My slog in the swamp of despair

Back in January of this year, I wrote about my long trek in the valley of despondence to get a literature review published. This time, it’s my slog in the swamp of despair to get my student’s dissertation published. It took 3 years to get this paper accepted for publication. Not sure when it’ll be published.

March 2014: Student completed dissertation
August 2014: Student graduated with her master degree
April 2015: Student presented her research in an oral presentation at CEC 2015 San Diego

September 2015: Student submitted manuscript to Behavioral Disorders
November 2015: Decision – rejected

June 2016: Took over task of revision from student, and made major revision with third author.
October 2016: Submitted to Education and Treatment of Children
March 2017: Checked status with editor-in-chief and was informed that the editor in charge is not well, thus the delay
April 2017: Decision – rejected

August 2017: Submitted to Australasian Journal of Special Education
October 2017: Decision – revise and resubmit
January 2018: Revised and resubmitted
March 2018: Decision – revise and resubmit (Round 2)
May 2018: Revised and resubmitted (Round 2)
6 August 2018: Checked status with editor-in-chief and was informed that one reviewer has not gotten back with his/her feedback
8 August 2018: Decision – accepted for publication in the Australasian Journal of Inclusive and Special Education

Inter-observer Agreement

After 2 weeks of training the temporary RA, the two RAs were still not able to hit the minimal gold standard of 80% inter-observer agreement (IOA). IOA is when two observers observe one or more students simultaneously, and at the end of the session, their coding of the student’s behaviors are compared. If the IOA is above 80%, then this is an indicator that the data were collected reliably.

Since official data collection has started, I had no choice but to step foot into the classrooms and be the IOA data collector. That means my coding of the students’ behaviors must match that of my RA for at least 80% of the 10-second intervals over 30 minutes, across three classes. Eighty percent of the 540 intervals!!

Prior to this, I’ve worked with my RA over the past 2 weeks on clearly defining active engagement, passive engagement, and non-engagement for 3rd to 5th grade students. My RA has thrown at me all sorts of random description of classroom behavior, and we have tried very hard to set our guidelines on how to code those behaviors. However, it’s one thing to have on paper what are active engagement behaviors, but to see the active engagement in action is a different ball game.

Knowing what I was getting myself into, I didn’t sleep too well last night…

It’s one of those funny-when-you-look-back-at-it moments, the teacher announced, “I will give you 20-minutes to work on a concept map in your small groups,” and BOOM! the class explodes into a series of “undefined” behaviors. Eyes were roaming everywhere, not quite at the teacher nor the assigned materials. Quiet raised hand is like a waving hand while answering aloud. Thankfully we survived this classroom, barely scraping through with an inter-observer agreement of 80.9%.

Journal articles make research studies look so neat and tidy. Research in real life is messy.

Anyway, I think I can sleep well tonight.

Queen of Perseverance or just a Bad Academic Writer

I started my academic career on a high – so much potential, so high hopes. I immediately started working on a systematic literature review on a type of behavioral intervention for students with autism. Here is my long trek in the valley of despondence.

October 2013: Submitted manuscript to Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders
March 2014: Decision – revise and resubmit, but reviewers wanted statistical analyses which we were not willing to attempt, so decided not to resubmit

March 2014: Submitted to Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities (ETADD)
June 2014: Feedback came – manuscript too long, need to shorten. Took them three months to tell us that!

July 2014: Submitted shortened version to ETADD
October 2014: Decision – rejected

January 2015: Submitted to Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice
April 2015: Decision – rejected

July 2015: Submitted to Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs
September 2015: Withdrew manuscript from the journal. Editorial board was going through editor change and the manuscript was just sitting there.

January 2016: Submitted to International Journal of Disability, Development and Education (IJDDE)
May 2016: Decision – revise and resubmit

September 2016: Resubmitted to IJDDE
December 2016: Decision – rejected

January 2017: Submitted to International Journal of Special Education
October 2017: Decision – accepted. I found out by accident that the paper was published in IJSE. The journal did not inform me of their decision.

Each submission to a new journal took more work. Some journals do not follow the APA format, and I had to reformat the whole document. Some journals use British spelling, and I had to recheck the document. Furthermore, since it was a literature review, it was also nearing its expiry date before I had to add newer articles.

I’m a little heartbroken that the manuscript that I worked so hard on went to an unranked journal. But my perseverance was running out.

Perhaps I should write about my slog in the swamp of despair next? I have yet to see the light at the end of that swampy tunnel yet.

On Writing

I have to write so much in my work. Emails and reports, grants and papers. Spent the past few days revising a manuscript for the third time.

I also have to give feedback to students’ papers and often times the feedback comments are writing related.

I tried to read those writing books and brush up on my grammar. Even with all that, I wish I could be confident to know when to use “behaviours” and not “behaviour”. The plural and singular stuff always trips me up. Commas are also tricky. Can I blame my lack of grammar usage confidence on the does-it-sound-right strategy that I grew up with?

Maybe I should go for a professional development course on grammar usage. Or maybe I should just reread those grammar books again.

Contemplations on being someone’s boss

I went through many years as a student, graduate student, and then working in universities under department heads. Never really had someone work for me, or directly under me, until I hired two research assistants (RAs) for my research grants. I’ve learned a lot about being someone’s “boss” in the close to 2 years since I had my RAs.

I’ve learned that I am accountable for their errors. I had to apologize to a school principal for one of those errors.

