Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Ever say never?

Spotted on a whiteboard in a PI's office, written in massive letters (colours as in original):

Book chapters and reviews are for people with no data - NEVER SAY YES


  1. Hahaha... Frankly, I thought they were for first year grad students - which may be entirely synonymous!

  2. Heh - I'm sure there's a substantial overlap, yeah!

  3. They are a great way for clinical fellows and grad students to immerse themselves in a field though.

    My boss has the same rule and breaks it regularly because a friend has asked or it's the major textbook/bible in our branch of medicine. I've got just such a review (actually 2!) out this month as a result of this broken rule so it's probably not that bad to say yes once in a while...


  4. what? my comment disappeared... pah!

    "I guess I should be happy thne that I've never been asked to write a review or book chapter. hmm... ;) "

  5. I've been asked to write a book chapter based on a presentation at a symposium (I said yes); I've also been asked to write a review article (I declined).

  6. The funny thing is, the book chapter (and the review article) were on subjects in which I hold no formal qualification, being far removed from my PhD area, but concerning which I'd written subsequently, such that people were under the impression that I had first-hand knowledge of the topic. The book chapter has gotten quite a few citations, far more than the single paper on the topic I did for my PhD. Hmmmm. I sense a blog post coming on.

  7. Book chapters and reviews are for people with no data - NEVER SAY YES


    I agree with antipoean though. It's a great thing to have the students or postdocs do occasionally, it helps them get into the field.

    But I must agree that, if you are a research active PI, it's really hard to carve out the months needed, especially for reviews. Most book chapters and reviews are not widely read or cited. I think it depends on the publication venue -- there is a prominent journal in my field that publishes high visibility review papers, so it's a real honor being invited to write one like that. Each such review generates hundreds or thousands of citations. Such a review I'd totally do.

  8. Antipodean, true. I've never taken the lead on a review article, although I've contributed to a few, so I have some idea of how much work they are though!

    I don't know about the PI who had the sign up in his office, but my main boss has a really hard time saying no to all the requests that pour in.

    Chall, you should definitely spin it that way :)

    Cromercrox, yeah, but unless you have data, the sign still applies :)

    I've written introductions to research papers that are not in fields in which I'm qualifed, and I actually really enjoyed it. It also forces you to assess ALL the literature, without any of the preconceived biases and assumptions that can creep in when you've very familiar with one area of research.

    I look forward to your post!

    GMP, they can definitely be a very useful exercise, and a nice wee addition to your citation stats! Especially if it's in a very prestigious journal, like the one you mentioned. Thousands of citations - yikes!

  9. Book chapters are definitely overrated. My opinion of reviews is considerably higher, but only if they actually have something to say as opposed to a laundry list of the literature.

    My colleague and I were invited to edit a book based on that session we organized for a meeting, and we declined as fast as we could!

  10. Ha ha! Some of us in the lab wish we could get our PI to subscribe to that view...

    But everyone is right that it is a good way to force a grad student or new postdoc to get up to speed in a new field. I was grumbling about this review I'm writing now (in a very low-profile journal, to boot), but now that I've finished the first draft, I have to admit that it really was a good exercise to immerse myself in the literature (you don't know how little you know until you write a review on it!)

  11. My most cited paper is a review. Of a meeting. I think I wrote 2 paragraphs for it, and one of those was cut out.

    My third most cited paper is a meta-analysis, which is a review with far too much data.

  12. I think the cause & effect are backwards though - chapters and reviews take up so much time it kills data production, and voila, no data...I just wrote a review, but being invited was such a big deal I could hardly turn it down. But the perception that nothing else has gotten published is driving me to push hard for the next research paper!

  13. O how many hours I spent on this review I have written. Great way to immerse in a field you are not acquainted with. Yeah right. Great way to drown!
    In hindsight (after three horrible horrible years) yes I learned stuff, yes it helped me make up my mind on the topic. No I would never ever ever recommend it.

  14. I am crushed. I've been guilty of both. But... I can blame my boss(es)! Yay! THEY made me do it.

  15. my humble experience with book chapters and reviews is that they never actually happen. When I started my PhD (nearly 5 years ago now) Prof was asked to write a review and a book chapter about my thesis subject and so he asked me to do it, and I started (indeed a good way to get into the subject) but it still hasn't happened.The way I saw it though it seemed like a good opportunity to gorge on "unpublished data" that other PhD's and postdocs had left behind and no one ever got around to publish.

  16. Eco, yeah, making a review really interesting and novel is a very rare feat indeed. But it's such a joy when it happens and you find a good one!

    Bean-Mom, I'm glad you're finding it a useful exercise!

    Bob, mine too. But there's a proper 1st author research paper in second place, so that's OK.

    Anon, excellent point! (Although it probably applies more to trainees than to PIs, very few of whom generate their own data).

    SUIRAUQA, that's the primary benefit of not being the boss :)

    lin, three years?! That's harsh! I'm glad it had some benefits though!

    Nina, huh, I haven't had that same experience - both my PhD and my postdoc labs produced a few reviews while I was there, with the duties shared out among the trainees (one that I'm a very low-ranked author on was a true team effort - we had meetings about it and everything!).


I promise to respond to all respectful non-spam comments! Don't be shy! Oh, and please don't type my surname in your comments; I know you all know what it is, but I'd prefer Google to rank other pages before this blog.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.