jocelyncee: (productive)
I found gratitude for peer reviewing today.

In the graduate literature courses we not only write a 10-20 page literary analysis for each class, we also switch papers (officially, no choice involved) with another student and read, review and comment on their work. When I first started graduate school I dreaded this -- what if I was completely wrong? What if I misunderstood everything? The prof would think me stupid beyond belief, and certainly not deserving of decent grade.

Over the last three years I had come to tolerate, then be resigned to peer reviews. Okay, so I wouldn't see everything about someone else's paper; that was fine. I'm only supposed to tell what I see, and I only have 10 minutes. It's not like I can be comprehensive in that amount of time. That's not expected. In fact, attempting to be all-encompassing is avoided: enough about the grammar already, typos are to be expected, and punctuation is only relevant if it hinders understanding.

Today I became grateful for it. I even found myself enjoying it, even when it was my turn to critique the work of someone whose ability to express ideas verbally I admire, and quite frankly, envy.

Thing was, I expected a virtually perfect paper. Someone so thorough, so adept at expression, was likely to have an excellent thesis and lay out each point with aplomb far exceeding my meagre skills.

What I read and reviewed today was good, potentially excellent, but not perfect at all. I had been seeing writing a paper as the achievement of a finite goal, an achievable completeness with every line in place, every thought entirely and indisputably argued.

What I came to understand today is that literary analysis is not an act with discrete a discrete pre-defined perfectionistic end, but a process that occurs along a continuum, a scale that begins with your first work and curves upward as you improve, never reaching absolute perfection, but gradually nearing the infinity of that state of total completion.

Short version: There can always be improvements. There will always be something that is not quite definable, or that is not quite understandable by someone. Just because it's not 100% doesn't mean it's bad.

The second part to this: I'm not the only one who fears critique. The person I critiqued did, as I had been told by someone else earlier in the week, and it was evident through body language that, although mastering the fear, it was still present within.

Translation: this was someone just like me.

Everyone else was just like me. There is no reason to fear.

So, the purpose of peer review isn't to judge. It is to assist. That was said, of course, many times in my general vicinity, but it takes the hundredth tap of hammer on chisel for a sculptor to chip away a splinter of marble in addition to the previous ninety-nine.

Today I saw, and understood.

Another realization struck me almost immediately thereafter. I assume, based on the language the course is given in, that I will write the paper in that language. German literature equals paper in German. It never occurs to me to ask to write in English if German is the language of the class. It never even occurred to me to give a presentation in English about an article that was written in English. I expect to do things in German.

I found out today that this particular professor expects no such thing. Two people in class (at least) wrote theirs in English, their native language. Considering this, I thought I probably made things harder on myself by choosing German, or rather, by automatically excluding English.

After a few minutes thought, I realized I would have chosen German anyway - not because I feel the need to impress, or so I won't be bored, but because that is what I am here for. That is what I want to improve. If I don't practice, I won't improve. I'm "hard" on myself because I want to grow.

So if I decide to see each writing project, each presentation as an opportunity to improve, to grow, to learn how to better express myself in this foreign language, I will not dread the experience - I will enjoy it.

I will love graduate school as much as I had hoped to when I started it. The journey will have been, and will continue to be, worthwhile.

I truly can do this thing. It is within my grasp, a handful at a time.

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jocelyncee

April 2009

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