Friday, February 20, 2009

The Slings and Arrows of Research

Sometimes research is not for the faint of heart.

Yesterday, I got a rejection letter on a piece I'd done with a former student. I sat on her doctoral committee (not her chair- just a member) , and this was one of her essays. It had already been rejected at a two top-tier journal, and a second-tier one. Now we send it to a lower-tier one. After all, better to have it published somewhere than nowhere.

Then I got a phone call from a second coauthor (another student who's committee I'd been on, but at another school). I'd spent the last couple of weeks putting a data set together for a project we'd discussed. Unfortunately, the initial analysis turned up a dry well - there wasn't anything remotely interesting.

So, since the approach seemed promising (although it didn't work out on this data set, we'll use it to examine another topic. We might as well use the approach that we developed, even if it didn't pan out for this data. If it turns up nothing the second time, we'll drop it.

Meanwhile, I continue onward with another study with very good results where we've done pretty much all the empirical work. At this point, we're writing up the results (and the rest of the paper) to send to a conference with a deadline is in a couple of weeks.

That's the nature of research. After a while, if you have a number of projects going on simultaneously (and papers under review), you'll have some that turn out well and some that go up in smoke. The secret is to enjoy the successes and not get too upset about the rejections and dry wells and keep rolling.

The law of large numbers works pretty well in research - have a large enough number of things going on, and something will hit. And no one will care about your failures- only the ones that pan out.