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By Mona Hassan, MD

For many oncology fellows, including me, the ultimate goal is to have an academic career combining research and clinical practice. At the beginning of fellowship, and as your early career takes off, you focus on doing as much research as you can and publishing as many papers as possible. Of course, this is easier said than done. With every submission you face multiple challenges: the rejection emails from journal editors, the long and frustrating waits for a decision on your submission, the infamous Reviewer 2 comments. As you are reading that rejection email, you start thinking, Why is my work not good enough for your journal? It’s a piece of art that took a lot of work! You submit again and again until one journal finally accepts your paper. At that point, you’re just too exhausted to celebrate it, being distressed with the whole publishing process.

I used to have the same view. Little did I know that the ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship would change my whole perspective on the publication process.

I was very excited when I saw the opportunity to apply for ASCO Journals Editorial Fellowship, and I was really happy when I made the cut—especially when I was assigned to JCO Global Oncology, whose mission is to focus on cancer issues unique to countries and settings with limited health care resources. Their mission is close to my heart, since I have been working on raising awareness about cancer care among refugees and equal access to care. It was a perfect match.

This fellowship turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done to develop my academic career. I met experts in the publishing field and other enthusiastic fellows, some of whom are now my close friends.

Attending our monthly editorial fellows meeting, I learned about journal management, publishing performance metrics (focusing not only on the journal’s impact factor but also on the article influence scores), how to review articles, how to chose your reviewers, what gets discussed in editorial meetings, rebuttal letters, and issues surrounding nonhuman (AI) authors. In the process, I gained a new understanding of how to choose the best journal for submitting my own work.

I even found a new perspective on critical peer review comments. As I reviewed one article after the other and as I attended one editorial meeting after the other, I found myself turning slowly into Reviewer 2! That is not because the articles were not good enough or the authors did not put a significant amount of effort into writing them. These reviews were mainly directed at improving the article. If for any reason the article did not align with the audience and the scope of the journal, the review was targeted on making it into the best form possible for it to be submitted to other journals. Through the whole process I found myself becoming a better writer because now I know how editors and reviewers think and what they look for in article. I will try to remember that negative comments are usually not intended to be mean, but to help me develop my manuscript into the best version that it can be.

I also discovered how difficult and challenging it is to find expert reviewers who will accept an article for review and who will do the authors justice while reviewing their submission. For an editor, this part can be really challenging and good reviewers can be difficult to find, which leads to the long wait time until the authors are informed about the outcome of their papers. Seeing how much effort goes into an effective peer review, from start to finish, was eye-opening.

This whole fellowship was transformative for me as a doctor with academic aspirations. It really made me appreciate all the hard work that goes into the publishing process, and I am very thankful for ASCO for this opportunity.

Dr. Hassan is an internal medicine graduate from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, and clinical research fellow in oncology at Portsmouth Hospital University NHS Trust. She is interested in breast and genitourinary oncology. Disclosure.

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