On student-led peer review

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my experiences of creating a poster for a conference presentation. One of the three steps I set for myself was to get my poster peer-reviewed and I was fortunate enough that the conference organisers gave us the opportunity to do so with students attending the event. We were all going to present our posters in groups of three so each member of the group had to review two other posters. I found this a very enriching exercise. I got to see the posters of other people, which brought a sense of relief that my own poster ‘wasn’t that bad after all‘. I am well aware that I’m very critical of myself and tend to devalue my own work…It also gave me some idea of what the other presentations in the group were going to be about and how my own research fit into the whole group theme.

Thinking about ways to improve other people’s posters and giving them feedback was challenging at first, but also a learning experience. There was a ranking scale provided to assess certain features of the poster such as readability, visibility and clarity, institution affiliations and contact details, design, structure, etc. What I found more useful was the space for additional comments as giving a mark out of 10 doesn’t really say much… In this respect, the fact that I was peer reviewing as well was stimulating for me to help people so they help me as well.

I enjoyed being on both sides of the peer review process and the feedback which I received really helped me to improve my poster. Here’s just a little account of what were the types of things my peers advised me to work on:

  • introducing some of the key concepts earlier on – being so closely involved with my research perhaps I missed to explain the key terminology at the beginning having an expectation that everybody would know;
  • using a graphic representation of my theoretical framework to make it easier to understand by people who are not familiar with the particular terminology and concepts – I tried, but it didn’t quite work out as the diagram was actually getting messier than the text, so I just rephrased it using shorter sentences;
  • I was gently advised to cut down a bit on the text, but I do love my words and at the end I actually had more, so I restructured some of the text into a diagram.

If I have to be completely honest, designing a poster takes a lot of time and tweaking the text, diagrams and tables can be a nerve-wreaking experience. I remember thinking at one point that I can’t present my research and methodology in 500 words and questioning myself why I even agreed to make this poster. But then I kept reminding myself that this is part of the PhD experience – trying different presentation modes and learning on the go.

Nevertheless, the positivity in the feedback was what motivated me a lot and made me look forward to the conference and my poster presentation. And now that I am back in Manchester, I think about it and smile. I would definitely do it again.

If you are interested to see the version of my poster which was presented at the conference, click here.


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