James Kerfoot works in the Department of Biological Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology. In 2004, his research paper titled “Fish Assemblage Dynamics in an Adventitious Stream: A Landscape Perspective” was published in American Midland Naturalist, a journal focused on ecology. I got the chance to speak with James about his paper and asked him a few questions pertaining to how a person like me or my fellow classmates would go about getting work of our own published. I went to the Fish Eco. building at the set time to find James sitting at his desk. He was getting his morning dose of caffeine in the form of a large Starbucks coffee. He had mentioned to me earlier how excited he was that he was actually being interviewed for something, and I noticed the look of nervousness and excitement on his face as I walked in.
Why did you choose this research project?
Kerfoot: A professor of mine during my undergraduate program had noticed that there was plenty of old data on the subject and it would be interesting to see how the data changed over a long period of time. He thought it would be a good project for me to see how systems change and it would help me see the bigger picture.
What methods were involved in the project?
Kerfoot: We studied tributaries of the Mississippi River that had different velocities with a seine net to catch fish and see what types of fish lived there. We compared our data with data that was taken previously to see if there was anything different about the population of the streams. Turns out that there actually was a difference and that fish live there now that weren’t there before.
How long did all of this take and what processes were involved in getting your work published?
Kerfoot: The project itself took 2 years in order to incorporate every season and the publication process took a total of about 4 and a half months: 3 months for the journal to respond to the article with a review, about 3 weeks to revise your article with their recommendations and comments, and 3-4 weeks after it was sent back to respond to your revions. Shortly there after, the article was published and ready to be shelved.
What steps are involved in getting a paper published?
Kerfoot: You have to pick an audience first so that you know who will be reading it. Then, you can start looking through journals that you would like to send your article to and check their specific research structure highlights to be sure that your paper is in the proper format for their journal, and lastly, send it in. After that, it’s a waiting game. It will be sent to reviewers who will tell you what they think about your paper and it will be sent back to you with comments. Next, you revise the article accordingly and send it back and soon after it will be in publication.
Why did you choose American Midland Naturalist while there are so many other options available?
Kerfoot: [I wanted to] reach ecologists and fellow scientists who would understand what I trying to say by all of the scientific lingo.
What do you feel is the most rewarding thing about being a published science writer?
Kerfoot: It’s nice to know that your work is out there and that you’re spreading knowledge. As the saying goes, ‘Science is the pursuit of truth’ and by writing about science and conveying your research and findings, you are filling in all of your readers in on the truth that’s out there.
Do you have any advice for aspiring science writers that are trying to get their work published?
Kerfoot: Okay, this is very important, write this down. The most important piece of adv ice that I can give anybody is to not wear your heart on your sleeve. You will experience a lot of criticism from everybody as a scientist and it’s important not to take it too seriously and not to let it get you down. Just keep trying and working at it and you’ll be successful.