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What it Means to be Published

Author: Candice B. Limper | Editor: Luisa F. Torres


One of the coolest parts of having a research mentor is that working with one can result in having your name in a scientific publication. What is this? Great question!

A scientific publication is a compilation of research data that can be in the form of numbers, text, and images. The information presented in an article is dependent on the type of publication, as there are a few different kinds: primary, review literature, and methods papers. Primary literature contains NEW data that scientists present through graphs and tables. A review is a summary and an analysis of previous studies done in a specific field. Review articles are meant to catch people up in an unfamiliar area of research. The third type of article is a methods paper; this type of article describes a specific procedure. These papers are essential to read when trying to learn new techniques or when reading articles with unfamiliar lab methods.

Who collects all of this data for primary articles? This depends on the lab culture, project, and expertise of the individual. While it is rare for a paper to have only two authors, not all publications involve everyone in the lab (i.e., professor, post-doc, graduate student, or undergraduate).

A person's name in a publication holds significant value and is field specific.

In biology, the first author of an article is usually the person who has done most of the experiments. This person also does most, if not all, of the writing. The process of writing a journal article takes a lot of time, especially for a new writer, because these articles have to be written in a specific style. There can also be co-first authors who contribute equally to the publication. The middle authors are those who participated, but to a lesser extent. Last but not least is where the professor will typically be listed; this author gives the article credibility.

It is important to note that not all STEM fields adhere to these standards. In some fields, PIs are listed first, instead of last, and names placed closer to the advisor correspond to the people that contributed most to the work. In most cases, professors are not the ones who are working in the lab and are rarely seen physically doing experiments. However, this is because they just have a "bigger picture role." The primary job of a professor is to drive the direction of the research and obtain funding for the lab. It is important to know that everyone can contribute intellectually, so keep reading!

Most physical experiments are performed by post-docs, graduate, and undergraduate students. In general, post-docs and graduate students are expected to collect data for the lab regardless of their initial expertise. Undergraduates can also obtain data; however, this is usually accompanied by the supervision of a senior scientist (post-doc or a graduate student).

If you are interested in going to graduate school, it is essential to know that recruiters will judge you on whether you have research experience. Publications are bonus points for getting into grad school, but they are not a requirement, and a lot of people who apply do not have one. Regardless, work towards having your name in a published journal article. You may not be the first author, but it is critical to show (publication or not) you are motivated and can contribute to moving our body of scientific knowledge forward.

Publishing an article can take YEARS. This time includes designing a scientific story, conducting experiments, collecting and analyzing the data, writing the research article, and being accepted by a journal. Some professors publish more articles in lower impact journals, and others do the complete opposite, and of course, some do a little bit of both. Where PI’s submit articles depends on the impact level and the nature of their work.

Regardless of where a paper gets submitted the peer-review process is the same. A person's research will be reviewed and will either get sent back for resubmission or flat out rejected.

It is rare that articles get accepted right away.

If the article is rejected entirely, it is often re-submitted with editors or to a different journal entirely. The acceptance of a paper depends on how scientifically sound it is, whether the methods used are appropriate to address the question the study is asking, and whether the data support the conclusions the authors are making. Novelty is something that journals consider too. Work that is regarded as novel can aspire to a higher impact journal than good research papers that are not as novel. Editors also decide what articles to send for peer-review based on what they think their readers will find interesting.

Recently, scientists have been releasing their "pre-prints" before they submit them to a journal-organized peer review. The publishing process is different for every science field. However, the concept that other scientists look at your article before publication is the same throughout all fields.

Here, we described a few types of articles, who puts them together, and the importance of being published. Hopefully, it is clear why it is important to try to get research experience early before applying to graduate school. Now it is time to get involved! Keep in mind that regardless of whether research efforts result in a publication, another added benefit to doing research in a PI's lab is that they can write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.

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