Peer review is the ‘gold standard’ for the evaluation of academic research, according to the Stern Report of 2016.(1) It is central to publishing, to processes for awarding research grants, to academic promotion, and to other forms of research support in Higher Education Institutions. Our work is reviewed by our peers (pre- and post-publication or award) and many of us serve or have served as peer reviewers for funding bodies, journals and book publishers. But what are the challenges for peer review in the 21st century? Has peer review changed to reflect evolving humanities disciplines and increasing interdisciplinarity? Does peer review still have a constructive and enabling function or has greater competition for publishing contracts and funding awards shifted the emphasis towards gatekeeping and exclusion? Can peer review stifle innovation and reward the status quo? How do researchers learn to be effective and skilled peer? Have online publishing systems downgraded the role of the journal or book series editor in mediating peer review? Where do any of us find the time to be good academic citizens and review the work of others as we would like our own to be reviewed?

In its first Peer Review Week, the School of Advanced Study is running a series of events to consider both the practical and the policy aspects of peer review. Two Early Career Researcher training sessions offer practical advice and guidance about responding to and writing peer review of articles, books and research grants. Two policy debates consider whether peer review in the humanities faces unsustainable pressures and how effectively peer review is responding to disciplinary and interdisciplinary change. We hope that you will join us in the conversation.

   1. Lord Nicholas Stern, Building on Success and Learning from Experience: an Independent Review of the Research Excellence Framework (London: Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, 2016), p. 14

Training Sessions for Early Career Researchers: Peer Review in Practice

Peer Review 1: Articles and Books

Monday 24 May 2021 | Watch a recording of this session.
This session, which is aimed at early career researchers in the humanities, will provide practical advice and guidance about how to respond to peer review feedback for journal articles, book proposals and book manuscripts. It will also consider how to write a constructive peer review report.

PanellistsSarah Churchwell (SAS), Jill Kraye (Warburg) and Carl Stychin (IALS)
ChairClare Lees (IES)

Peer Review 2: Research Grants

Wednesday 26 May 2021 | Watch a recording of this session.
This session, which is aimed at early career researchers in the humanities, will explain what happens to a research grant application after it has been submitted, what you can expect from peer review, and in particular how to write a Principal Investigator’s response to interim peer review for AHRC and ESRC funding applications. The panellists will also explain how the AHRC Peer Review College works, and what reviewers are expecting to see in a high-quality research proposal.

PanellistsLaura Cleaver (IES), Colin King (IALS), Richard Toye (Exeter) and Edward Harcourt (UKRI AHRC)
ChairJane Winters (SAS)

Peer Review 3: Peer Review Panels: a practice session

Wednesday 26 May 2021 | 
To gain experience of how a peer review panel works this session will offer those attending an opportunity to review sample applications against criteria, to award scores and to engage in discussion with other panel members about the final grades. It will encourage discussion of the difficulties faced in scoring and reviewing applications in neighbouring disciplines or evaluating interdisciplinary applications. There will be an opportunity to reflect on the peer review process and to feed back the panel’s recommendations. 

Led by Barry Smith (Institute of Philosophy) , Naomi Wells (Institute of Modern Language & Digital Humanities Centre) and Christopher Ohge (Institute of English Studies).

Peer Review Policy Debates: Peer Review 4: Peer Review Under Pressure

Thursday 27 May 2021 | Watch a recording of this session.
This panel will discuss whether systems of peer review in the humanities are facing unsustainable pressures, which have only been heightened by new ways of working during the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the incentives to participate in peer review (both pre- and post-publication)? On whom is the burden of peer review (disproportionately) falling? Is peer review enabling innovation or proving more effective at preserving the status quo? Is the sheer volume of publications and research grants part of the problem? The panel will consider how we might not just improve peer review, but begin to reimagine it.

PanellistsDiamond Ashiagbor (Kent), Charles Burdett (IMLR), Tao Chang (AHRC) and Pip Willcox (The National Archives)
ChairJo Fox (SAS)

Peer Review 5: Peer Review and Disciplinary Change

Thursday 27 May 2021 | Watch a recording of this session.
This panel will consider how effectively peer review is responding to disciplinary and interdisciplinary change. In particular it will discuss whether ground-breaking interdisciplinary research and innovative disciplinary research is being well served by existing mechanism for peer review, and how new kinds of research outputs might most effectively be evaluated.

PanellistsJenny Richards (Newcastle), Barry Smith (IP), Teal Triggs (Royal College of Art) and Jane Winters (SAS)
ChairClare Lees (IES)