courses and practiced writing shorter versions of said articles as part of seminar assignments, I think few academics are prepared for what the peer-review process actually entails prior to receiving a decision on their first submitted manuscript. Ideally, we will receive clear and consistent feedback on our research from others in our graduate cohort, faculty in our department, and our primary adviser. In addition to these suggestions, comments from discussants, fellow panelists, and audience members at academic conferences can greatly improve a piece of writing. Thus, by the time a manuscript is submitted for the first time, it has already undergone several rounds of revisions suggested by a variety of readers. From there, a combination of anonymous peer reviewers and an editorial team determine the paper’s (and what often feels like our own) fate.
Much like the feedback received from the various readers prior to original submission, reviewers’ suggestions for change can conflict with one another and it is usually left up to the author to navigate and respond to reviewers’ comments. Again, under ideal circumstances, a journal’s editor will provide further guidance for prioritizing some revisions over others. However, this is not always the case as editors have competing demands on their time and may be unable to devote significant amounts of time and attention to a single manuscript. Overall, though the process of peer review is intended to make a paper better, it can easily result in confusion as reviewers’ comments differ from previous advice, conflict with one another, and guidance from the journal does not make clear which suggestions must be addressed.
This is where the value of State and Local Government Review’s (SLGR) Young Scholar Outreach Program becomes most apparent. This program, specifically designed to “…encourage and recognize scholarship of young scholars in the fields of state and local government and intergovernmental relations/ federalism,” provides unique access to feedback from editors throughout the writing and revision process. The fact that feedback is available from editors during draft stages of papers (i.e., not just submitted or “revise and resubmit” manuscripts) puts authors in much stronger positions for publication, either at SLGR or an alternative outlet. Though peer reviews and advice from colleagues and advisers undoubtedly improve papers, editors maintain a comparative global-perspective regarding the audience and value of academic work. Indeed, editors are able to change the tone, trajectory and quality of the journal s/he edits based on the articles selected for publication. As such, they have first-hand knowledge of how fit, quality, and contribution come together in published works and provide a wider perspective on a paper than an individual reviewer or colleague could.
My own experience with the Young Scholar Program consisted primarily of discussions with Michael Scicchitano regarding my manuscript. The paper was reviewed by five peer reviewers and one of the most valuable aspects of working with Mike on the revision process was his help in prioritizing some suggested revisions over others while offering some of his own. He read through the manuscript several times and offered suggestions on how to frame the topic of the article in a way that was accessible to SLGR’s diverse readership of both policy practitioners and academics. His knowledge of the readership’s familiarity with key concepts and methodologies informed my revisions of the introductory and methodological sections of the paper and helped pare down the manuscript to a shorter, more accessible length and format. Feedback was offered via email and through phone conversations, again highlighting the level of mentoring available to young scholars as part of this program. I use the term “mentor” purposely, as mentorship and guidance is an integral part of the Young Scholars Outreach Program and sets SLGR apart from other journals in terms of socialization for junior faculty and graduate students. Given the “publish or perish” mantra guiding the lives of many young academics, having a resource like the Young Scholars Outreach Program is invaluable in terms of preparing current and future manuscripts for publication and providing a glimpse of the decision making process at peer-reviewed journals. SLGR is clearly committed to helping young scholars navigate the world of academic publishing and to improving the study of sub-national government by current and future generations of new academics.