My Break-up Nature Paper

I have an article in Nature that is going to be published at the end of the month. As a biologist, it’s kind of a big deal. Academics are horrible elitist snobs and the truth is, where you publish your work matters and Nature is at the top of the food chain. So this is a notable accomplishment.

I got the final acceptance letter of the manuscript exactly one year after a significant relationship ended. That break-up was instrumental in fueling the progress of the project. I was left homeless for several weeks, relying on the hospitality of friends, and spent long hours working in the lab on nights and weekends so not to take advantage or disrupt my hosts’ everyday lives. I spent my summer holed up, digging deep into the ancient literature (for my field that means the 1950s and 60s) and writing the manuscript, the perfect excuse to not go out and enjoy the weather or have a life. This fall was a whirlwind of travel, revisions, rebuttal letters and calls to the editor and finally acceptance.

It’s normal for me to hate a paper by the time it gets published. You spend inordinate amounts of time fussing with the explanation of the details of an experiment, the formatting of the figures, finding the balance of conveying the meaning and relevance of your results without overstating. It’s exhausting and by the end of it you can no longer see the story through the words. This particular paper has been more painful than most for a whole variety of reasons.

I know that I should be proud of this accomplishment, that it’s worth celebrating, but I find it impossible to do so because my thoughts almost immediately turn to the driving force of this paper. I vowed that I would try and get back ‘out there‘ once this paper was finished. Now that I received the pre-prints and we have a tentative publication date, that time is nearer than I’d like or am ready for. I’ve held on to this heartache longer than I should have. Tying it tightly to this paper was an excuse to not let go or possibly allowed me to avoid dealing with my feelings. I don’t discuss it, my horror story of a break-up but I carry it around with me; my own personal rain cloud. I’m not angry, but rather, severely disappointed in what happened and, at least for me, disappointment is a more difficult emotion to resolve than anger.

I’ve been hibernating lately (which the weather in Minneapolis facilitates nicely this time of year), acting the recluse, mostly because I’m terrified of the idea of letting somebody into my life, and becoming a part of somebody else’s. The problem is, that I miss it terribly and readily admit that I am lonely, but I haven’t gathered quite enough courage to make it happen.

Looking at the pre-prints of the Nature paper (meaning that it’s typeset and actually looks like what will be printed and is no longer a drab Word document) allowed me to read the article with a new perspective – as reader and not as an author. It turns out, it’s pretty cool stuff. I had forgotten that. Yet, woven within the text are the discussions over authorship order, the last minute hobbled-together experiments, the frenemy-like correspondance with reviewers and the agonizingly slow response from the editor. Ultimately, the paper is stronger and better written because of it all. But those challenges are not easily forgotten.

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 This is a self-portrait from a few days ago. I like it because this girl (although I don’t know if you can call somebody approaching 32 a girl) looks interesting. She has bright purple hair and likes to wear jewelry, but not makeup, and has a style that garners compliments from strangers. She has a nice smile and intelligent eyes, and although you might not see it in this photo, has a highly expressive face. She’s even been called charming and people like to be around her. Yet, without a doubt, there is more than meets the eye, as life experiences shape and change who you are. I just hope that it’s for the better.

I don’t have a good conclusion for this post, or my life for that matter. It’s only fitting, I suppose, just because you’ve published the paper doesn’t mean that you are finished with the story…

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One response to “My Break-up Nature Paper

  1. Many congratulations! I published a little while ago (with others) in the Transactions of the Royal Society B and I still feel a bit unreal and rather unworthy about it. Your story sounds like this achievement is more than well earned so relish the moment!

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