Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tale of woe #356

Wow, there is nothing like a multi-year-ago-pre-scoop to fire up a blinding case of imposter syndrome even in the most confident researcher. Remember when I found out about getting scooped on one of our proof-of-concept manuscripts a little while ago? And I said oh well, "at least I guess it's better than finding a really old paper that shows you are a dumbass." Well, yeah--I'm a dumbass.

I just got a rejection email from a relatively high impact journal for a different paper we submitted on a different proof-of-concept. This proof-of-concept is the basis for my K99/R00 project (which, luckily, expands upon it dramatically, which I guess was why it was fundable). In the review, the referee said that the work was good but someone had already done it before. They gave me the reference. From 2004. 2004. In the world of technology development, that is last fricking century. I was but a baby chemist starting a postdoc and just learning what enzymes even DO at that point.

Sure, we had two potential novel and exciting aspects--but only mentioned as the next extension, not actually demonstrated yet for various reasons. One of which is that reagent I complained about before that lost 1000-fold sensitivity in the new lot, and for which there is no good replacement product. So, as I correctly stressed about, not being able to show that part of the method sufficiently was a big deal.

But the worst part is, HOW, in all my literature scouring for my K99 project, how did I miss that paper? Were the keywords just totally wacked out? Was the title somehow not close enough to what I was searching for? (It sure as hell looks like it is). I do not understand what my problem was, that I never saw this until now. I'm also weirded out that nobody else I have talked to, in the three years since conceiving of and starting to present about this project in various forums, has mentioned this pre-empt on a crucial aspect of the technology. Could it be true that nobody else knew either besides this reviewer??? No, of course not. It's in a good journal. It's from a good research group. SO WHY DIDN'T I SEE THIS BEFORE TRYING TO SUBMIT A MANUSCRIPT THAT SAYS THE SAME DAMN THING?

This is the stress of publishing in the technology development world. In chemistry, reviewers can give you trouble because they didn't understand what you did or the impact of it. In biology, reviewers will argue with you about your interpretation of your data, insisting you do 16 more controls and change the fundamental scope of your project. In technology development, people will point out to you that somebody already f'ing did what you are trying to report.

And in chemical biology, you get all f'ing THREE of those things pressing in on your impact and ability to publish. That tool who said chemical biology was easy for the "special people" can go suck it.

7 comments:

Comrade Physioprof said...

Yeah, shit like this happens. Suck it up and move on to next cool-ass idea!

In terms of salvaging a paper from what you already have, is there a way to spin your technique as an improved variant of the previously published one?

Ambivalent Academic said...

You didn't say whether you've had a chance to read that 2004 paper yet. I've had that "someone's already done it" critique before and then found out after reading the paper that had supposedly done it, that it actually hadn't. Not remotely. Sometimes it's the other people who are dumbasses.

In the event that this paper actually has already done it, I second Physioprof

Arlenna said...

Oh, I read it and it is actually pretty cool. They definitely do a lot of what our "proof-of-concept" was in this one.

We can still spin it out into a specific biological application of the idea, so I'm pretty sure it is still publishable just somewhere else with a modulated focus.

It's just the feeling of being so stupid that I didn't already know about this paper that is the most depressing. That for three years, I've been fantasizing about having a super novel idea, when all along it already existed. And that the only way i find this out is by having a REVIEWER point it out, rather than making my due diligence work in the first place. Gah.

Hope said...

So now that you’ve read it, why didn’t it pop up on your radar? Have you learned something from this experience that will help you in future lit searches? (If so, what?)

Earlier in my grad school career, when I started coming up with “novel” ideas that had been published a year or two before, I took it as a sign that I *was* capable of innovating in my field – I just needed to hurry up and get ahead of the pack. Now, I’m no longer quite so flattered….

Also, perhaps your reviewer was a grad student? Sometimes I seem to be more aware of what’s been published in my area – especially recently – than some of my profs. (I have a very good memory and just one research topic to worry about.)

Arlenna said...

It seems like a keyword/title issue. I've been searching with this fairly large,broad set of keywords but they were all kind of jargon-based. This paper and its keywords describes it all in more 'biological' language rather than technical jargon, plus their detection technique was drastically different than mine so I hadn't even imagined searching for keywords related to that.

I think I need to start casting an even wider net (journal- and search-term-wise) and finding out more about how other fields talk about methods.

Anonymous said...

Arggggggh. sympathies. I'm just having the same kind of problem. I have designed a beautiful experiment (that I have been planning in my head for ages, totally excited about) and just today read a new paper which describes an almost identical experiment in a thesis (but never published in a journal) from 4 years ago. What to do?

Candid Engineer said...

I can empathize. Arlenna, you know what field I am in and the magnitude of publishing that goes on in it. And to be new to the field... ugh... I feel like I'll be playing catch-up for the rest of my life.

You can't beat yourself up over it too much. Shit like this happens and you can only make the best of it. I'm sure your experiments offer some new insight over the old paper.