If you’ve never served as a reviewer for a conference, you should. It’s honestly one of my favorite things to do. I know that may sound kind of nerdy, but I really love it. Depending on the conference, I’ll usually receive a list of conference proposals to review five or six months before the conference date. I’ll sift through all of them and do my best to provide a fair assessment and constructive feedback. It’s a time-consuming process, but also a labor of love. At least to me.
In the world of academia, peer review is often characterized as a service responsibility or as a scholarship endeavor. But it my eyes, reviewing conference proposals is a professional development one. By reviewing conference proposals, I’m learning and growing as a professional. When I review a conference proposal, it’s usually a “blind” process. That means that I have very little information about the proposers, their institution or their academic reputation or background. Sure, I’ll sometimes come across a proposal where the proposer has included so much information about their schools or their work that it’s painfully obvious who the proposer is. That’s usually rare, though. Instead, I’ll get a host of proposals written by anonymous people who could be absolutely anyone. They could be THE person who came up with the groundbreaking framework that I draw on all the time. Or they could be someone like me who’s trying to find their way in the world and hasn’t made a huge dent in the scholarly landscape, yet. Since it’s an anonymous process, the proposer could be almost anyone.
But that’s not really how I approach the proposals. Since I don’t know anything about the proposers, I try to imagine that they’re colleagues of mine and that they’re recommending books or research for me to read. As I review the proposals, I sit with a notepad and write down different articles to download or citations to remember. By the time I’ve reviewed a bunch of proposals, I’ll have a whole list of new things to read or new lenses to use to examine my work. It’s not to say that I’m some sort of sailboat who is going to change course because the wind is blowing in another direction. It’s just that there’s so much work being generated that it’s hard to keep up. Reviewing conference proposals is a great way for me to stay on top of things.
Late last week, I received a list of 45 proposals to review for a conference coming up in March. Over the next few weeks, I’ll work to be as an unbiased reviewer as possible and judge the proposals on their own merits. At the same time, I’ll be looking at how the content of the proposal can help me grow as a researcher and inform my role as an educator. While I’m sure many of the accepted proposals will be great presentations during the conference, for now, I’m finding great value in the contributions they’re making to my growth and development.