Monday, February 2, 2015

A Love Letter to Peer Reviewers Everywhere

Dearest, loveliest, most gorgeous,

Are you surprised that I am beginning with terms of endearment even though we hardly know each other? But you and I know that you really are gorgeous. Oh yes, you. Don’t blush. This is not the time for bashfulness. It is true that I hardly know you. Indeed, chances are, if I walked past you in the street, I would not even know to say hi. But you should know that I am tipping my hat to you, even if I don’t really know you. Indeed, the crazy thing about our relationship is that it is almost completely dependent upon not really knowing you. Our relationship is at its best when I admire you from something of a distance – or at least from arm’s length. Anyways, enough was enough and it is high time I tell you how I feel.

I need you. Sorry to sound a bit clingy. But I really need you. I’m not even sure that ours is one of those healthy co-dependent relationships. Where would I be without you? Where would any of us (the tenured prof whose book is out with a university press, the precariat worker whose article is now happily out with that sweet little journal you never say on to, the graduate student with that first pub under her belt, the mid-career academic whose grant just bought her a little space and time to get that project together, the mildly totally desperate academic journal editor who is trying to usher through that one last piece so that the next issue can come out) be without you?

Did you come back from the winter break to an inbox full of “gentle reminders” for things that you had promised in a haze of exhaustion and a rush of nobility? Did you scramble to get all those grant apps assessed, those articles reviewed, that book manuscript evaluated? All while teaching your courses, writing reference letters, maybe pulling together a job app, or (in a slightly different version of peer review) reading lots of job apps files and so on, and so on, and so on. You did it, didn’t you? I know, you were pretty late with some of those. I know you felt bad. But the point is, you got that report in. You totally came through.

I know, sometimes it hurts.

Like when your words are referred to as fecal matter and perhaps taken out of context.

Or when you are depicted as a vicious sharp-toothed sea monster.

I get it. Our relationship would be nowhere without your brutal and unflinching honesty. Indeed, along with that arm’s length business, this brutal honesty is foundational to our relationship.

And I know, sometimes you just don’t feel seen, as though you are totally being taken for granted.

Like, when no one, not even the editor (you’ve given up expecting anything from the actual author because you realize, having been there, that it does feel a bit weird to acknowledge “the anonymous reviewers whose comments were so helpful yaddy, yaddy, ya”) who asked you for this thing in the first place, remembers to thank you.

Or when you write a ten-page, single-spaced review of a manuscript with detailed notes for revision, and then you see the thing come out in print and the author seems to have ignored everything you said.

Or when you told the editors that the ms was truly awful and should not be published only to see it out, with nary a comma moved, months later.

At times like these, you wonder why you bother with this relationship. It’s not for the money (hullo, unpaid and invisible labour? Sign you up!). You wonder if it makes you happy. You wonder why you can’t say no more. You wonder why the relationship feels so one-sided. You put out all this brilliance, and, at best, you get a pre-scripted thank you spit out from some OJS robot. You wonder how it is possible to feel so under-appreciated and so unloved. It’s not like anyone asks you how many pages of peer review reports you wrote this year as part of how they assess your “performance.” Certainly, your dean doesn’t pat you on the back and say, Those peer reviews you did were really great! Good job!

So maybe you wonder if you should say yes the next time. You wonder if they could at least treat you to a milk shake for once.

And then you remember that arm’s length thing. I couldn’t hug you even if I wanted to.

And okay, I know that we are not “exclusive.” Yes, I admit, there are a lot of you in my life. And, even weirder, sometimes I am you. (Woah, mind twister!) You know that this relationship wouldn’t work at all if you were the only one. Think of the pressure!

And you remember that other people have sometimes done this for you. Or they might. You never know. And mostly, you remember that the profession would be nowhere, really and truly nowhere, without you.

If you walked out on me tomorrow, the world as I know it would pretty much collapse. I’m not exaggerating. There would be no publications, no grants, no academic books.

But there’s more. I want you to know that I think about you all the time. Sorry if that sounds a bit stalkerish. Don’t worry. Remember that part about not knowing you if I passed you on the street? But I do think about you. I think about how great you are. I think about how you always come through even though you must brace yourself for potential ingratitude and disregard every time. Not to mention the nagging (hello, “gentle reminders”).  I think about how you are the one who says yes after that poor, desperate journal editor (sometimes me) has been fully rejected by a string of others. You can’t imagine how grateful I am when you say yes. When you say yes, I do a little happy dance. I know you can’t see it. But it’s pretty cute. Trust me.

So, dear anonymous peer reviewer, I just wanted you to know that I would bring you flowers and buy you chocolates if I could.

You are marvelous. You step up. You come through. You shine quietly, brilliantly, in that space of anonymity that is the condition of our relationship. Some people might think that I should simply be writing a letter of gratitude. A love letter can be a bit weird given the nature of our relationship (yes, yes, arm’s length!). But I’m not just thankful and grateful. I am, but there’s more.

I sit at my desk and look around and I see you everywhere – in that book that changed the course of my dissertation, in that first article of mine that saw the light of printed day, in that other article that I taught in my grad seminar that re-oriented the entire discussion for the better, in all these journals that I read when I get a chance, marveling at all this marvelous work out there. You make all that happen.

You make my world smarter, brighter, and just plain better.
You rock.


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