Peer Review Tomorrow

We are doing our first peer review tomorrow. Rough drafts of the two-person dialog on mathematical modeling are due.

I feel unprepared for this. I’ve been reading about peer review and how you should prepare your students and instruct them. I haven’t. I don’t, for example, have examples of varying quality for them to look at, although I have a few posted on my website.

I spent a lot of today writing up worksheets to facilitate the peer review. It was hard to put this together! They will start with the premise that they haven’t (yet) taken this class. The dialog should explain to them what mathematical modeling is and the process of mathematical modeling.

  1. Do you have questions while reading? What are they?
  2. Can you identify the most confusing point or a confusing point? What is it?
  3. Can you identify a point that is well-explained in the dialog? What is it?

    Then we go on to the criteria we identified (in my most recent post).

  4. Is anything missing from the dialog? What is it?
  5. Comment on the organization. Are any of the items on this list done particularly well or poorly?
    • Does the writer introduce/motivate the topic?
    • Are ideas presented in a logical order?
    • Do the ideas flow, or are there abrupt transitions?
    • Are the two examples of mathematical models well integrated into the discussion and used to further the main ideas? Do the two examples seem “tacked on” at the end?
    • Is specialized vocabulary introduced and explained, then used consistently?
  6. Comment on the appearance: grammar, sentence structure, spelling, punctuation. Is this pretty good or does it need work?

It isn’t perfect, but I hope it is enough.

I am thinking about telling them the following story.

When I finished my dissertation, after defending my Ph.D., I wanted to submit my results for publication. I rewrote the dissertation into two articles. I asked my Ph.D. advisor to please read them and tell me what I needed to change before I sent them out. He had my things for a week or two. He never gave me any feedback. He told me to just send them. I did.

He was gone on sabbatical when the reviews came back some months later. I will never forget that day; the papers were rejected outright; the reviews were terrible. I still have them. I am not a strong enough person to go back and look at them now. The criticism was well-deserved, which made it worse. I felt small and stupid. Seven years of my life on that Ph.D.! It was years before I realized that some of the harsh words were probably not directed at me, but at my advisor. They all struck straight into my heart and self-esteem.

I went home and cried and cried and cried. When I finally managed to compose myself again, I put those papers away and I resolved to close that chapter of my life and move on. I was not a strong enough person to subject myself to that.

My advisor should have prevented that disaster. He set me up for failure. I asked him, appropriately, for feedback on my work. He was my advisor. That was his job.

It might have been hard to take his criticism, but it would have been infinitely easier to fix what he told me than to get my head chopped off by those strangers.

I eventually let my advisor talk me into trying again — with the understanding that there would be feedback from him and others this time — and at the price of having his name on the paper. To our my credit, those two papers got rewritten into one and accepted by that journal. As much vindication as I feel being able to tell you that fact, the vindication pales next to the strength of the remembered shame and pain of reading the reviews.

When I teach, I’m the reviewer. I am the lion you are sent in to the arena to fight. I put grades on papers, and I make comments. I’m the one who is going to rip you to shreds. Before you send our classmates in to fight with the lion (me), make sure you’ve given them as much help as you can to make sure that they won’t be torn to shreds.

It is easier to take criticism from our friends when the stakes are low, than it is to be told our work stinks when the stakes are high.

I wish I’d had a peer to consult with way back then.

Dear Students, do better for each other than my advisor did for me.

One thought on “Peer Review Tomorrow

  1. Will you tell the students your story about peer review? I hope you do, even though it’s a hard story to tell.

    When I spent time learning about revision strategies, I learned that most undergraduates begin with a misconception of what peer review and revision are. They tend to focus on making grammatical changes to things – consulting a thesaurus, adding commas, et cetera. More than anything, reminding them that the first priority is making sure the right ideas are present will get them on the right track! I do note that you’ve ordered your review questions based on their priority already. 🙂

    I also think you have to strike a balance between providing structure for the review process, but not overwhelming students with too many things at once.

    And THANK YOU for teaching these skills to students.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

Comments are closed.