by: Cara Meixner
Earlier in my career, I was fortunate to have experienced a healthy dose of what I can only consider beginner’s luck: the publication of two research pieces, both accepted with minor revisions and published within a year of submission. I celebrated these successes in relative solitude waiting for the slow, steady ‘creeping in’ of reader feedback. To my novice researcher’s mind, the silence was deafening; I had not accepted fanfare, of course, but I’d hoped someone other than my husband, parents, and best friends would perform a close read. After all, I wondered, isn’t the purpose of scholarship also the promise it holds to open and advance dialogue? And shouldn’t I, the author, be somehow privy to such conversations?
In time, I learned that feedback comes to junior scholars like myself at a slow and unpredictable pace. At first, most of the comments I received were in the form of innocuous, judicious questions – such as whether my ideas might transfer to a context unlike that I had studied. In other cases, feedback was awfully uncomfortable, like the time I attended a national conference and a presenter cited my work aloud, thus proceeding to interpret it utterly and inalienably out of its context. My face reddened, and pulse quickened as a bevy of audience members nodded, fastidiously scribbling notes on what this “Meixner person” had discovered. (I set the record straight, but I felt awful for having called out the presenter’s misstep.)
Cumulatively, the impact of these early experiences sensitized me to the quirky, haphazard world of eliciting feedback on one’s research. I grew disenfranchised, first subtly then with a bit more stout. What’s the point of spending hundreds of hours on a manuscript when one may never hear an utterance of feedback? (At one point, I would have preferred destructive criticism to the sound of crickets that inhabited my head.) Yes, we may have created inroads through our publications for our own careers, be that promotion or grant-related opportunities. Do we presume that our readers actually read our contribution – in close ways? And as a research community, what level of feedback should we anticipate – especially for those of us who are more junior to this world?
The more I thought about this, the more insight I gained into my own behavior as a teacher, scholar and practitioner. Like many of you, I read all of the time; yet seldom do I do so with the sagacity I expect of my readers. Mostly, I skim – and generally, I am doing so to gain ideas and applications that benefit my teaching and practice. I have devoted mindful effort to what I call a “cautious, capricious consumption” of at least one research piece per month that culminates in a note of acknowledgement to its author or authors. Needless to say, this practice has been a mutually beneficial venture.
Trusting my own instincts, I have also realized that I function well as neither solo researcher nor solo author. While it takes more time to collaborate with others, it soothes my need for feedback throughout all stages of the inquiry process – especially once a manuscript is under review. Collaborating with others has also helped me cope with the murkiness of blind peer review, resubmissions and copy editing.