BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

MiNDS Manuscripts: The Good, The Bad, and Dealing With Rejection
​Featuring Sarah Brassard

Author: Katrina Kidd

In this article, I sat down with Sarah Brassard to discuss her newest paper, “Disgust Sensitivity and Behavioural Inhibitory Systems in Binge Eating Disorder: Associations with Eating Pathology”, published in Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity

Sarah discussed some of the difficulties she encountered when submitting her manuscript to journals and provides tips on dealing with rejection during the submission process.

Click here to read her article!

Disgust Sensitivity and Behavioural Inhibitory Systems in Binge Eating Disorder: Associations with Eating Pathology

What was the primary focus of your paper?
This paper focuses on disgust sensitivity, a type of emotional inhibition system which involves our emotions telling us to disengage from something. Disgust sensitivity refers to how unpleasant a disgusting experience is and overlaps with our eating patterns. My lab looks at behaviour inhibition systems, but this time we collected information on disgust sensitivity, which is an emotion inhibition system, and compared it to behavioural inhibition concerning eating psychopathology in binge eating disorder.

Tell me about your experience when initially submitting this manuscript for publication. 
We initially targeted this paper for a journal that had previously published work on disgust sensitivity in eating disorders. We put together our whole submission and reformatted our references and figures for the journal guidelines. Within a few days of submitting it, we got an automatic desk rejection saying this manuscript wasn’t a good fit for the journal. We were caught off guard by this and thought the journal might not want to publish negative results like ours. With a desk rejection, you get no feedback because it didn’t even make it to reviewers; it was just rejected by the editor.

How did you overcome this initial rejection? 
We then went back and discussed ways that we could change the manuscript to make it more interesting. This was when we decided to add the element of behavioural inhibition. In our first submission, we only characterized emotional inhibition using disgust sensitivity. After the rejection, we thought this might not have been enough to draw interest to the paper, so we added a comparison to a behavioural inhibition system. After we decided on this, I had to rewrite parts of my manuscript to take into account the added element. We re-prepared the submission and found another journal with a history of publishing papers on disgust sensitivity in eating disorders. We resubmitted according to their submission guidelines and received another automatic desk rejection within a couple of days.

How did you feel at this point in the process? 
At this point, you get into a negative space where you think your work is just not worthy of being published. But you have to be persistent. My supervisor reminded me multiple times that finding a home for your paper can take time. You might think it’s your best work, but it might only find its home after four or five submissions. This is just the natural process of peer review. Getting in on your first submission is not the norm; there will probably be multiple rounds of rejection. It is also possible that you submit it to a journal, and it gets conditionally accepted as a “revise and resubmit manuscript” but then gets rejected after this. The hardest part of a desk rejection is that you don’t get feedback to improve your manuscript, which can get in your head and makes you question the quality of your work. You just have to brush it off and try with another home.

I feel like rejection in academia can be the norm. Not just for submitting manuscripts, but also for funding applications, getting a teaching assistant position that you want, applying to jobs - anything. Within this process, there is going to be more rejection than acceptance. We can be hard on ourselves, but we have to push through the negative moments and celebrate the small ones. For me, it was celebrating when the manuscript finally made it past the editor to reviewers.

How did your manuscript eventually find its home? 
We found another journal, reformatted the manuscript, and submitted it. We saw that it was with reviewers only a few days after submission. This was a blessing in and of itself because we knew that we would get some feedback even if it were rejected. This was all I wanted - someone external to the authors to review my manuscript so that I could get some answers. When I got the reviewer comments back, they were only two pages long. One reviewer said it was amazing, and they had no further comments. The other reviewer had minor comments about the analysis. We made the changes and resubmitted and soon after received our acceptance! When I looked back on it, I saw that my paper wasn’t being rejected because of the content of the paper or the overall research questions. It just wasn’t the right time for those other journals. This just showed how important it is to be persistent and resubmit. Ultimately your paper will find a home, whether that be within a couple of months or a few years down the road. You can’t be discouraged by the process - just keep going with it.

What tips do you have for responding to reviewer comments? 
The one thing to be mindful of when replying to reviewer comments is always to be nice. You have to treat them as if they’re right, even if you disagree. You may want to take a stand, but you should always try to do it politely. Thank them for their suggestion and acknowledge that you see the relevance to your study, but it’s okay to disagree as long as you back up your statements with facts. At the end of the day, reviewers are trying to contribute to and improve your paper. Most of the time, their suggestions are valuable and can improve your manuscript. But sometimes, even if you disagree with a comment, you can acknowledge that it might not have been as clear to the reader as you and the other authors thought. You also want to be thankful for them taking the time out of their schedule to read your paper and try to improve it.

Do you have tips for anyone submitting to a journal? 
It is important to pay attention to reviewer guidelines and reformat references to what the journal wants. But also remember that rejection may seem like such a big thing, but it’ll make you stronger in the long run. It’s important to keep a good mindset and know that rejection may come but that it’s not necessarily about the quality of your work.
Thank you so much, Sarah!
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