Anyone who has spent more than a few minutes discussing my work with me knows that my top two most-hated things about my job are (in order) meetings and grading. What people are less likely to know is that third on the list is paper reviewing. Yes, reviewing is a useful, productive thing to do, and you need to get it done to be a good citizen. But it’s always the thing I put off when I have anything else to do. Part of the problem is that writing a good review is difficult, since it’s important to acknowledge the good things about the work while suggesting ways that the article could be improved. But I think the main issue is that it feels like homework rather than something creative and fun.
That said, there are times when I really enjoy reviewing. Most recently I was asked to review a paper for a special issue of a journal. The issue isn’t one close to my research area, although the article I was given is a lot closer to my interests than one might expect for the topic. As I read the article yesterday on the train I found myself fascinated. It introduced me to some work I wasn’t familiar with, and in particular, to an article written by someone I’ll serve on a panel with at the upcoming ITiCSE conference. I’m not sure I would have learned about that aspect of his work without having been assigned the review, and I’m looking forward to reading it. At its best reviewing broadens your horizons in unexpected ways, and experiencing it yesterday made me happy. Now I’ll have to find a way to apologize to the colleague who got the brunt of my grumpiness when he asked me to do the review.