personal · Teaching · Writing

The Wonders of Peer Review

I haven’t posted in several days, and feel somewhat guilty about that, since my last post was of a deeply personal and probably somewhat disturbing nature for some who read it.

I’ve been busy, and as that business has involved trying to catch up on grading, I haven’t been doing my research or writing this week. Also, because I am horrifically behind on grading, and I feel incredibly guilty about that (students rely on prompt feedback in order to improve) I haven’t been doing anything but trying to catch up on grading. Shame spiral, I think Cher from Clueless would call it. I’m so ashamed of being behind that it’s actually impeding my ability to get anything done.

But, I wanted to talk a moment to share a positive experience I had in the academy, recently. I don’t have many of those, so I feel like it’s especially important to share them when they do happen.

We had a workshop, led by guest speakers that have edited academic journals for years. I was invited to participate, and submitted a paper for review that I knew contained lots of problems, because I’m reworking it for inclusion in my dissertation right now. I wrote it in my first semester as a PhD student… I am now post-course work so, needless to say, I’ve learned a lot since then. I was nervous. I knew I hadn’t submitted my best work, even though the idea was one I was proud of, and I was afraid that the review participants would be cruel, or that, at worst, I would find out I was an idiot.

While the reviewers had some pretty hard criticism for me, though, it was presented in constructive and helpful ways. I was told I had a publishable idea, and given feedback that would help me make it into a publishable paper. It was exactly the kind of feedback I needed in order to see what to do next, and the feedback also reflected many of the problems I already knew were there.

The workshop was actually fun. I never expected peer review to be fun. It affirmed my suspicions that graduate students need peer review as much as undergraduates do, but that kind of collaboration is lost once we enter graduate school. I’ve been trying on and off to get people to participate in a peer review group, but get little to no response, and it always ends up falling flat.

This experience has renewed my desire to get something like this going. Working in isolation is not nearly as productive as sharing ones work with others, and getting feedback, even when it is critical, is rewarding and can be positive at any level in the writing process.

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