I am happy to announce that my paper submitted to the Journal of Geophysical Research was accepted today! This seems like a good opportunity to talk about publishing. You may (or may not) have heard the phrase "Publish or Perish." Publishing journal articles is how scientists share their results with other scientists. We do share some information through talks and posters at conferences, but journal articles are the official communications of scientific work because of the peer review process.
When a person submits an article manuscript to a journal, the journal editors send it to (usually 2) referees with knowledge in the field to read the manuscript and provide a review. The referee usually selects from several choices (there is some variation by journal, but in general): Publish as is, Could be published after minor revisions, Could be published after major revisions, Reject, and provides comments on what revisions should be made. This is an anonymous process (referees are sometimes acknowledged when the article is published) so the referee feels free to provide an honest critique of the work without fear of ramification from a poor review or without the ability to benefit from a positive one. I have found that the review process generally makes papers much better. There is currently legislation in the works to mandate any government funded research be made publicly available for free, with quite a bit of controversy. There are costs to the publishing process, most of which is paid for through subscriptions to journals (often paid for by university libraries). However, there has been some testing of "open access" where the author pays the publishing costs (much greater than the current page charges of anywhere around $500-$1500 that authors pay per article), currently done by the choice of the author.
In a journal article, the author(s) cite any relevant previous work that has been done. When a person publishes an article, it is available for the scientific community to read and cite their work. Generally in academia, a research career depends on publications, usually the quality of the journal is taken into account; and the number of citations a person's publications receives is important because it indicates that the work is relevant to the field.
As a research professor, my job is to obtain research funding (through writing proposals-will have to write another blog post on that in the future) and publish my research results. I am currently trying to increase the amount of publications I write as I have been somewhat slow in that area (published one article in 2011). Looking back, I think conference travel may have kept me busy, so I am reducing the number of meetings that I am traveling to this year to focus on writing and publishing. Proposal writing also has taken a big chunk of my time, but I recently had a proposal funded, so I can take a bit of a break from that for now.
In addition to my job requirements, I'm on the science team of a NASA satellite-based mission. Every few years, NASA reviews the current missions, and chooses which ones will receive a piece of the (limited) funding for extended missions. Demonstrating the benefits of a mission is done primarily through publications, so that is another reason to push my publication rates.
I am already working on another article. This one has actually been in the works for about a year, but was put aside while I worked on the one accepted today, because that was submitted as part of a special section of the journal that had a deadline. I hope to get this one submitted soon and help my graduate student write his first first-author paper as well.
So, I should probably explain what I mean by "first-author." Many papers have a list of co-authors, all who contributed some to the research discussed in the paper. (Ethics guidelines say that all co-authors are responsible for verifying the authenticity of anything published with their name on it.) The first author is the person that contributed the most, and generally wrote the bulk of the paper as well. Journals that use name citations in the text [First author et al, 2012] as opposed to numbered citations, really help get a person's name recognized in the community. So first-authored papers are a big milestone for students!