Journals, conferences, and other refereed publication and presentation opportunities depend on reviewers to identify quality submissions and provide feedback to authors. Up until now, I have interacted with these systems as a contributing author. However, as I enter the third year of my doctorate program, I have been looking to get involved with the other side of the system. A few months ago,on the advice of colleagues and professors, I volunteered to serve as a graduate student reviewer for submissions to a conference. Recently, I received an email notification with items for review. It was time to get to work.
The first place I started was carefully reviewing the accompanying information and guidelines for reviewers. These instructions answered many of my initial questions and provided information about the logistics of the process. I then went back and re-read the call for submissions. Revisiting the initial parameters helped to ground my work, but upon opening up the actual manuscript for review, I realized that these perfunctory steps had only provided the lowest level of preparation.
I found that my reviewing depended on two major resources. The first was my research methods coursework. As I am a recent participant in research methods classes, the concepts and resources remain very close at hand. I used expectations and guidelines that had been applied to my work and my classmates’ work to inform the lens through which I viewed these pieces. The second major influence was the reading I have conducted in the topic area. I was deliberate about where I volunteered to review, as I would be of best service in those research areas with which I have had the most interaction.
Even with these resources, I encountered some difficulties. Although coursework provides great preparation, it is different being asked to conduct an evaluation based on concepts, rather than applying them in your own work. I also found that the productive feedback skills I developed as a classroom teacher, although important, were not the exact skills necessary for this task. Researchers and writers use different structures and types of arguments, and papers can only contain so much description of a project. As a reviewer, I need to look at internal cohesiveness and consistency. Additionally, although I am involved with reading and writing in the specific sub-field which these papers addressed – classroom integration of technology – I found that I often needed to follow up on references to gain a better understanding of the theoretical and conceptual threads the author employed. Although time-consuming, this was a very valuable facet of the work.
In the end, I feel that my feedback and recommendations were authentic and useful. The process was also very useful for a number of reasons. First, it is always valuable to be exposed to the newest work occurring in a field. It can help to direct my further reading and considerations in my own work. Second, by working on this side of the “curtain,” I better understand the feedback I have received from reviewers. By being a member of that audience, I gain a better idea of how to write for that audience. The process of reviewing helped me further identify important related works in my field of interest to which I had not been previously exposed. Finally, the task also allowed me to contribute to the field and build experience in being of service to the greater academic effort.
Since this initial experience, I have also had the opportunity to serve as a reviewer for a submission to a journal. As I continue to gain experiences in this area, I become more comfortable with the process and more aware of the benefits that I gain from serving as a reviewer. I look forward to continuing to serve in this role in years to come.