Being a Leader, Manager and Doing the Job: What Does it Mean to be a First Author on a Paper?

This September, just before beginning my third year of PhD studies, it happened. I opened my email and read that the article I had been working on for the past two years had been accepted for publication in the Long Range Planning journal. After a quick round of proofreading and final editing, the article has been published online and is in the process of being published in print. 

It is a good feeling to see your work in the layout of a journal that you regularly read and draw inspiration from. No more revisions necessary. The product is final. However, the year-long (which is actually pretty fast in academic terms) crafting, revising, and resubmitting process of the academic article was a journey full of ups and downs and unexpected turns left and right.

Lead your idea forward

My journey started with testing the waters. I had only discussed the general idea for the paper with my supervisor, Valérie Sabatier, and Corine Genet, a Grenoble Ecole de Management professor and second author on the paper. We had some preliminary interview data and an intuition that the emerging issue about experimentation in business modeling was quite interesting.

Two months after starting the PhD, the Business Models and Strategy (BMS) team at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) organized a conference called “Business Model Days,” and many renowned scholars were invited to attend. Unlike most conferences, this one focused on very early work, so you could present just a research idea and get feedback. Perfect! I presented our initial ideas and got useful and helpful advice, references, and materials to bring the work forward. After this conference, I was encouraged  to apply to several others, where I presented the more advanced version of the manuscript and discussed it with the community. We also had the opportunity to discuss the first results and intuitions with the participants of the Better Business Model ANR contract, where Corine presented our paper.

Paper management

The PhD program at GEM’s milestones require the writing of three papers. The rules and regulations of the program are that there is no problem submiting a co-authored paper, but the PhD candidate must be the first author and has to write the entire paper alone (co-authors can help in conceptualization, data collection, etc.). For my first-year paper, I decided to focus on Experimentation in Business Modeling. This was a big challenge, but it gave me the opportunity to really engage in writing because it was my responsibility.

The process was not too difficult because my co-authors were really nice and easy to work with. We collected a part of the data together (mostly interviews), and I would do the preliminary analysis and then would schedule a meeting to discuss and decide on the next steps. After writing a draft of the paper, my co-authors would read it carefully and comment on the paper, but it was on me to implement their suggestions and write a new draft. And a new one, and a new one, and a new one… Before the first submission to a conference, we already had 10 versions of the paper; there would be five more before the first submission to a journal.

The job of the first author is not only to write and be involved in data collection, analysis, and theorizing but also to lead and manage the entire process. You have to be persistent, especially considering that your co-authors are full-time professors who are working on many different projects. Management is the key. Engage your co-authors and show enthusiasm about the collaboration. Your name is the first one on the paper, so think of yourself as a team leader.  As any good manager, try to understand the strengths of your co-authors and get the best out of them. Understand their weaknesses, also, and try to work around those. Remember, you are not only managing the collaboration with your co-authors; most importantly, you are managing yourself. You need to do the biggest portion of the job. Find a way to get yourself motivated and to transfer this motivation to your co-authors. Dedicate time to work on the paper, but do not expect quick results.

Revise and resubmit

As the first author, I also managed the submission to the journal, which first meant writing a letter to the journal editor. In this letter, you have to be convincing and show that you are very familiar with the discussions in the journal and that your paper can make a contribution to it.

After the paper passes the initial stage and you are not desk rejected (around 60% of the papers are), you are in the game! But then the hard work really starts. The reviews we got were constructive but tough to address, and this meant writing the entire paper again. We had two major revisions, and we were quite uncertain if we would succeed. The journal to which we submitted has high standards, and the revision process required a lot of new readings, a new framing of the paper, and, most importantly, hours and hours of writing. Do not give up and do not despair. The reviewers want to help you. Remember they spent time reading your paper, engaging with it, and giving you feedback. Respect that and give it your best to improve your work. Take it as a learning opportunity to make your thinking and writing clearer.

In the end, it is all worth it when you open that email that reads, “We are pleased to inform you that your article has been accepted.” Celebrate success with your co-authors and be proud of yourself and of the team!

In numbers

The paper had 32 versions before the final submission, including three complete revisions.

Data analysis had three cycles.

The paper was presented at four conferences.

At least 15 scholars read the paper and commented on it.

The article, “Learning, signaling, and convincing: The role of experimentation in the business modeling process”, by Neva Bojovic, Corine Genet and Valerie Sabatier published in Long Range Planning journal is available online :  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lrp.2017.09.001

 

By Neva Bojovic, Grenoble Ecole de Management, PhD student

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