Peer Review; or, Feedback from the Pit of Hell

There’s no feeling I hate more than seeing an email titled “Decision on Manuscript: XXX.” Sometimes it’s great news, more often than not it isn’t. The shock of a rejection can be bad enough, but the worst part is knowing that lurking below the editor’s signature are the most dreaded part of academic publishing: the reviewer’s comments.

I’ve had my share of good and bad reviews, but this week I received a couple that really blew my hair back. I mean the kind of review where after the initial hurt feelings I was left to wonder, what broke this person’s soul? My dear Second Reviewer (it’s always the second one!), what trauma so blackened your spirit that you thought this was an appropriate thing to write? (I know, the answer is graduate school, it’s a rhetorical question).

So I’d like to ask our readers: what are your strategies for dealing with not only harsh but clearly mean-spirited reviews? How do you try to glean the useful criticisms without getting too hurt? Does anyone have a story or anecdote so terrible or absurd it might make the rest of us feel a little bit better?

I’ve found it helps if you pretend that your reviewer is Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous.


When that doesn’t work, there’s this wonderful California pinot noir that I recommend putting in the fridge thirty minutes before opening.


4 Responses to “Peer Review; or, Feedback from the Pit of Hell”

  1. Lauren

    I always think that when you interact with others that you are not only interacting with them but with everything that has happen up to this point. It helps me not want to rip peoples hair out as they yell and scream in my face

  2. Serene

    Well, there was the time that I got told that a piece of reasoning in my paper was “mind-spinningly poor.” And then there’s the repeated number of times I’ve been told to read my own work and Academic Liz Lemon made a GIF about me:

  3. Serene

    On a more serious note, the main thing I walk away thinking is that I don’t want to be like this reviewer. When I take a dislike to a paper, which I do often enough, I take the time to explain what’s motivating my negative comment and to offer using terms like “I’m having trouble seeing how the author got from x to y” instead of “this reasoning is mind-spinningly poor.”

    Also, never read the substantive part of R and R or rejection when you are in a self-doubting mood. It takes some discipline but PUT THAT SHIT AWAY until you’ve got a sense of humor and maybe a glass of wine.


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