Tag Archives: Academia

To Complain or Not to Complain: Reflections on Publishing in Academic Journals

This is one wide-ranging perspective

I like to THINK of myself as not being a complainer, but in reality, I do my share of complaining. One of my personal goals is to complain less and thereby avoid becoming a whining old curmudgeon. That’s a tall order because for me, there are always a few particular moments and experiences when it just feels VERY GRATIFYING to let the complaints fly.

Today, I’m offering some small complaints about the process of publishing in academic journals. I’m limiting my complaining and keeping a positive tone because too much complaining would be inconsistent with my anti-curmudgeon goal AND inconsistent with my topic: publishing happiness research.

Over the past year, I’ve started working on three different happiness manuscripts. We (my research team and I) submitted the first one (Manuscript 1) to a good journal, waited 3+ months and got a rejection. The rejection was understandable, but the reviews were IMHO uninspiring and uninformed. The reviewers critiqued parts of the manuscript that were absolutely solid, raised questions about non-issues, and completely missed the biggest flaw (of which I am very familiar, because I analyzed the data). In response, because reviews should nearly always be two-way, I provided a bit of congenial feedback to Editor 1. Editor 1 responded quickly and we had a cordial and constructive email discussion.

Manuscript 1 is now out to a second unnamed journal. We’re closing in on four months and so after recovering from my CACREP virtual site visit hangover (more minor complaining here in the midst of my major complaint) and using my congenial colleague voice, I emailed Editor 2. Again, I got a speedy and pleasant response. As it turns out, academic journal editors are generally lonely people who field so many hostile emails, that they’re very chatty when they get something nice. The editor of journal 2 shared a few frustrations. I responded with commiseration, and Editor 2 let me know we should hear about our manuscript’s status by the end of the week. Just in case you’re a lonely and frustrated academic journal editor and want to steal away this manuscript and publish it before Friday, I’ve pasted the abstract below. My Email is john.sf@mso.umt.edu.   

Effects of a Brief Workshop on Counseling Student Wellness in the Age of COVID-19


Counselors-in-training (CITs) often experience stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Teaching counseling students wellness and positive psychology skills, particularly in the age of COVID-19, may help CITs cultivate greater well-being. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a brief happiness-oriented workshop on CIT well-being. Forty-five CITs participated in either a 2.5 hour online experiential evidence-based happiness workshop or control condition. Eight wellness-oriented self-report questionnaires were administered pre-and post-intervention. Compared with the control group, CITs who attended the online workshop reported significant reductions in depressive symptoms. At six-month follow-up, workshop participants were reported using several of the interventions (i.e., gratitude, savoring, and three good things) with themselves and in their work. Despite methodological limitations, this study provides initial evidence that a brief, online happiness workshop has promise for helping CITs cope with the emotional burdens of graduate school and COVID-19.

Manuscript 2 is based on one of my recent doctoral student’s dissertations. It’s a solid quantitative, quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design with interesting and positive outcomes. We submitted it to a journal, waited 3 months, and then were informed that they liked the manuscript, but that it wasn’t a good fit for their journal. Being that I’ve become pretty chummy with various journal editors, I emailed the Editor using my happy voice, while also noting that it didn’t seem quite right that we waited 3 months to hear the manuscript wasn’t a good fit. We didn’t even get reviews. . . other than the editor’s mildly positive feedback. Editor 3 got right back to me and essentially agreed with my concerns and shared frustrations about journal editor and editorial board transitions. Just in case you’re tracking the pattern, it appears that academic journal editors are super into professional email exchanges. After getting Manuscript 2 rejected, I decided to start pre-emailing journal editors to check to see if the topic is a good fit for their journals. The responses have been fast and helpful. If by chance, you’re a fancy journal editor who’s feeling frustrated and wants a colleague like me for some email chats, you could increase your chances of hearing from me if you contact me and offer to publish Manuscript 2 . . . and so here’s the abstract.

Effects of a Multi-Component Positive Psychology Course on College Student Mental Health and Well-Being During COVID-19


Even before COVID-19, college student mental health was an escalating problem. As a supplement to traditional counseling, positive psychology (aka happiness) courses have shown promise for improving college student well-being. We evaluated a unique, four-component positive psychology course on student mental health and wellness outcomes. Using a quantitative, quasi-experimental, pretest-posttest design, we compared the effects of the happiness course (n = 38) with an alternative class control condition (n = 41), on eight different mental health and well-being measures. Participants who completed the happiness course reported significantly higher positive affect, increased hope, better physical health, and greater perceived friendship support. In a post-hoc analysis of six happiness class participants who scored as severely depressed at pretest, all six had substantial reductions in self-reported depressive symptoms at posttest. Multicomponent positive psychology courses are a promising supplementary strategy for addressing college student mental health.

I know you’re probably wondering now, about Manuscript 3, which is under construction. The bottom line for Manuscript 3 is that it’s fabulous. Of course, because I haven’t submitted it anywhere yet, I’m the only reviewer offering feedback at this time. Manuscript 3 is the sort of manuscript that, I’m sure, a number of journals and journal editors will get in a bidding war over.

In the end, complaining is mostly unhealthy. Complaining can be like noxious weeds, with the negativity taking root, and spreading into areas where we should be staying positive and grateful. Too much complaining contributes to a sour disposition and outlook. On the positive side, complaining offers an opportunity for emotional ventilation, and can recruit interpersonal commiseration, both of which feel good. But IMHO the biggest potential benefit from complaining comes from social feedback. When people hear you complain, they can provide perspective. And yes, we all need perspective.

Happy Wednesday to everyone! May your complaints be minor and your perspective be multidimensional.