I was talking to my wife recently about the ‘Facebook-effect’ of being an academic – whereby people only see the positive things of the work, which results in a sense that everyone else is doing much better than you and that its so much easier for them. For me, I don’t like to go on about how hard it is to do the job well and get a decent work-life balance, because, being terribly British about it, I assume that no-one wants to hear me moan about how hard it is in academia. I’m going to now though…

When you’ve published over 60 peer-reviewed papers, book chapters and books it can seem like getting published is pretty straight-forward. The truth is that it can be just as challenging now as it was when I was working on my first paper. In fact, in the past fortnight I’ve had the three papers which have had the most challenging paths to publication finally come out (#humblebrag). I thought I’d share my experiences of this in the hope that those of you struggling to work on papers while early on in your careers can take comfort from the fact that it doesn’t get any better at all… Ha! No. That you take heart from the fact that it’s not just you hitting your head against a brick wall – we’ve all been there, and continue to experience that.

So, the first paper! As you may know, we’ve been working with 3D structured light scanning for a while now, first on skeletal remains and then on other types of forensic evidence. I took on a PhD student to look at the application of our method and approach to a range of crime scene situations, and we started with footwear impressions. He did some great initial experiments which we expanded when we realised that this had great potential to influence forensic practice.

Anyway, for a reason that I still don’t know, he disengaged with his PhD studies, and despite our collective best efforts, he left us after just over a year. Just before he left, he submitted his first paper to Science & Justice on these initial experiments. We were then in a bit of a pickle – a paper in the midst of review, but the lead author had gone! When the reviews came back, they were brutal. And rightly so – I hadn’t seen the final version of the submitted paper, and it really wasn’t good enough. Lesson learnt there. I decided to work it over myself, as it was good work that deserved publishing, but it is difficult to edit someone else’s work. The paper was eventually resubmitted with the corrections made, only for it to come back again with another massive list! In retrospect, I should have just start the paper from scratch in my own voice, rather than trying to fix someone else’s work. Anyway, eventually, it was accepted.

Rather satisfyingly the final published paper was even described as being “beautifully written”, but that’s also not entirely surprising – I am, after all, eloquent as tits.

Footwear impressions are one of the most common forms of evidence to be found at a crime scene, and can potentially offer the investigator a wealth of intelligence. Our aim is to highlight a new and improved technique for the recovery of footwear impressions, using three-dimensional structured light scanning. Results from this preliminary study demonstrate that this new approach is non-destructive, safe to use and is fast, reliable and accurate. Further, since this is a digital method, there is also the option of digital comparison between items of footwear and footwear impressions, and an increased ability to share recovered footwear impressions between forensic staff thus speeding up the investigation.

The second paper was also on 3D scanning, but this time of living individuals and was a best practice guide following our early work in recording trauma from living individuals. The issue here was not AWOL-PhD students, but rather reviewers who didn’t understand what we were talking about. It’s tough to take suggestions from a review who has confused one form of visual recording with another. My PhD student was hilariously principled about it (in essence, “The reviewer is wrong, he is an idiot, let’s ignore him”). It took a while to wade through those lengthy comments to pull out the relevant comments and respond to the inappropriate ones in a constructive way. We had two sets of comments like this where our new method was being confused with an established, but subtly different, method. We thought the method was written clearly enough, but perhaps not. Eventually we wrote a note to the Editor explaining the confusion.

Non-contact three-dimensional (3D) surface scanning methods have been applied to forensic medicine to record injuries and to mitigate ordinary photography shortcoming. However, there are no literature concerning practical guidance for 3D surface scanning of live victims. This paper aimed to investigate key 3D scanning issues of the live body to develop a series of scanning principles for future use on injured victims. The Pico Scan 3D surface scanner was used on live test subjects. The work focused on analysing the following concerns: (1) an appropriate 3D scanning technique to scan different body areas, (2) the ideal number of scans, (3) scanning approaches to access various areas of the body and (4) elimination of environmental background noise in the acquired data. Results showed that scanning only a required surface of the body area in the stable manner was more efficient when compared to complete 360°-scanning; therefore, it used as a standard 3D scanning technique. More than three scans were sufficient when trying to obtain an optimal wireframe mode presentation of the result. Three different approaches were suggested to provide access to the various areas of the body. Undertaking scanning using a black background eliminated the background noise. The work demonstrated that the scanner will be promising to reconstruct injuries from different body areas, although the 3D scanning of the live subjects faced some challenges.

The third paper was a chapter for the new book War Crimes Trials and Investigations.

This book represents the first multi-disciplinary introduction to the study of war crimes trials and investigations. It introduces readers to the numerous disciplines engaged with this complex subject, including: Forensic Anthropology, Economics and Anthropometrics, Legal History, Violence Studies, International Criminal Justice, International Relations, and Moral Philosophy. The contributors are experts in their respective fields and the chapters highlight each discipline’s major trends, debates, methods and approaches to mass atrocity, genocide, and crimes against humanity, as well as their interactions with adjacent disciplines. Case studies illustrate how the respective disciplines work in practice, including examples from the Allied Hunger Blockade, WWII, the Guatemalan and Spanish Civil Wars, the Former Yugoslavia, and Uganda. Including bibliographical essays to offer readers crucial orientation when approaching the specialist literature in each case, this edited collection equips readers with what they need to know in order to navigate a complex, and until now, deeply fragmented field. A diverse and interdisciplinary body of research, this book will be indispensable reading for scholars of war crimes.

Since this was a multi-disciplinary volume, I was writing a chapter on the application of forensic anthropology to a number of European and Latin American countries with practitioners from different countries. We did a good first draft, but needed to change the emphasis following further consideration of the volume as a whole. Again, I was asked to rework other people’s work, and change the focus of the paper. It was a difficult job and took a number of hours and drafts to get right.

So what can we take away from all of this. Well, first that I am shameless when it comes to using my website to promote my recent publications. Second, and perhaps more importantly, that academic publication is a challenging process and even when you think you’ve got to grips with one part of this process (the structuring and writing of a paper), something can still come and twat you right out of left-field to challenge you in new and inventive ways.

I'm a Professor of Applied Biological Anthropology at Teesside University.

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