Group Reviewing

Thinking back over this year, one of the best research-related-but-not-actually-research tasks I did was group reviewing. My supervisor had a bunch of papers to review for a conference, and decided to have our research team ‘share the load’. Which, I know, sounds like my supervisor was trying to pawn off the work, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the papers were divided up such that two students reviewed each paper and my supervisor reviewed them all.

Then, once everyone finished reviewing (by a set deadline) we met and went over each paper and everyones review. The three reviews done had been cobbled together by section, and everyone was present so you could argue why you said what you said and try and defend your position.

I think this was a super useful task for a few reasons:

  1. Undergrads rarely get a chance to review and this gave them a chance.
  2. For both undergrads and new grad students, when you first review, you rarely see what other people say or write in theirs. This gave them a chance to see what people said and to have to defend their choices.
  3. Grad students are generally overly harsh in their reviews. I was probably the harshest – which was no surprise to me, and probably anyone who knows me.
  4. It gave everyone a chance to argue over why some point should raise or lower a papers rating. It allowed everyone a chance to re-think their position and come to a mutual decision about where the paper should actually rank.

The final reviews that were submitted were an amalgamation of the three reviews written for the paper as well as any extra notes and/or changes we made during the discussion. This meant that the authors of the papers we reviewed received well thought out and detailed reviews of their paper. Sometimes reviews will come back that say little to nothing, but these reviews were long (at least a couple of pages each) and contained helpful suggestions on edits or changes the authors could make. As an author, receiving a review that helps you improve your paper is much more useful then one that either tells you your paper is good or bad.

Depending on your supervisor, they may not want to take the time and effort to do something like this. And it did take a lot of extra time. We probably spent between 20-30 minutes discussing each paper. An alternative is to ask your supervisor if you can write a review for a paper their assigned and then just meet one-on-one with them and compare. While the more opinions makes for a more interesting discussion, even the one-on-one will give you lots to think about.

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