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A note for our readers: the views reflected by the authors do not reflect the views of ASPA.
By Rachel Fyall
Since July 2011, I have had the privilege of serving as Editorial Assistant for Public Administration Review (PAR) while completing my Ph.D. in Public Affairs at Indiana University. My responsibilities have included managing the software for the peer review process, helping select the highlighted quotes in research articles, recruiting practitioner commentators and bolstering PAR’s social media presence. With the rest of the PAR team, I have helped prepare for PAR board meetings at the ASPA Annual Conference and have represented the journal at other scholarly conferences. Perhaps most memorably, my work with PAR enabled me to participate in last summer’s 2nd Annual International Young Scholars Workshop in Beijing.
These experiences have been enjoyable, enlightening and will no doubt have a long-lasting impact on my career as a scholar. As a debt of gratitude for my time on the PAR staff, I am pleased to reflect on what I have learned over the past three years and offer some insights based on my experiences. Specifically, I aim to answer: What insights can I provide for other new scholars? What have I learned about the peer review process, professional journals, generally, and PAR in particular that I might not know without having had the perspective of a PAR insider? Here are four insights:
First, the peer review process improves research. Even in my limited experience as an author, I understand how easy it can be to dismiss reviewer comments as unreasonable, unnecessary, or simply the result of a misunderstanding. Observing the review process as an unbiased spectator, however, has taught me that the vast majority of reviewer comments are warranted and helpful. Because creating influential research requires communicating your findings with others, the reviewers provide a preliminary test that evaluates which aspects of the research resonate and which parts fall flat. I have also been humbled by witnessing “famous” scholars have their work criticized and even rejected. On the other hand, I find hope and confidence with every accepted article authored by a student or new assistant professor. Good research shines through and the peer review process helps make good research even better.
Second, journal editors (and their teams) are human. I realize this sounds silly, but I have been surprised by the apprehension with which many (especially new) scholars approach the editorial team. The goal of the editorial team is to facilitate a meaningful, high-quality professional journal and this motivation drives their decisions. The editors understand what a PAR article can mean for a junior scholar’s career and they do want to see you succeed. Authors are only given the opportunity to revise their manuscript if the editors believe the research can make an important contribution. If an author is unsure of how to handle reviewer comments, he or she should feel free to ask for guidance. Furthermore, editorial teams do make mistakes. Managing a journal like PAR is a major operation and sometimes the person at the other end of the communication chain is just a second-year doctoral student. He or she may still be learning, too. If something about a journal’s operations does not seem to make sense, just email and ask.
Third, regarding PAR in particular, PAR benefits from a strong community of guardians. From the perspective of an author, it may be tempting to view the article submission process as a discrete dialogue between the managing editor, a few anonymous reviewers and you. In reality, there is a larger group effort to ensure journal quality and impact. The editorial team and board members help shape and encourage the kind of research they perceive as most valuable. The reviewers typically see themselves as the protectors of the journal’s integrity and they perform this service for PAR as a way to foster the advancement of knowledge. Many within the PAR community are especially protective of a journal with so much history and prestige, though this occasionally gives rise to conflicting ideas about what constitutes “appropriate for PAR.” Regardless, the PAR community is vast, knowledgeable and committed to advancing research, theory and discussion related to public administration and governance.
Finally, PAR is more than just research. New scholars may be tempted to focus exclusively on the research articles, but that misses much of the bigger picture. Not only does the PAR community include the scholarly guardians mentioned above, but it also benefits from the extensive contributions and engagement from practitioners. The linking of research and practice as a value as well as a community is fundamental to PAR and this convergence yields better, more consequential research and ideas. All types of PAR content – including Perspective pieces, practitioner commentaries and book reviews – routinely generate meaningful dialogue in a variety of settings. For me, these conversations lend credence to the hope that the work we do as scholars and practitioners has the potential to change public administration and governance for the better.
I hope my insights offer a useful window into the many lessons I have learned while working for PAR. Thank you to Dr. Jim Perry, Dr. Michael McGuire, Dr. Rick Feiock, Elise Boruvka and the rest of the editorial team for enabling my experience. I look forward to my transition to serving as a contributor, reviewer and guardian of PAR for many years to come.
Author: Rachel Fyall is graduating from the Public Affairs Ph.D. program at Indiana University this May. She will then join the faculty at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington as an assistant professor.