I Hate Peer Review

Yet again, a classmate’s comments have me questioning my entire decision to go to grad school (not seriously, just in one of my many moments of frustration). Which is probably not the most productive train of thought, considering that I’ve been in grad school for more than two years (without a break longer than a week), am tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and just started working on my thesis (aka, I’ve reached the end – kind of). I’m exhausted. My back has started hurting from the long hours spent sitting at a desk (it’s kind of hard to write standing up). I’ve started wearing reading glasses – the same kind my mother uses to be able to read any text smaller than sixteen point – to prevent the eye strain from causing me headaches (although my eyes are starting to hurt as I write this, so it’s not entirely helpful). I can’t remember the last time I got more than five or six hours of sleep, or not laid in bed for hours before falling asleep, wired from copious amounts of caffeine and anxiety. Long story short, I’m pretty invested in this whole thing. And yet, my heart rate skyrockets whenever I have to share my work with anyone other than my professor (although that’s pretty bad, too). My new Apple Watch can confirm – I literally watched the little heart rate monitor go from 43 to 86 BPM as I read my most recent peer review. Why?

As an undergrad, I loathed peer review mostly because most of my peers didn’t really know how to write. As much as I hate to say this, the public school system in California sucks. Once, a girl did nothing but remove all the semicolons and commas from my paper because she didn’t know how to use them correctly. It was, needless to say, annoying. But I’m in an entirely different boat now. I’m in grad school, sharing my work with others who have 1) gotten accepted into grad school based on their writing merits (although I’m still a bit skeptical about this – I’ve seen some things) and 2) have made it all the way to this penultimate class, the beginning of the thesis-writing process. You would think they’d be a bit better at this peer review thing by now. But, so far, I have consistently gotten comments from peers that they are confused, and my story doesn’t make sense. Which is okay, fine, a valid point. EXCEPT for the fact that my professors have loved the exact same work. In my last class, I wrote a short story that my professor urged me to publish after the course ended. In my last peer review (after which I made very few changes) one classmate commented that they thought my ending didn’t fit the rest of the story, and there were details that seemed out of place (though I had explained them earlier in the story). There is a huge disconnect here, and it’s beyond frustrating.

This week is the first peer review for my thesis. I submitted my first two chapters. Now, these are not chapters I wrote hastily the night before and turned in (we only had to turn in a first draft). These are chapters I wrote months ago, rewrote once, sat on for a while, and then revised again before submitting them. I’ve read and reread them. I don’t hate them, which is saying a lot for me. And yet, I still got a few comments that both irked and confused me. I won’t go into too much detail, but, basically, they’re more a matter of taste than actual technique. She didn’t like my transition between narrators, even though they each got their own, clearly labeled, chapters. Just an example. Clearly she has never read Game of Thrones (I’m not comparing my work in anyway to the greatness that is GRRM, it was just the only multiple perspective book I could think of at the moment).

I can’t help it. When I get comments like that, I automatically discount their feedback. I can take criticism. Being my own worst critic, it’s actually pretty easy, since I almost always see my weaknesses before anyone else points them out. So when something doesn’t mesh with my interpretation of myself or my writing, it throws me. I don’t think my first draft is great. Right before I turned it in, my inner monologue sounded something like: This sucks. This sucks. This is the dumbest thing I could have written. What was I thinking? Ohmygod, I don’t have time to write anything else. I have to turn this in. Why did I write this? What am I doing? Fuck it, it’s due in five minutes. (Followed internal screeching panic noises as I click the submit button. Seriously, they’re frightening. I don’t even know if I could verbalize them. Just imagine something between a Nazgûl and a dinosaur.) My point is, I dislike my own writing more than anyone else could, so it’s not like I’m just reacting badly to criticism. Normally, when someone points out a fault of mine, I’m like, “Yeah, I know” (and not in a sarcastic way).

I don’t even know if this post makes sense. I’m writing it at 11:45pm, just after reading this devastating – not really, I’ll be fine tomorrow – peer review, and minutes before it’s going to be published. Right now, I’m lost and annoyed, and now have huge anxiety – which will prevent me from any further writing – until I get the feedback from my professor. Does my thesis suck? Did I choose the wrong story? And, the worst question of all: Can I even write?

I hate peer review for making me ask those questions. Because, to be honest, unless it’s a peer I know and understand, I have trouble respecting their opinions about my work. My professor, I trust totally (for the most part). If he says it sucks, I’d start over. Because I know he’s being somewhat objective, and that he’s read hundreds of crappy thesis first drafts and can see the potential, can make concrete, effective suggestions. Peer reviews don’t help me, they just make me insecure for a few hours, after which I usually ignore almost all suggestions. So, for me, it’s a pointless exercise. And one I’m going to have to suffer through many more times. If I can manage to write enough to submit in the first place.

I’m sure I’ll hear back from my professor soon, and I’ll know if my work actually sucks or if it’s just a decent first draft with plenty of room for improvement. On the plus side, at least my class is online and I won’t have to avoid eye contact with my reviewers.

Don’t go to grad school, people. It will destroy your brain, sap your energy, and turn your hair prematurely gray. Speaking from experience.

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10 thoughts on “I Hate Peer Review

  1. I think part of the exercise might be to see your work yourself — beyond the divergent viewpoints. To grow within the peer review so you can see your own work intelligently and confidently, and objectively, beyond it.

    Have confidence in yourself, and be ready to stand behind your work. Not defensively (which it doesn’t sound like you’re doing at all), but intelligently. These people are pointing out issues that may or may not be valid. They may be pointing things out just to have something to point out. Your professor knows this. Don’t crumble under it or give up. Take what makes sense, and toss what clashes with your point of view, and know why you’ve tossed it within the larger picture of your work. That’s what you have to do, and there will always (ALWAYS) be people in the group who don’t get it.

    Best wishes!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much! I think you hit the nail on the head – I have a hard time with things like this because I’m not all that confident in my work. That said, I have considered publishing it here, because (no joke) my readers tend to be more thoughtful and helpful peer reviewers than my grad school classmates.

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  2. I hate when peers have to read my work too, but I’ve been quite lucky so far in that I’ve found they’re criticism constructive and it’s usually about something I don’t like anyway. Do their opinions *really* mean anything? Are they going to have an impact on your final grade? (Do you even get grades at grad school?) If their opinions are more for a feedback type thing, then I wouldn’t worry about them too much – the professors are the ones you have to please and who actually know what they’re doing, so that’s whose thoughts you should focus on. I’m sure it’ll all work out fine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I’ve always hated letting peers read my work. I think this one upset me because it was on a piece of fiction, which I’m not used to writing, and the negative feedback was very vague, which is really unhelpful. I don’t think it impacts my grade, and I’m going off my professor’s feedback in the edits.

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