After nearly a year, my research manuscript has been submitted for publication! What a journey it has been. Today I submitted the manuscript to The Auk, a journal of ornithology published by the American Ornithologists' Union. I hope to hear back within a couple of months as to whether they are interested in the manuscript. From there it can take up to a year or more before it actually hits the press. This seems like a very long time, but it helps ensure that only quality science becomes part of that permanent record of published work.
I have faced a few challenges on this journey. The first has been the statistical work. I originally performed an analysis which has been used by other published works. The advantage here is that I was able to compare my results directly with theirs. The issue is that the works were published more than 15 years ago and new statistical methods are now favored. Additionally, I found a source of computational bias in the methods used by these studies. Shifting to more modern techniques, required a great deal of additional work and learning to understand the processes and to be sure the analysis is correct. My first undergraduate degree in mathematics helped a great deal in this process and I have learned a ton.
The next challenge comes in the authoring portion of the work. It has been some time since I have focused on proper English documentation. Twenty one years in a technical field of email and powerpoint can make one very lazy with the structure of the English language. Active voice versus passive voice - If you had asked me at the beginning of this project if I would be spending time understanding these subtleties, I would have said no way. I have a new and strong respect for clear concise written documentation.
Revision, revision, revision. How many revisions should a person make before submitting for publication? With 13 years of migratory bird data consisting of over 160,000 birds, analysis could go on forever. Revision of the manuscript can also go on for ever. When to publish? From an analysis perspective, there are no clean answers. More analysis provides more clarity, but also introduces more questions. With each new question addressed, the complexity of the project seemed to grow tenfold. We had to shift from a perspective of whether it was useful analysis to whether it was likely to change our core premise. If not, delay that question for the next publication. Will I have time to get to that publication? From a document revision perspective, I finally decided we had revised enough when suggested changes from my coauthors started reversing previous changes they themselves had suggested. Clearly a sign that this could go on forever!
Of course, I have learned much more than this during this project. I have learned a great deal about specific bird species, bird migration, evolution, ecology, data collection methods, statistical methods, the scientific method, etc.
I've had the honor to present my work in three separate forums so far. In January I present it at the joint conference of the American Ornithologists' Union, the Cooper Ornithological Society, and the Society of Canadian Ornithologists (summary). In March I had the honor of presenting a more extended version to the Idaho Chapter of the Wildlife Society (summary). Just last week I presented it again at Boise State University's undergraduate research conference. In all, over 400 people have listened to my presentation. I have received unique feedback from each of these presentations.
In the fall I begin my master thesis. I expect this to drive to at least a couple of separate papers for possible publication. Between now and then I may try one more publication related to this current work on the weather effects of migration. I think of it as a bridging piece of research between my completed project and one of my likely thesis projects. We will see how it goes.