Author profile - Nancy Dess

Professor Dress shares her thoughts and views on what it is like to be an author

Professor DessNancy Dess earned her doctorate from the University of Minnesota in 1984 and did post-doctoral research at UCLA before joining the faculty at Occidental College. Her empirical research focuses on ingestive behavior, particularly with respect to the relationships between taste, emotion, and energy regulation.  She also contributes to literatures on peace, research ethics, and the sociopolitics of science.

1. What do you enjoy most about being an author?
I love the writing process. I enjoy the challenge of crafting prose that concisely communicates minutaie and ideas. Generating the prose in the first place is, of course, the hardest part -- but pays the biggest dividends in terms of refining my thinking and, often, getting new ideas.  Editing and revising are more fun, especially after reviews are in and the time comes to take another hard, fresh look at the manuscript, for both substance and exposition. Submitting work that has been vastly improved -- through solitary effort, collaboration with co-authors, and attention to feedback from reviewers who generously spent time on our behalf -- is extremely rewarding.

2. What advice would you give to a new author?
First, remember that publications are forever.  Analyze data thoroughly and fairly and make sure you have something to report that makes a real contribution to the literature. Second, unpack the job of writing a manuscript into at least six subtasks. Thinking about a task as One Huge Task motivates procrastination (in pigeons, rats, young children, academics, etc.). Third, identify the subtask that is easiest and/or most enjoyable -- e.g. running stats, making graphs, writing the Method section -- and start with it.  Then move on to the second easiest or most enjoyable subtask, and so on. Fourth, receive reviews with critical appreciation. With rare exception, reviews will help you improve your work, so be open to them. On the other hand, reviewers are not always right. Discerning when to concede a point, when to overhaul, and when to rebut is crucial. Finally, be sure to discuss credit (co-authorship, author order, acknowledgement) with collaborators as early in the research process as possible. Trying to resolve disagreement over credit when the writing starts probably will not end well.

3. How do you think that the move from print to electronic publishing affects you as an author?
The move to electronic publishing has removed some of the more onerous aspects of publishing my research -- everything that has to do with paper, from original submission, to getting reviews, to resubmitting, to responding to reprint requests. 

4. What do you think about open access?
Mostly, I support open access. My own experience with publishing in an open-access journal was excellent -- fast, professional, helpful reviews and speedy publication after resubmission. The vastly increased access to published research is a public good.

5. What is your favourite quote?
"There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

6. Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
My parents are my biggest inspiration. Both turn 90 this year. My father was a WWII B-29 pilot -- has lived a life devoted to kids and country. My mother raised five children, returned to college to earn a Master's, then taught until she was in her 70s.

7. What do you like to do for fun?
Relax with my husband and dogs -- camping and fishing when we can, which is not often!

8. Anything else?
Science comprises methods of inquiry, philosophy of science, and a complex human enterprise (AAAS, 1991). Too little attention is paid to the latter two. In particular, the scientific community needs to hasten its embrace of increasing diversity to remain vital and relevant in the future.

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