I’ve learned that I have to correct them when they make errors. Sometimes this involves having difficult conversations with them. One time a young RA brought up an issue in front of a group of teachers, who were our research participants, but that issue should only be discussed among the research team and not with the teachers. So it was awkward to have to answer her question in front of the teachers. I was annoyed, so was my colleague, by this awkward situation. I was thinking of letting this indiscretion go, but my colleague insisted that I must address this matter. I’m a non-confrontational type of person and dreaded having this talk with the RA. But I did it, had the talk, pointed out her error, and she was surprisingly receptive to the mild reprimand/constructive feedback.

I’ve learned that I need to put people first, and not my research grant first. At the end of 2016 when my first RA’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, my RA was devastated and had to support her mom and family during that time. She missed several weeks of work. It wasn’t an intense time yet for the research project but I was quite worried that she would not be able to do the work, and whether I would need to let her go and find another RA. Research projects have tight deadlines and there isn’t much room for delay. But when I met with her and listened to her stories I empathized with her. So I pushed back all my grant worries, removed the “principal investigator” hat, put on my “friend” hat, and tried my best to support her then. Eventually things stabilized and she was able to get back to work.

I’ve learned to trust them and not micro-manage. Let them do their work, not check on their progress so often, and be ok if they are not in their office all the time. Both of them are dependable and do good work, so this is easy.

I will miss working with them when the research grants end this year.

2016: What happened to my June and July?!

Time pass by too quickly. I had a long list of writing projects to complete during the June and July break but only accomplished two 🙁


I completed the grant application. This was quite an extensive writing project. I think it is pretty good. I hope the grant committee feels the same.


I revised the manuscript by my masters student. It is now with the 3rd author for checking. I hope I can get it out this Wednesday.

I should get a draft of the paper on the equine-assisted learning project done before I leave for Melbourne. I hope to submit this by mid-September.

Then I have to revise the autism literature review paper by the end of August. I am not confident that I can revise it to a state that will satisfy the reviewers 🙁

Then there is that paper on special educators’ perspectives on evidence-based practices. Maybe that can go out in October? Sigh…

Brewing an Idea


What do you do with an idea?

You let it churn and brew and regurgitate in your mind. You find people who may be interested and pass the idea over to have it churn and brew and regurgitate in their minds as well.

I’m going to apply for another research grant. So far I’ve already put in quite a number of hours just to get the approval to submit a full proposal by early July.


Aside from this grant application, I have 2 manuscripts to revise and a new paper to get out by end July. Sometimes, not sometimes, often times, the thought of all the planning, thinking, reading, and writing is very overwhelming.


I try to work outside the campus, just to get away from my office. I can plan and read, but I don’t think I am productive writing-wise, in the library. I think I write better at home, with music, with some self-talk as I think through how to phrase the sentences. However, free flow internet at home is also a major distractor.

I just hope that no major admin work comes my way the next 2 months.

Resolutions, why bother? Right?! (Part 2)

Read More

How do I get myself to read more?

Academic reading: I have accumulated so MANY journal articles, and research and teaching books, that I should read but I never found the time or I didn’t make time to read them. I’m thinking maybe before the start of every work day, before I check email or turn on the work computer, I should read one journal article. If I speed read, I could clear one in 30mins. I could even get a latte at the canteen and spend a “leisurely” hour of reading before going to the office. Sounds good 🙂

Leisure reading: Maybe 30 mins before bedtime, I should read something new and not my same old bedtime reading materials.

Bible reading: At least a chapter in the morning before I turn on the wifi or mobile data on my cellphone..haha

Write More

Blog writing: This post is evidence that I’m trying to write more 🙂 Writing about mundane stuff is good. Any writing is good. Not Facebook status or comment kind of writing. Kind of more deliberate, brain cranking kind of writing. I feel people don’t think as deeply or reflect as much nowadays. People react a lot, and are quick to share social media stuff, but, in general, most people don’t create new things (that takes effort) as much.

Academic writing: This is a killer. One sentence at a time. Building up to a paragraph. Remove the fear and anxiety that the piece is not good enough. Get the draft done and start on the revision. There is no other way.

My work appraisal is so tightly-linked to how much I can produce in this area, which is quite horrible. Since academic publishing takes so much time and just because you wrote something, doesn’t mean that it will be published. It may take several months before you find out that the work you spend months and years on has been rejected.

I’m still trying to understand this part of my work life and its impact on my self-esteem and self-worth. It’s just part and parcel of academia life. Cannot run away from it. It’s just that the expectation of my uni is just too high. A person will reach a point where it’s almost impossible to catch up and then “why bother?” creeps in.

At this point in time, after much reflection, I just want to do some meaningful research, with whatever time that I might have left, and I hope the research process and findings will have some impact on some people. And if my papers get published, I hope someone will read it and find it helpful. I hope to have an enjoyable and exciting time doing the research, and writing it up(!). Ruminating on the KPIs is just a waste of my time.

Let’s start from the very beginning…


These clear sheet protectors, categorized as Consumables, and the receipt dated 1 January 2016 signify the beginning of the Transition Grant. The Transition Grant will kickstart once I submit the reimbursement claim form for this item.

For the next 2.5 years, I will be spending a significant amount of my time and energy working on this research grant.

What is it like for young people with intellectual disabilities as they transition to adulthood?
What are their dreams and hopes for the future?
Have they been taught to dream and have hopes for their future?
Do those around them nurture their hopes and dreams?
Will they just tell me what they think I want to hear?
Will I be able to listen close enough to hear what they have to say?