The rest of the story

Some of y’all have been helping me to celebrate a not-so-little piece of work that was published last week, and I truly appreciate the enthusiasm for the manuscript and what it means for our understanding of mentoring in academic surgery. When I posted that this work was a labor of love for me I meant it; I started looking into questions around mentoring in surgery when I was a resident through my ASE SERF project.  At that time, what I really wanted to do was a qualitative project that would help us better understand what mentoring should look like. Alas, 16 year ago I had neither the resources, the time, the know-how, or the patience to do this.  I’m still proud of the work we generated that year but it wasn’t what I really wanted as my major contribution in this area.

So, fast forward to 2014 (yeah, I know, that’s a long fast forward). I started on one of my curiosity/ passion projects, intending to expand upon work we’ve done describing barriers to careers in academic surgery. Again, the first pass was survey based and more quantitative, and just like the original mentors work I worried that something was getting lost in translation.  I believe in the power of story, I had learned quite a bit about grounded theory method through our professionalism work, and I had a couple of VERY willing accomplices who are also patient when projects take a while.  In this case, “a while” means 3 1/2 years from Interview #1 to online publication of the first manuscript from the project.

The interviews that I started in January, 2014, and that extended over the course of the next 16 months were intended to illuminate the barriers to careers in academic surgery.  I believe they’ve done that, and the barriers manuscript associated with it is in the works.  However, I realized about 6 interviews in that I was going to have the stories to write the mentoring paper that I wanted to write in 2001-2002; mentoring was raised as a critical factor in every single interview about career barriers, and this happened without any nudge from the interviewer. Of course, once the interviews were done my collaborators and I spent a few months working out our conceptual model, and once that was done there was manuscript submission, revisions, more revisions followed by rejection, selection of a new journal, resubmission, revisions, then acceptance.

Submitting this manuscript was arguably one of the hardest things I have done; in truth it was harder emotionally than submitting my professional paper in graduate school was, primarily because of the level of personal investment I have in this topic. Mentorship is something I am passionate about, it’s something I think is incredibly important (thanks to the interviewees who confirmed my bias!), and I love the work that Leigh and Will and I generated about it.  When you send a manuscript like this one out you want everyone to love it as much as you do, even though you know that’s probably not what will actually happen. That rejection HURT, particularly because of how long it took to get there after trying really hard. Perhaps it reminded me a bit too much of my last bad boyfriend.

Anyway, back to the relevant story. As part of the mentoring process I wanted to share with people (particularly junior faculty!) the time line behind all of this.  I know that the tenure clock doesn’t encourage projects of this nature, and I recognize that’s one of the shortcomings of our academic system as it currently exists.  My take home message would be if there is something that you MUST figure out, if there are questions that you MUST ask, don’t let go of them. It might take you 15-ish years, a fair amount of heartburn, incredibly patient friends/ collaborators, and some late nights puzzling over getting something that seems really minor “just right.”

It will be worth it.