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How to Navigate the Journal Peer Review Process: Guidance From Scheller Faculty for Ph.D. Students

Scheller faculty Dong Liu, Morvarid Rahmani, and Adithya Pattabhiramaiah share advice for Ph.D. students about the peer review process.
Professors Dong Liu, Morvarid Rahmani, and Adithya Pattabhiramaiah provide their guidance on navigating the peer review process.

Professors Dong Liu, Morvarid Rahmani, and Adithya Pattabhiramaiah provide their guidance on navigating the peer review process.

On November 12, three Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business faculty spoke to Ph.D. students about how to navigate the journal peer-review process. Dong Liu, Gregory J. Owens Professor of Organizational Behavior; Morvarid Rahmani, assistant professor in Operations Management; and Adithya Pattabhiramaiah, assistant professor in Marketing shared advice based on their experiences and academic journeys. The workshop was organized by Liu and sponsored by the Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education and Research.

Using her recent award-winning publication of Doing Less to Do More? Optimal Service Portfolio of Non-profits that Serve Distressed Individuals as an example, Rahmani began by highlighting her top review process strategies:

  1. Be respectful of review team opinions. It is easy to think that the reviewers don’t understand the topic like you do since you are the one who has spent years on the paper, but it is essential to understand their perspectives. If you receive conflicting comments, follow the lead of the associate editor and department editor’s suggested path. It is also helpful to share evidence of the main motivation, such as letters of recommendation or practical examples, with the reviewers.
  2. Read the review reports multiple times and read between the lines. Review comments are not always clear-cut, but it is vital to understand and address every single one.
  3. Work hard! The easiest path is not always the best path. Taking the easy path may backfire down the line. Major changes, such as changing the model or redoing the analysis are not always easy but they may be necessary. It will pay off in the end.
  4. Maintain academic rigor. Being clear and concise with polished writing is imperative. When adding in new sections, maintain the integrity of the paper’s flow and central message. Remember you are trying to tell a story.
  5. Do not rush a revision process, but make sure you are making progress. The revision process begins with thinking, followed by meeting with co-authors to discuss, which leads to analyzing/writing. After completing all three steps, it is important to close the cycle by improving and taking those lessons back to thinking to start the cycle again. This is an iterative path that a team cycles through several times to successfully revise a paper.

Next, Pattabhiramaiah described paper acceptance as a regression model:

           Paper Acceptance = β1Topic + β2Title + β3Author Identities + β4Tech Rigor + ε

Pattabhiramaiah believes that not giving up, which lies hidden in the ε, is the strongest factor in getting a paper accepted. He suggests not giving up by taking the following steps:

  1. Worry only about what you can control. Uncertainty is a given. Develop a thick skin and don’t take review opinions personally. Don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand. Instead, focus on what you can control like the quality and academic rigor of your paper.
  2. Plan, plan, plan. Academia is a marathon, so pace yourself, otherwise, you may burn out. Unfortunately, academic networks and positive reinforcement in the space are minimal, so be sure to celebrate small victories.
  3. Avoid short-cut temptations. It is easy to pick a topic you may not care about because the data is easily accessible. Avoid taking these kinds of short-cuts, because the publication process is long, and one’s intrinsic interest is critical for getting the paper across the finish line.
  4. Some stress is good! Actively self-monitoring by setting small achievable deliverables is helpful. Functional stress gets you to deadlines but be aware of when stress is getting out of control which can lead to lower productivity. Surround yourself with teammates who know you and support you.

According to Pattabhiramaiah, there are four top reasons why the review process becomes challenging.

1. What is it you’re actually studying in the paper? Reviewers sometimes have trouble mapping constructs with the empirical context or may disagree on what else is important to study. Clarifying and addressing these issues upfront in the paper may help overcome this obstacle.
2. This looks fine but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Try leveraging different aspects of your data that help round out your story’s main narrative. Include 120% of how much you think is “enough” for a first submission draft – it is often easier to respond to reviewer comments asking you to drop something from the paper than to deliver on one of their (new) ideas that may not work.
3. I don’t trust you or your claims. Proving causality is tough, so clearly explaining your construct and adding more controls in your analysis can build credibility. Use visuals, simulations, falsification tests, and boundary conditions, and caveats.
4. Not sure exactly what your paper is saying or why I or someone else should care. Presenting findings at conferences before reviews can be a good source of feedback for deciding the best way to position your research. Leaning on your colleagues for friendly reviews can help as well.

Finally, Liu finished the workshop by adding a final personal secret for paper acceptance success:

Always think about how you can distinguish yourself from the majority by going above and beyond expectations.

Liu used his paper Tackling the Negative Impact of Covid-19 on Work Engagement and Taking Charge: A Multi-Study Investigation of Frontline Health Workers as an exemplar to describe how to go above and beyond. Liu and his co-authors made a stronger contribution by giving the paper a positive spin despite the negative connotations surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic.

They did this by expanding the research from exploring the effect of perceived Covid-19 crisis strength on work engagement and take-charge behaviors of frontline health workers to drawing on event system theory to design a second study that implemented two HR interventions. The second study ended up being successful in increasing work meaningfulness and reducing perceived Covid-19 crisis strength among ICU health workers. The additional study changed the paper title from “The Negative Impact of Covid-19…” to “Tackling the Negative Impact of Covid-19…”

The new approach was highly regarded by the editor and reviewers due to its practicality and impact and led to a speedy publishing process.

Since 2017, Liu has organized 10 Ph.D. workshops, where over 40 panelists shared their valuable insights on a number of important topics on how to have a successful academic career (e.g., discovering interesting research ideas, teaching classes effectively, and landing a great academic job). These Ph.D. workshops have attracted over 300 participants from Georgia Tech, Emory, and Georgia State. In Spring 2022, Liu will launch a new doctoral workshop to invite graduating Ph.D. students to share their job search experiences with current Ph.D. students.

Featured in this Story
Dong Liu
Thomas R. Williams Chair in Management
Morvarid Rahmani
Associate Professor
Adithya Pattabhiramaiah
Sharon A. and David B. Pearce Professor

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