Category Archives: Academics

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