In the current issue of the journal Studies in Communication and Media (SCM) a study was published on which I have been working together with Christina Schumann since 2015. At that time Christina was my master thesis supervisor and I was her student. The study: My master thesis project. When we started the project, I lived in Ilmenau, a small place hidden in the Thuringian forest. I lived 50 meters from the IfMK – the institution for media and communication science.
Today I live more than 600 kilometers from Ilmenau and between the implementation of the study and its publication I lived two lives: one in Braunschweig and one in Amsterdam. I also submitted my PhD thesis.
So a lot has happened in my personal and professional life and this paper has always accompanied me. Here is the story of this project, and also my story, which starts with a master thesis and ends with a research paper that tries to understand the relationship between subjective well-being and smartphone usage.
Ilmenau, himmelblau (that’s what Goethe said)
Finding a topic for my master’s thesis was the easiest task at that time. My list of ideas was at least two pages long and contained only phenomenally good ideas. With some of these phenomenal ideas I approached Jens Wolling and Christina Schumann, Department of Empirical Media Research and Political Communication. For me at that time this was the coolest department even though my research idea had not so much to do with political communication. With the help of Christina and Jens, I decided to conduct a study in which smartphone users would give up their smartphones and I would measure their well-being. We even decided to raise funds from FuLM e.V. to compensate the participants for their participation. I think it was 300 €. 300 very important Euros in my life. The compensation of participants gave the student study more professionalism, and even the regional newspaper Thüringer Allgemeine Zeitung called for participation. The call guaranteed me that I would not only have students as test subjects. That really was fantastic at that time.
…and more media attention!
At that time the topic was already pretty hot, and shortly after the article in the newspaper was published I got a phone call from the regional radio channel Antenne Thüringen: They also wanted to support me. I didn’t think that it could get any better, but then the radio speaker himself wanted to participate in the study and talk about how he is doing during smartphone deprivation in the radio.
That’s how all began. That was the enjoyable part: the planning, the data conduction. After that there was the analysis and the thesis writing, the defence and the end of my studies. Christina, who loved the topic as much as I did, asked me if I would be interested in publishing the work. Sure! Everything is better than to leave the study in the drawer! But is that really science? I mean, is that good enough? I have already asked myself this question but honestly: I had no idea what a scientific publication is.
Journals, Reviewer, Major Revisions and Rejections
We wrote a very first version of a paper and submitted it to the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. I was just starting to work as a research assistant and PhD candidate in Braunschweig at that time and when we got a major review, everyone was excited. I thought to myself: Okay, cool. Still no idea why it was so special. The disappointment when the paper was rejected in the second round was just as big as the excitment earlier. Reason: the sample size was too small. That could have been noticed in the first round, but okay. Let’s submit just to another journal then, I thought. This “impact factor” is not that important, is it?
By now we had submitted to several other journals, always received contradictory perspectives from reviewers and tried to please everyone. Long and cery long waiting periods lay between individual submissions. I honestly don’t remember how long, but I remember that at some point it all became absurd. In the meantime I had many other research projects, got better and better at my teaching and attended countless conferences. Also with the smartphone study we were on two conferences. 2016 we presented the study on the Conference of the Digital Communication Group, and 2017 at ICA in San Diego. During the whole time, the paper was mostly stuck in review processes and was occasionally we had the chance for revision.
Not giving up!
It was a long way. Many times of waiting, but also of reworking. Christina and I had to learn a lot to meet the demands of the many reviewers. But we didn’t give up. Not just because there was so much work already in this project, and not only because we actually enjoyed working together. The paper also got better and better. With every review. Every time I was forced to wait and I re-opened the manuscript after months of not having seen it, I thought more and more often: That’s actually a pretty cool study. Especially the last review of SCM, which encouraged us to integrate multilevel analysis, we changed everything and this made our approach much more valuable.
Iny early 2019 we finally submitted to SCM. I remember sitting in the ASCoR by now and leaving the PhD office for every Skype meeting with Christina to sit down in one of the conference rooms. Besides the paper meeting I let Christina participate in the status of my PhD thesis, and at some point in the application process at Netflix. After another major revision, for which Christina and I had to learn intensively about multilevel analyses, the publication went well. Until last Thursday, when the current issue with our paper actually came out, I remained skeptical and didn’t quite believe that this would actually happen.
Now it is published and it feels strange. I thank Christina so much for this wonderful collaboration, and I thank all the reviewers who spend many hours of work. They will remain unknown to me, but I do value all the work they put into this paper. Only because of you, this paper is now as it is! Thank you very much for this, and also for the opportunity to have experienced this crazy, far too long process.
Of course, a process of five years to publish a study can also be taken as a good starting point for a critical statement on how science works. But not today.
Now, here it is!
Here it is! I particularly appreciate the work because it draws attention to the importance of the smartphone from a slightly different angle than other studies. I like the discussion best.