Reviews are in: a bit of me just died

Judgement happens all the time in academia. You write a thing, spending days of your life making it as beautiful as you possibly can. Maybe it’s a paper, or a grant proposal. You send it off full of hope. After some indeterminate time, the reviews come back: judgement has arrived.

So this just happened to me. It’s a grant proposal. The reviews are 6 5 4 3 (where 6 is amazing, and 1 is don’t bother). This is a pretty mixed bag. Here’s my process:

First pass: skim read the nice reviews, read the bad reviews in detail. Internalise all those judgements about what you wrote as if they are judgements on your person. Feel bad and depressed (a little bit of me just died). Wonder if I should even bother being an academic at all.

Second pass: ok, but I’m a team leader. Get it together. Present the reviews to the team, maintaining upbeat approach (Two reviews were great! One reviewer clearly didn’t get it at all – we can answer that. There are some negative comments – we can address those too).

Third pass: write response to reviewers (we’re lucky that the funder allows this, and we can address any misconceptions). Focus, of course, on the negatives because these are the things we have to correct. It takes time. A lot of time.

Fourth pass: re-read reviews, thinking “what have I missed?”  Realise (this morning) that what I’ve missed is that one reviewer thinks we’re amazing – honestly, even my mum wouldn’t have written such a glowing review. Second reviewer thinks we’re pretty good, but has some constructive comments to support us. Third reviewer actually also thinks we’re pretty good, but for some reason has given us a faintly damning score. Try hard to read those positive and complimentary sentences. It’s really hard to even acknowledge that I am the person they are writing about. It’s much easier to celebrate their view that the work we propose is a really good idea. This is a step along the road to developing an internal locus of evaluation. I need to do that for my own sanity. I am not the judgements of these people. But when your work is judged on a regular basis by anonymous reviewers it’s hard to do that. (Reference: locus of evaluation). Remembering to take the positive and the negative as equally important can help.

So thank you, reviewers 1 and 2. I really appreciate the time and care you have taken to make a human judgement. You make my day. Even if it’s taken me a week to realise it.

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