Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Firm Faith Watson. If you don’t know her, you should! Her title is Director of the Faculty Development Center at Murray State University, but she serves more than just the Murray State community. She has created the This Works for Me Virtual Summit, a series in which she interviews various academics about … well, about what works for them! The youtube channel is here.
My contribution to the series is on the topic of peer review. We don’t talk about peer review all that much in academe other than to complain about Reviewer 2 (who maybe isn’t so bad after all), but we should!
What would happen if …
- I answered email when I got to it rather than the second I saw it?
- I said no to a professional opportunity?
- I rearranged my schedule so I could pick my daughter up at school at 3:45 two days a week so I could take her to dance class?
- I gave myself the time to read a novel every weekend (barring unusual events)?
- I worked out 3-4 days per week?
- I wrote (almost) every day, just a little bit?
- I got enough sleep?
These all are questions I have asked myself in the past. They’re all questions I’ve tried to answer through direct experience.
Life (or at least my life) tends to move at a fast and furious pace. I want to slow down. I want to learn HOW to slow down. Work and family obligations tend to conspire with each other, filling my days and nights. At any given time I have a zillion thoughts floating around my head, and lists of tasks I need to complete. I try to do as much as I can in small pockets of time, and often feel fragmented and frustrated. About half of my official work day hours are spent in meetings or in the classroom, and prep, grading, and follow-up tasks occupy much of the rest of those hours. Other obligations (as well as my writing) get pushed to the wee hours, when I’m exhausted.
But this past week was different.
For the last year (and 3 months) I’ve done a lot of writing. I haven’t tallied it all up, but I’ve participated in the Any Good Thing Writing Challenge and I have been successful each month. Success means that I’ve been able to generate at least 400 words at least 5 days per week throughout that time. And that’s a lot of words.
Pardon me as I get all sentimental and schmaltzy for a mo …
One of my colleagues frequently says that as professors we have the best job on earth. He usually makes this comment during times when I’m grumbling about something or other, or someone else is grumbling about something or other, or when we’re stressed out and frustrated (as is the case when the semester draws to an end or the to do list gets too long or some new requirement for paperwork done in duplicate-triplicate comes out). I usually reply with a “but … [thing that is annoying right now].” However, I secretly agree with him.
A true story from a random Monday in April.
Earlier today I opened an email from a journal editor. No surprises – the email was a request to review a journal articles sometime in the next x weeks. I’m vaguely familiar with the journal. I’ve never published in it, but it’s got a decent reputation. The article is on a topic that I’ve published on previously, more than once. It’s not my greatest interest, but I’m certainly qualified to comment on this topic. How did I come to be identified as a reviewer? Perhaps it was via a scopus keyword search. Perhaps I am cited in the manuscript. Perhaps I am in the publisher’s larger database of eligible reviewers. Does it matter? In the end, it’s all the same: I was asked to review.
I dithered for a moment. Did I mention that I’m not tremendously interested in the topic, even if I’ve written on it before? Did I tell you how busy I am with other things? And how many reviews I’ve already done this year? How about the fact that I have pneumonia right now, and it’s the last week of classes, and I’m just generally sick and overwhelmed?
And then I clicked the button. Accept.
Accept? I accepted the review? Why did I do that? Do I regret doing it? Should I have taken more time to decide?
No. No more time was needed to deliberate. Best save that time to read and review the article. In the end, it won’t really take me that long. It never does.
The most important thing is that I said yes. I said yes to the review.
A few hours later, I drove to a lunch meeting. My first venture back to work since getting really sick. There’s nothing really notable about that, I suppose. I was slowly working through my mental fog at home, shut down the computer, grabbed my phone, and headed a mile or so down the road. When I parked, I stayed in the car for a moment and checked my email on my phone. Three new messages. One particularly lovely one had this subject line:
Rowena Reviewer has accepted your invitation to review manuscript XYZ123
Yes, it was a form letter … but I do love this particular form letter and the actions that trigger it.
I mentally composed a reply that will never be sent: Thank you, dear Rowena Reviewer! (You’re a Ravenclaw, right?). Thank you for accepting this invitation. You may not realize it, but you have made this journal editor so very happy. So much time and effort goes into finding reviewers, and so many people say no (they’re all too busy, presumably writing their own manuscripts which will then need to be reviewed) that it is an exhausting process. But you? You said yes!!! You said yes to the review!
In that moment, I envisioned the journal editor receiving the form letter that I triggered this morning. Did I bring him a similar moment of joy? I hope so.
And although they are presently unaware, two authors moved one step forward to receiving feedback on their manuscripts. They likely feel impatient about the process. They want to know the verdict as soon as possible. They don’t know what’s going on in the black box of the review process, a process that almost always takes twice as long (or longer) than perhaps it should. (Hint: the cause is usually people who don’t respond to requests to review, and those who decline requests to review and put the editor back at square one). But maybe a little bit of review pixie dust drifted down on their heads today, and perhaps when they receive their next request to review they’ll find it in their hearts to say yes, too.