Peer Review

    Now they transition from being reviewed by their professors to being reviewed by their peers.

    But then, they’ve always been judged by their peers -often disconcertingly so. 

    Ever since the first mom posited the query –if all your friends were jumping off a bridge?….peer pressure has been given a bad rap. 

    It’s not too difficult to see why. After all, peer pressure is at the root of much that is wrong with our kids’ self-images and their actions.   

    On the other hand, there’s something to be said for being put in your place by your peers instead of your parents. By being held accountable now by those who will do so into your future, and for your whole life. 

    In the college where I work, seniors are given a yearlong Thesis project that begins with a lit review and ends with independent research. No shock that the students aren’t fans of the assignment. It’s long, arduous and requires work. They want short-cuts, easy answers and all through the process, they just want it over. 

    I offer up solid arguments as to its scholastic merit and real-world value, but I suspect the few who nod are doing so just to forestall any further cheerleading on my behalf. 

    One of the universally detested (among many) portions of the project is the second semester peer reviews. Despite the fact that they’ve just spent months reading dozens of articles, intently filtered by that “peer review” label, they still balk at the concept when it comes to their own work. 

    On peer reviews days, they must critique the work of their fellow classmates. For some of them, the task is daunting. They’re often not fully confident in the quality of their own work; certainly, then, they don’t feel qualified to pass judgment on another’s.  Ah judgment -they really don’t want to judge; lest they be judged. 

    But they should –on both counts. 

    The feedback we get from our peers is unlike any other. It hasn’t the unconditional support of a parent, or the inherent threat from a boss. It isn’t generally tied to reward or consequence, like a grade or a raise. In its best form, it’s simply unbiased review. We did something well –good job. We messed up –whoops. 

    Because little of who we are and what we do exists in black and white, peer review can be convoluted and complicated. But offered with clear vision and good intent, peer criticism can also be priceless.

    That is, if we’re willing to accept it. 

    While my students readily receive even my harshest critique of their work, they’re less inclined to do so from their peers. 

    So far, anyway. 

    I’ve warned them of an upcoming evolution where their career peers (and even their bosses) will begin to look a whole lot like them. I’ve also urged them to embrace the network they already hold with that soon-to-be-reality in mind. 

    I am lucky to work with peers I consider capable, intelligent, good-intentioned. Because of the nature of our work, though, most of what we do is independent. As peers, we can choose to interact often, minimally, or even not at all. 

    No surprise, I fall somewhere in the middle. 

    On occasion, I have both sought and offered peer counsel. I like to think I’ve given good advice; I know have received it. Real critique, however, is a bit harder to come by. 

    I have told my kids and my students too many times that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I really believe that clichéd sentiment. If I screw up and hear about it from my boss (and I have), clearly it carries weight. However, if a peer lets me know I’ve messed up, it may mean even more. 

    Most of my students are pretty confident. They’ve been well supported by family, friends –and me. We all tell them they’re smart and capable. We tell them they’re wonderful. 

    Sometimes, it’s only their peers who will truly tell them when they are not.

Transitioning Away


In the time-capsuled crevices of my life are youthful certainties about the people who would forever be a part of my world. Ah, but for the punishing erosion of time, perhaps they would have remained thusly so.

Jump forward too many years to count and I am again at graduation. My students’, my son’s and, in a way, my own. But now I know -perhaps too much.

Amy’s been capturing moments like butterflies, trying to turn memories to permanence through pictures and music. At only 17, she’s already viewing portions of her life through the nostalgic prism of time passed and seeing too many lasts. Last concert, last banquet, last time. Because she articulates it better than the boys, I know she’s feeling a mix of transitional emotions. She’s so ready to let go, move on, grow up. And yet.

There are people to whom she desperately wants to hold on.

Michael is one of them.

I’m glad of that.

Still, she knows there are no guarantees. And I cannot offer her full assurances to the contrary.   

Doubtful it occurs to my students that I take attendance. It’s a paperwork requirement of the job.

Simple. But this year, also telling.

I have two students who have had strikingly dissimilar attendance records over the years I’ve known them. One is past perfect; she has come to see me even in unscheduled snippets, has frequently extended an hour of time into two. The other has offered up dozens of my-dog-ate-my-homework reasons to miss our sessions.

This semester, though, my young friends have reversed their courses.

The truant comes early and often, texts me with grade and life updates. The other has been MIA more than ever before, has even “forgotten” to come to our meetings at all. Seriously?

And I am reading into their role reversals.

They are each leaving this slice of their lives behind them, but doing so in divergently different ways. One is hanging on; the other is pulling away.

I have an idea or two about whom among my students may keep in touch when they leave our little campus. My premonitions are exactly the opposite of the way I once would have viewed our partings. I’ll likely hear from the less-likely considered. For awhile, at least. And then, maybe, from no one at all.

I wonder if my students can fully fathom leaving their friends behind, if they can imagine disconnection from people to whom they feel so completely connected. I can only do so, because I’ve already done so.

Over the years, I have let so many people slip from my life, like grains of sand through time’s hourglass. I am sorry for their absence. On the other hand, still alongside me on my sometimes stumbling journey are adult friends who knew me as a child. I am thankful for their presence.

With the passion of youth and the impossible distance of time, it was once easy to think in terms of forever friendships. The notion faded with the years and checks of reality. But now, decades into our relationships, my friends and I, who rarely stray to the sentimental, admittedly acknowledge that since we’ve been friends this long, we probably will be forever.

I can’t tell my students, my son or his friends who among their friends will remain in their lives. I can only offer the evidence of time that some people do. And that sometimes, if you’re both fortunate and determined, there really are always and forevers.