On receiving feedback

When I just started as a grad student I got annoyed and upset when receiving feedback. For example, when I wrote the first draft of my first abstract for a conference, my advisor rewrote it almost entirely. There were maybe a couple words there that were still mine and they were probably "the" and "rats". Otherwise, the abstract was completely different. And with different I mean better of course, but then I found it hard to admit that back then.

Now, when I write something and I receive hardly any feedback or none at all, I get annoyed and upset. Over the years, I have learned that feedback means that people care and they want you to help improve the thing you wrote. No feedback means they either don't care, or don't have enough time to look at it.

6 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Beginners generally need encouraging feedback and a single thing to fix for next time. Experts generally prefer large amounts of suggestions, and one of the ways expertise is developed is to solicit criticism from a wide variety of viewpoints.

    Inexperienced evaluators will tell a beginner a zillion things to fix, and an expert only a few. Of course, personality and power dynamic matter too. Generally speaking, the "I once got my writing dripping in red ink and I didn't like it but it made me stronger" is a very socially encouraged narrative. It does reflect a very adaptive growth mindset for ones own life. However, it's too bad people think that's how they should evaluate others. Meeting people where they are, not subjecting everyone to the same hazing for the socialization factor, should be the core of teaching and mentoring.

    • babyattachmode says:

      Yes I agree. And from the other side (the person criticizing a grad student's first paper) it is difficult to give feedback that someone can learn from instead of 'just' rewriting the whole thing yourself.

  • katiesci says:

    This is why, when I edit documents for anyone, I always try to put comments in explaining WHY I changed something. How can people improve their writing if no one is explicitly telling them what they're doing wrong? Just looking at a re-written page is demoralizing and no one really has the time to parse out why something was changed.

    My method results in a lot more red/ comments and can be intimidating for students - especially undergrads - to see so I always warn them. I hope they find it useful. They say they do.

  • gmp says:

    I do up to three back-and-forths with students on each paper, with detailed comments and meetings to discuss the what and the why, after which I take over and rewrite. It's a good balance between them learning and us getting papers out in a reasonable amount of time.

    Some people improve very quickly, i.e., even their first ever paper gets much improved between the first and second drafts; and then on their subsequent manuscripts even the first draft is very good. Some other people give me sloppy 3rd drafts even on manuscript No 5. No amount of careful personalized mentoring can substitute for a student actually giving a $hit.

    But yes, one thing with getting senior is that you can't get people to give you detailed constructive feedback any more, because nobody is really invested in your success and thus can't spare the time. It's a real issue with grant applications, where feedback would be very important.

  • genomicrepairman says:

    I'm surprised at how many people don't circulate their stuff around to get feedback! I wonder is it that their writing is already good enough or is it some insecurity that they don't want someone criticizing their writing? Or some part of both, or am I completely off track?

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