Sunday, December 06, 2015

A Publication Sea Change?

Now, in the closing of the year, is a time to start taking stock of my scientific progress over the last twelve months.  What in my professional life is going well, what things need care and focus, what things have changed on me a bit at a time without me noticing all of the accumulation?

As I've been looking back over my publications of the last year, I've noticed something that is unexpected: apparently, 2015 is the year my publications moved to journals.  During graduate school, I barely published in journals at all, being both a less mature writer and in the deepest depths of computer science workshop/conference culture.  By the time I graduated and came to BBN, my work was starting to mature and I began putting extended versions of my conference papers in journals, to a tune of about two journal papers per year, still only a fraction of my scholastic output.

This year is is different: this year I have twelve journal articles stamped with an official publication date of 2015 and three more that have appeared in "online early" editions.

In large part, this reflects the growth of the synthetic biology side of my research.  Synthetic biologists typically publish in journals rather than conferences, and so what might have been conference publications in computer science go to journals instead in synthetic biology.  I've been working seriously in synthetic biology for several years now, but my collaborations have been growing and maturing, and some of those articles reflect projects multiple years in the works that have had long and hard roads to publication.  There are also some that in practice were published online last year, but have only this year been officially assigned to a theoretical paper issue that no-one really reads that way any more.

Five of my publications, however, are from the aggregate programming / spatial computing side of my world, and that also reflects a major increase in activity.  Here, though, the time to publication is often a very much longer road indeed.  I have noticed that computer science journals are often much more comfortable with lengthy times in review and revision than biology journals are.  Once of my articles that's just come out, for example, was first submitted in February of 2014; another article was submitted in March of 2014 and should appear in mid-2016.  I think that this may be because of the conference culture in computer science: a journal can afford to be quite slow and dozy in review because the editors assume that everyone has already got access to the prior version of the paper, and the journal issue will simply be the extended remix.  I do not know if that's the case, but my experience has certainly showed a stark difference in the urgency that attends each culture's publications.

In fact, then, my surge of journal publications does not actually reflect a surge of writing in this year, but rather a more gradual increase over the last few years, first picking up on my computer science side, then rising on the biology side as well.  The slower computer science and faster biology waves then happen to coincide in 2015, creating this prominent spike in journal publications.

In fact, the rate at which I am writing publications does not appear to have changed all that much.  The actual numbers of publications that I am an author on that have been initiated in these last few years is:

  • 2012: 17 publications initiated
  • 2013: 17 publications initiated
  • 2014: 16 publications initiated
  • 2015: 20 publications initiated

The quality and intensity of those publications has risen, though, as has the degree of collaboration, which also no doubt leads to more publications per unit effort on my part.

So, what does this all mean?  In short: this means that I seem to be saying things that others are interested in scientifically, and working with more people to say more things more clearly, and overall I think that's good.
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