Study Leave Week 8

The rewards of changing gear

One of the biggest privileges of an academic career is having the opportunity to read and critique the work of others before publication. Better known as the (oft-maligned) peer review process, it is an important responsibility that goes with the job. Doing it fairly is challenging: fitting in the dedicated time to read someone’s work impartially and with a fresh mind doesn’t always slot in easily to the academic workload. But when it is done right, it is one of the best systems for checking and critiquing research findings to ensure that the best version of the work is the published one.

As editor of a key subject journal in my field (Dix-Neuf), I’ve spent most of this past week working on reviewing article submissions. It involves a mental change of gear from my own research and writing, but it is so rewarding. Getting a different perspective not just on other people’s research findings but also on their thought processes and their writing styles is one of the best bits of the job. Even when an article needs a lot of work before it can be published, there is usually something compelling underlying it all that just needs a new pair of eyes to help it to sing out clearly. 

Editorial work I’ve done this week has served as a salient reminder that the comments I get on my own submissions during the peer review process are there to help me rework. I know when editing my own book chapters, or advising my PhD students on their chapter edits, that it can feel painful and demoralising to face rewriting sections that you thought were ok. But it is always better by the time you come through the other side of it. And we mustn’t forget that the responsibility is on both sides: the reviewer and the reviewee are united in the one goal – to make the article as strong as it possibly can be.

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