Publishing as a First Time Author

By: Sheila Criswell, 2018 Winner of the JOH Diamond Cover Award

Diane Sterchi (NSH President), Sheila Criswell (2018 Diamond Cover Winner), Gayle Callis (JOH Editor)

I never planned to be a researcher. Many people could successfully argue that I do not do a lot of serious research and I would not dispute it. Research as a full-time profession does not draw me. I worked in 2 research labs in my youth and they did not seem like happy places. The people there were very intense, rarely smiled, and were quick to find fault with each other. Since that time, I have seen many more congenial research labs which might have lured me in had they come along at another time in my life.

I am first and foremost a teacher (or tyrant as some students might say). In the classroom and laboratory setting, questions always arise and I like having the answers. Unfortunately, I never have all the answers and have come to the irrefutable conclusion that I never will.

However, when I do not know the answer, I always try to find out, but occasionally the answer cannot be found. This is what generally leads me to my research projects.

Working in academia, faculty are encouraged to do research and I have to admit that I am lucky because working in histology lends itself well to research. When fixed and processed correctly, our specimens are preserved for at least 10 years and often much longer. I suspect that there are paraffin embedded tissue blocks out there over 50 years old and still usable for special stains, immunohistochemistry, and molecular testing.

Because I teach in a masters level combined cytotechnology/histotechnology program, our students are required to perform a research project during the 2 years they are enrolled. About 3 years ago, I mentored 2 students who were interested in looking at special stains used for Helicobacter pylori in gastric biopsies. They wanted additionally to try to correlate the quantity of H. pylori present in the gastric glands with the amount of inflammation present in the lamina propria. The project was a truly educational experience for all three of us. The students became intimately familiar with how to perform, and more importantly troubleshoot problems with, a few special stains and they learned quickly how tedious semi-quantification of bacteria is in a tiny biopsy specimen.

When the project was completed and the paper was written, it was reviewed by fellow faculty members who participated in grading the projects. They were very complimentary on the project design, execution, and on the final paper. They strongly encouraged me to try to get it published.

It would have never occurred to me to try to publish it had they not suggested it. This was a student project, after all, and I was not an experienced investigator with impressive credentials.

Because the project was a histology project with H&E, special stains, and pathologic interpretation, the obvious first choice for a journal was the Journal of Histotechnology. Signing up for a login ID and actually submitting the manuscript and supporting documents was easier than I expected.

I had never submitted an article to a journal before, but had heard horror stories about several failed attempts by my fellow instructors. The traditional way to becoming a published author is to work with someone who has already been published and learn from them. Because I was working with persons even less experienced with research than I, I assumed the article would be unequivocally rejected. I was truly shocked and amazed and speechless when the editor and reviewers indicated the manuscript had merit and that with some tweaking, it might be good enough to publish. I probably sat at the computer for a good 20 seconds with my mouth open just waiting for the news to sink in.

Thereafter, I was pretty excited so I got started right away with making corrections, additions, deletions. I took better images and sent all the materials back in for review. Gayle Callis was the editor working with me on my manuscript and she was very encouraging every step of the way. She would pose a question about a point I was making in the paper and suddenly I could see the paper from someone else’s point of view. No matter how good of a job I think I am doing, it turns out that other people who know more really do improve the final product. I don’t recall exactly how many times I was asked for further clarifications, but at some point we were done and I was sent the final proofs.

I had several very happy days after that. They included the days when I was able to tell my students that JOH was going to publish our paper. Then there was the day that I could tell my fellow teachers that I had an article accepted. Then, there was the day that it was published online.

When I saw the article in hard copy in the printed journal, I was so proud! I still have an extra copy of that journal gingerly protected in an envelope in file so that humidity and light dare not disturb its pristine nature.

I count myself very lucky that I was able to get in under the wire in receiving a hard copy of my published work. It appears most journals have gone to, or are in the process of going to, completely online versions only. Online is great in that it reaches a wider audience and as a researcher, I love the fact that even pre-1980 articles have for the most part been digitized and made available online. I have to say, though, there is something moving about seeing your work and name in print along with other contributors in a bound journal.

Since submitting that first article to JOH, I have submitted 4 more pieces and I feel like Gayle has raised the bar on each submission. She always finds ways to improve my work, and I feel like I have become a better writer and a more competent investigator because of her. I am grateful that she is so detail-oriented because it definitely improves the quality of submissions to JOH.

I would encourage anyone who feels they have information to impart to contribute to the journal.

Because I teach, we routinely reference processing and special stain techniques. My findings online are frequently very meager. There is a trove of information in the heads of so many of my colleagues that would be very valuable to share with the rest of us.

If you are interested in submitting to the Journal of Histotechnology, visit the NSH website.

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