Seal of approval: cover story

It’s very hard to explain just how satisfying it is when you finally get a paper published. Whenever a paper finally moves on out into the world and is a tangible thing for someone else to read, is the endgame of something which has usually taken several years from conception, including finding the money to do the research, assembling the team, getting consents, doing the research, managing and assembling the data, putting draft after draft together, submitting to a journal, being rejected, changing the draft, resubmitting, making more changes, acceptance, reviewing proofs, waiting for it to appear online and then the hard copy. It’s a marathon not a sprint. And, like a marathon, much of the reward is just making it to the finish line.

This caught my eye last week:

“Academic: *manuscript accepted* This is my greatest achievement!

Other: What about your kids?

Academic: I told them but they don’t quite get academic publishing… “


“On the cover of the Rolling ah NZ J Zool…..”. Image from Adrian Paterson

And it certainly has an element of truth about it. Each year I spend a class going through the long publishing process with new postgrads. It comes as a revelation and a shock!

 Getting published is an acknowledgment that your work is meaningful and of a good quality. Papers are also the primary currency on which most academics are judged, both by their peers and by their organisations. So a paper coming out is a reason to celebrate. Getting the picture on the cover of the journal is even better!

I made the cover of Cladistics with my study on the evolution of penguin behavior, probably because I could provide pictures of penguins (and who doesn’t love those?). This week I managed it again, this time with the New Zealand Journal of Zoology. Keeping with the large marine species theme, this photo was one I took of a New Zealand fur seal juvenile while we were getting tissue and faeces samples from a colony. The seal was down in a crevice between two boulders that I was stepping across. The seal looked straight up from a sitting position and I snapped a photo.

The paper is on gene flow among fur seal populations around Banks Peninsula from work done with my former PhD student Arsalan Khoyi Emami. NZ fur seals are a species on the rebound from severe hunting pressure 200 years ago. They are spreading at a fast rate and reoccupying parts of their former range. Unfortunately, this is bringing them into increasing contact with humans.

Who doesn’t love a picture of a marine mammal? Image from Adrian Paterson

We wanted to know several things about NZ fur seals. Arsalan is busy publishing his different PhD chapters on this topic. First, what do they eat and do they compete for commercial species? Answer: they eat most things and some of these are commercial species (discussed here). Second, how do they expand and colonise areas? Answer: they mostly just colonise as a creeping front moving along the coast (discussed here). Third, have they lost genetic diversity when they went through a small population phase? Answer: they have a surprising level of DNA diversity (discussed here). Fourth, how big will the population get? Answer: that’s our next paper to come out, so we’ll keep you in suspense (although the population will potentially grow a lot more if it matches the historical population). Bonus question: are seals more closely related to bears or mustelids (both from Carnivora)? Answer: bears (discussed here)!

Publishing a scientific paper is a pretty cool thing, whether it’s something in a big international journal or a small targeted regional journal. You really feel like you have pushed that boundary of science back just a wee bit, shed some like on a small piece of a dark corner, increased the sum of knowledge by that little increment. That’s why we are here and the feeling never gets old. It’s is one of the reasons we stay in the science game (as well as for the fast sports cars and luxury beach houses, obviously).

So it’s time to enjoy being on the cover. Perhaps I should buy five copies for my mother? (or maybe she can just read this article)

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