A view from the other side: journal publishing

For a long time I have been on one side of the table: writing and submitting papers to various academic and technical journals. So I have like most scientists my views on the process.

Now that I am also sitting on the other side of the table: part of the journal editorial team, it is an entirely new experience!
I recently joined the IEEE Photonics Journal as Associate Editor and in early 2014 I took over as Section Editor for the Journal of European Optical Society: Rapid Publications.

As an author, almost inevitably I felt the review process took too long. Why cant reviewers send their reviews on time – I would fume.
Occasionaly I felt the reviewer/s may not be from the exact technical area and hence not fully able to see the nuances in my paper! They are missing the whole point/don’t appreciate the fine technical details of this area- I would fume!
Very often I felt that changing 1 sentence in the manuscript did not merit a “major revision required” judgement!
Changing reviewers where revisions were needed also came across as disruptive to the process to me as an author. After all, the new reviewer seems to have a completely different perspective from the older one!

And now?

Well as a section/associate editor dealing with each submission assigned to me raises many difficulties:
– to find appropriately qualified reviewers who are willing to perform the review within reasonable time. This can be fiendishly difficult!
– when the reviews are late, how the devil do you get people to do this voluntary work on time and respond to your reminder emails!
– how do I find appropriate reviewers if the manuscript is in an area that I am not a specialist in?
– make sure I dont send too many manuscripts to the same reviewers- avoid reviewer fatigue!
– ensure that there is some diversity in the reviewers (gender balance for example)
– check the reviews and see their quality, relevance, fairness, confidence (not satisfied means starting all over with new reviewers!)
– make decisions where the reviewers do not agree

So when I submitted a manuscript recently to Optics Express and began tracking its progress, I found that I was guessing the internal workings of the process as much as I wanted it to be speedy and positive!

It sure made me see publishing in a different light. How do you feel about it?


Spiralling at a rapid rate

As promised I will try and write a little bit about research too!

So here goes.

At OWTNM 2014 in Nice I met a researcher from Aston University in Birmingham. They use fs laser inscription to write waveguides in Lithium Niobate (the spot exposed by the laser has a lower index than Lithium Niobate. Therefore by writing several spots around a central “core” area, it is possible to create low index “holes” around a core, and guide light in this core by total internal reflection).

We got talking and now we are trying to collaborate. The idea is that I use my experience with the spiral design to optimize a spiral waveguide that offers sufficient guidance with low loss and changes the dispersion. While Mykhalo will make the waveguide and test it.

The challenge here is that the index contrast created is very small: ~-.015 to -.02. With such a low index contrast changing the total dispersion (by making the waveguide dispersion large) is quite tough. Since the index contrast is low, the field is not easily confined to a small spot and the effective index of the guided mode remains very close to the material refractive index.

So I have to find a way to alter the dispersion appreciably. Secondly Mykhalo wants the results before end of September! So its quick time work.

And I am loving it.

It is really exciting to work on something real-life and challenging. Even more so because there is the possibility of seeing my own design being fabricated!

By artiagrawal Posted in General

How did we get here?

Have you wondered how you reached the particular point you are at (in a project/relationship/job/career..)?

I just realised that I had started this blog with the intention of writing primarily about my research interests and current work. I realise now that for the most part I write about loads of other stuff. The blog has become a means to voice my opinions on Science policy, education, Science related media and so much more….
Little did I know that having a platform to voice one’s views is dangerous: it can draw a person in and captivate them.

So I shall try and be good and balance the writing a bit and write a little bit more on research as was the original plan. Though I can’t quite give up writing about the other stuff…

The question is how does one end up here, having drifted (in this case in a pleasant way) from the original purpose?

By artiagrawal Posted in General

Working away

As some of my posts indicate there are times when I feel as buried under work as anyone. And I am sure you can attest to feeling the same:
– not enough hours to finish the work waiting
– thinking about work while you should be engrossed in family, friends
– feeling stressed and perhaps even low confidence because it seems you cant cope

These things are increasingly happening to academics. In the UK, the employment contracts many of us sign do not stipulate maximum working hours or exact duties. Instead we are meant to perform the taks considered necessary/relevant to our role by our employer. the time we spend performing these tasks is also in some ways implicitly decided by our employer.

Where does this leave us if we are over burdened?

The situation seems the same in every university: (junior staff especially) academic staff toiling away to teach several courses, while trying to establish themselves as research supestars. Then there is the admin work…In order to cut costs, staff are fired and the work redistributed amongst fewer staff members, who somehow are supposed to do more with less (less time, less rest, less resources).
Apply for grants, publish in top journals, get excellent teaching scores from students, publish a book, do the admin… the list is endless.

In trying to achieve these targets we put in ever increasing hours. Holidays are of shorter duration every year and some how the work laptop finds a way ito come on even during weekends, late nights and holidays.

There is no overtime money from the employer for any of this. No one from the Higher Education authority or any emplyment body/union to hold these employers to account.

Now this may seem like a rant and a moan (it is). But it also more.

It is upto us to not fall into this trap. While we may not all be able to walk up with our resignation lettter and walk into a better job, we can assert some control over our minds.

Our anxiety at not being able to do as much as we think is needed, is perhaps our biggest problem. If we can step back from the situation and the anxiety to objectively view things, we can make better decisions about our goals and how to achieve them.

I read an article recently which I found quite useful: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/feature-work-less-do-more-live-better/2014929.article

In my view we need and deserve to be treated more fairly by employers, a complete change in attitude is needed in educations. While we work towards this, we can also make changes in our individual lifestyles, thinking and perhaps self-management to help ourselves.