Under Review

I wonder if there is some dark, hidden pathology in academics. Some sordid masochism which draws us to ‘the Academy’.  Why else would we choose a life where we are constantly seeking approval and receiving criticism and critique?

Everyone get performance reviews. Usually these occur once a year and are based on objective criteria like a job description, productivity, etc.

For those of us who suffer and survive the PhD process and are awarded positions in the illustrious academy, our publications, research projects, funding applications…..even our teaching is under review by a committee of our peers.

I recently reviewed an article and, like the junior scholar that I am, corrected the grammar and punctuation in addition to the content. In short, I treated it like an exam paper from one of my students and invested time and energy into ‘educating’ the author. Perhaps this is a left over reaction to the vague comments I received from my thesis adviser – “I think paragraph two on page four makes a good point but you should change the wording.” – which wording? what is wrong with it so that I can correct it? how can I win your approval if I don’t know how?

Foolish me.

I received reviewer’s notes on an article today and I am not convinced either of them actually read the article in question. Or perhaps they did and I am doomed to a lifetime of ambiguous abstractions which have only a tenuous relationship with the content of research under review.

Reviewer number two, to whom there is a dedicated facebook group, felt I needed to include a table of chemical data (apparently missing the one provided on page 7) and felt that I should use a different colour on my map. Seriously. This is your great critique. Did you spend anytime on my article at all? I am pleased the article was accepted but……I don’t feel ‘reviewed’. I feel cheated. Insignificant. As though I didn’t warrant, wasn’t valuable enough, for the reviewers to actually read and review my work.

The whole purpose of peer review is to monitor the quality of research and ideas which make it to the ‘Academy’ arena. Surely this task requires that the research and ideas in question are read……..surely.

Worse that peer review – are student evaluations. Who invented this hellish torture?

Undergraduate and Masters students I am currently teaching and whose work I am grading have the power to grade me in return. If they don’t like the grade they earn – your evaluation suffers. If you teach them nothing but are funny – your evaluation soars. Please don’t ask me to count the number of incompetent teachers in my department who are lauded for their student evaluations.

And, what is worse, these little cretins have power in the tenure process. Not only do you need to publish, teach a full load while conducting research, and perform professional service – you have to have good student evaluations, be “liked” (yes, my department head used the word “liked”) by 18 year olds with no knowledge of the field and no discipline or work ethic!

When I look at my Masters students, so desperate for my approval, so eager to please……I see myself.

I do not know whether it would be kind to tell them now that the hallowed halls of academia are indifferent and apathetic. Your whole life will be spent under review.



Filed under Academics

2 responses to “Under Review

  1. Sissy

    Touche’! It’s at the same time comforting and distressing to know those at the higher end of the intelligence food chain are subject to similar feelings attached to ‘peer review’ as those of us trudging through the abyss of ignoramus. I say we hold hands and sing “We Shall Overcome”

  2. Anamaya

    Prior to my university studies I have worked in office environment for many years and if is any comfort to you even the most lowy employe is subjected to trimestral, semestral and yearly review and appraisal. In these document you are supposed to tell your line managers the fantastic improovements and contribution you made to the company and which fantastic achivement you are planning for the near feature, how many extra trainigns ( most of which are useless to the best), you have taken and obviously a passing judgement on how well your office is doing thanks to the infinite knowledge and foresight of your line manager (failing to mention him and his genious, or worse critisising him will definately lead to not getting a salary increase or been up leveled). Your salary increase is judged by that miserable piece of paper rather then your actual performance, as doing your job properly, being in the office to cover for your manager that istead is offcially intrateining visiting customers (ie. drinking and eating in plush restaurant at the expenses of the company). Furthermore you are judged by the person whom you are requested to express a judgement on the very same paper. Basically as long you can be creative with your writing, even if has not bearing with reality, and you prise your line manager/judge you will get a salary increase. But if you have the bad luck of been an honest person, and incapable of passing sending a fax to a customer as the greatest discovery after internet in improoving comunication, then you are likely to remain in your cubicle for the rest of your working carreer sorting out the credit card bill of your line manager.
    The problem with this system of evaluation used today is that is too reliable in other people opinions, which can clearly be influenced. Looking good on the paper is now more important then actually performing good, because the people that give the money are removed from reality and only look at the papers to judge who gets what. This I found it expecially true in uny today, for example they are happy with the course evaluation because students liked the tutor, he was fun, so they give him all 5. The fact that the students may have learned as much about Roman archeology as if they took a course in cross stiching does not necessary causes a problem, because the people that bring the founding read only the evaluation sheets, so all is well in their world..
    I have been told from more then one tutor that they for exaple were pushed to give higher marks so that the uny will look better on the paper and on the founding body eyes!

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