Monday, March 29, 2010

Recruiting outside reviewers

One of  my favorite bloggers, Bittersweet Girl, wrote about the conundrum of finding people to serve as outside reviewers. As she mentions:
You need to get out there and cultivate connections with senior (read: powerful, famous, big names, recognizable names) scholars — ideally the kind of connection that makes Senior Scholar feel strongly invested in your future success — but not so close a connection that s/he becomes a good friend or a collaborator. That “just right” kind of connection which teeters on being unprofessional (Sr. Scholar needs to really like you, feel like s/he is involved in your career) but which doesn’t have any kind of professional paper trail (i.e., you never published anything together or anything else “official”).

She goes on to say that how to strike this balance and build this connection is a "mystery that is only revealed to individuals who already have tenure."

Okay, so here is what this tenured prof has to suggest:
  1. Meet people at professional conferences. Speak to presenters and co-presenters. Find the authors of articles you use and like and introduce yourself. Network with these folks at receptions. Give people your card, talk with them about your research and ask them about their own. Once you get talking with Dr. Mucky-Muck, ask if s/he will read your article before you submit it.
  2. Get involved in a national committee of some type in your discipline. I served on a committee in my area and got to meet a good number of people who were senior scholars. I helped organize panels and events and even managed a listserv at some point. I was able to learn who is doing what and to simultaneously get them to know me.
  3. Organize a panel at important disciplinary or research area conferences. Invite big name speaker to serve on the panel. (Serving on panels does not disallow someone from being a reader.) Try not to piss them off... I learned that the hard way.
  4. Get to know the friends of your co-authors. If you have famous co-authors or one of the folks above becomes a co-author and can no longer serve as an outside reader, ask they to introduce you to some people who might be good readers.
One other thing I did to meet senior scholars was to edit a book, which was helpful in some ways but not something I would recommend. I did get to know many scholars in my area. Unfortunately, I also had to edit their work, hound them for revisions and edits, and generally alienate at least half of them for some period of time, all while working my butt off for a publication that didn't buy much at my R1 institution. That said, people definitely knew who I was and had some investment in me and my work.

I would also advise that everyone check with friends about potential readers. Two of my potential readers had terrible reputations for slamming young scholars on tenure reviews, and I actually put them on my "no" list. Another of my actual readers would be someone I would tell others to avoid, because ze actually flaked out and never turned in a review. So, just because someone is famous and seems nice enough doesn't mean that they should serve as an outside reader. Be sure to investigate!

Another suggestion I would make is to avoid reviews from newbies who just got tenure. Their reviews don't mean as much to the committee, and these young scholars sometimes misunderstand their role as reviewer and can be very harsh in evaluating peers.

I am sure there are other ideas for recruiting outside scholars, but this blog entry represents one tenured lady's revelations of the mysteries I have uncovered. Any more suggestions?




The Bittersweet Girl said...

Oh Lesboprof, if only I had had your mentorship a few years ago! This is all wonderful advice -- and I will remember it if I am ever in a position to advise another junior scholar.

However: at my Uni., had I edited a collection of essays, none of the contributors could be listed -- that would be one of those "too close/collaborative" relationships that disqualifies them as readers. Which is a shame, in my case. Sigh.

Historiann said...

I want to hear more about how you pissed off a senior scholar on a panel! How did you do that? (An instructive example would help illustrate your point.)

I agree with this: "avoid reviews from newbies who just got tenure. Their reviews don't mean as much to the committee, and these young scholars sometimes misunderstand their role as reviewer and can be very harsh in evaluating peers. The weird reviews I've seen come from relatively juniorish Associates with axes to grind. Fortunately, they're so weirdly competitive that we've had no trouble explaining them away. But, in general, go for reviewers who can't or won't see you as a potential competitor.

Lesboprof said...

@BSgirl: Yeah, I didn't use folks from my edited book either, but those relationships help build other relationships and people started to know who I was.

@Historiann: Well, here is my panel story... I approached a more senior colleague to be on a panel I was organizing. Each person had to contribute their own individual abstract to the organizer. When I got hir abstract, it wasn't really on point and didn't fit in as well as I would like. So, I emailed and suggested a change. Apparently, that was incredibly offensive and ze backed out. Next thing I knew, ze worked with another scholar and put together the panel I suggested... without me. It took years to get back in hir good graces.

debwebb said...

Thank you for taking the time to peek at my fledgling blog, Lesboprof. I heart you for it very much.

Love, Your pool buddy.

undine said...

No suggestions, just a compliment on this fine list!