A recent conversation with a colleague got me wondering: do men and women differ in whether they are more likely to submit work to “top” journals? More specifically: are men more likely to stretch with a submission, and women more likely to play it safe?
The topic came up when a friend and I were discussing where we were planning on submitting various papers we’re working on, and how that can be influenced by collaborators. At some point during the conversation, this morphed into a question of how one decides what journal to submit to, and, since I’d been thinking a lot about imposter syndrome, I started to wonder if imposter syndrome influences where people submit work. If it does, and if the general paradigm that women suffer imposter syndrome at higher rates is true, then you’d expect that women would be less likely submit a paper to a journal that’s a bit of a reach than men are. If you aren’t convinced you belong in the game in the first place, are you really going to aim to be on the first-string squad?
As I thought about this, I realized that the shift towards double-blind peer review might allow us to collect data on this. (Why do I think we need data from double-blinded peer review to address this question? Because there’s clear evidence for unintentional biases in the way people judge work by men vs. women.) With double-blind review, it should be possible to see if there is a higher acceptance rate for papers submitted by women than by men. (I don’t mean a higher acceptance rate relative to what the rate was prior to double-blind review.) I think a higher acceptance rate would indicate more of a strategy of playing it safe. Then again, if a paper had been reviewed but rejected from higher tier journals, that could improve it enough to improve its chances in the next round of review, so it’s possible my prediction wouldn’t hold in the real world, even if women really do tend to adopt more of a “safe” strategy when submitting.
My guess is that, yes, at some level, feelings of being an imposter influence where people submit their work. But I’m guessing it’s a relatively small effect, and that such a comparison wouldn’t reveal a significant effect. But that’s just a guess — I would love to see data on this!
Even if there is a big effect of gender on where people think to submit, given that the decision of where to submit is often influenced by several authors, such an effect might be masked by the influence of coauthors. I also think there is probably an effect of career stage (though I don’t think this is necessarily a monotonic relationship), and that effect might be larger. Perhaps a grad student submitting her first paper might not think of a high profile journal, but her advisor is likely to steer her that way if it seems like it stands a chance.
For me, personally, I’m not sure if being a woman with imposter syndrome has an effect on where I submit. I definitely have imposter syndrome. But I think that I tend to be an optimist, and I think I’ve been fairly realistic about where to submit papers. I most certainly have had my share of rejections, so I don’t think I’m being overly safe in terms of where I submit. Then again, when I think back to the papers where I was primarily responsible for deciding where to submit it, those probably have a lower rejection rate than the ones where I decided with others.
Do you think your gender or imposter syndrome influences where you submit your work? Have you noticed gender differences when discussing where to submit work? And do you think imposter syndrome influences how likely people are to submit to top journals?