academia: May 2005 Archives

squeaky wheel?

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I don't know if there was any relationship between the fact that I rant and rave on occasion about some of the less sensible (in my opinion) policies and procedures related to CCCC -and- the fact that this year, I was a Stage I Reviewer for said conference. But there you have it. For what it's worth, I still believe that there should be some of kind of database for potential reviewers--the system for selecting reviewers could be a great deal fairer with the application of a few basic heuristics.

The system for reviewing, though, is awfully darn efficient. I reviewed around 25 proposals, and I won't say what area except to note that there was no conflict of interest between my proposal and my reviewing, which is as it should be. The review system is entirely online, but I printed out (and have since shredded) my proposals, and read through them a few times. First time through, I did kind of a holistic read, scoring them pretty quickly. Then I put them in ranked order, and read straight through them, making various adjustments to their ranking. Then I set them aside for a day, and did another ranked reading. Finally, I went through them in order one more time, this time with the 4-point reviewer scale in order to separate them out into 4 piles. The piles ended up being pretty even, but skewing a bit towards acceptance.

One thing I'd note, and that's that there's not a huge gap between the proposals that I thought were best and those that I thought weren't. As you might gather, all of the proposals are pretty good, with a few standouts in each direction. Without going into too much detail, I do have a few thoughts about what made an excellent proposal, and what advice I'd give (and have given) to proposers:

First, I can't recommend enough Carol Berkenkotter and Thomas Huckin's chapter from Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication called "Gatekeeping at an Academic Convention." I wish that it was possible to update that study, in fact, because I think it offers tremendously valuable insight into this process. There's a bit of chicken/egg here, I guess, because I give this chapter to every graduate student at SU, so there's undoubtedly a fair amount of influence that it had on my reviewing.

Second, in any situation where you are likely to be competing on a level field, details matter. I didn't downgrade proposals that had spelling errors (and I intentionally pluralize both words there), but in almost every case, mechanical errors accompanied thought that was not as crisp as in other proposals. There were proposals that appeared not to have been edited at all, and it showed.

Third, I strongly recommend having at least one reader/editor who knows next to nothing about what you're doing. I don't know for sure that this is the right solution to this problem, but I encountered proposals that were too sparse in their accounts of their session, and others that were downright verbose. It seems obvious to me, but bottom line is that a proposal should accomplish two primary goals: they should explain what you plan on saying/doing/accomplishing, and they should explain why it's significant/important. What are you doing and why? There are plenty of different ways to achieve that balance, but too often, I saw proposals that were all one or the other.

Finally, one of the things that B & H talk about is the "insider ethos" that a successful proposal will often have, accomplished through references to trends in the field, specific texts, conversations, etc., and that was one of the places where there were real differences among the proposals I read. Again, no specifics, except to say that on some occasions, I encountered some fairly sweeping claims about the field, clearly attempts to strike that insider pose but which had the opposite effect. I can suspend my own positions to a degree, and I can see how certain topics/panels might interest others even if I'm not interested in them myself, but I can't ignore disciplinary claims that are flat-out incorrect.

I don't know that these points are specific enough to be of any real help, nor do I really think I've said anything here that hasn't been said before and in more detail, but there you have it. One thing that reviewing proposals has done for me is to confirm my own practices both as a submitter and as someone who reads and responds to a fair number of colleagues' proposals each year.

Now watch as my own proposal gets rejected this year. Jinx!

That is all.



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This page is a archive of entries in the academia category from May 2005.

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