Reject, revise, accept: Becoming Reviewer #2

Paper reviewing is one of those weird aspects of professional development that academics are rarely taught to do. Most of us are literally tossed into the deep end when we receive our first reviewer invitation. This may be the first time we’ve ever seen a manuscript that isn’t our own or someone in our lab’s. Because of the confidentiality around paper reviewing, we’re not supposed to share the manuscripts we’re reviewing, though many PI’s will start farming reviews out to grad students as “professional development.” While this practive is technically unethical, I was grateful that I had the opportunity to weigh in on a couple of manuscripts before I had to do this myself.

When I reviewed my first paper (as a senior PhD student), I was nervous. I’d dealt with my own reviews which varied widely (and still do) in terms of quality, length, and tone (I’ll get back to that). We often joke ruefully about “Reviewer # 3,” a fictional aggressive reviewer who is so contrary or aggressive that they sink a paper, even when the other two reviewers may be positive. When reading those reviews, it’s impossible not to try to guess who they’re from. Sometimes, the tone is so strident and aggressive that, despite myself, I picture a Silverback — a senior male, close to retirement, delighting in shredding up others’ work with scathing phrases like “leaps of logic” or “laughable” or “woefully inadequate.” Continue reading

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Getting past a poor third year review

For many academics, the third year review means make-or-break time. You’ve had a few years to settle in, get your own research started, mentor some students, develop and teach new class preps. In my field, funding is definitely expected by this time, and publications from your new line of study should be beginning to roll out.

Ideally, anyway.

For me, many things that could have gone wrong in my first three years, did. My research technician crapped out on me and cost me a good half-year of productivity while I was figuring out how to handle that situation. The research I had started wasn’t really taking off anyway–both the original Plan A as well as my back-up Plan B. I went through a divorce and was learning to handle single mom-hood. My departmental mentor just wasn’t sure what to do with me.

I dug out my own third-year review earlier this semester. Continue reading