Tip #1: What are you reviewing?
When you are reviewing, it's good to keep in mind the type of review you are doing -- for example, while all the proposals will eventually turn into papers, roundtables, and even posters, for the most part, a lot of them are work-in-progresses, so the feedback you give should be centered & specific on what you find confusing, unclear, and also perhaps other studies that you have found that might be helpful for them to look at (whether based on research content, method, writing style, etc.) I'm sure a lot of us can attest to receiving feedback where we were like, "but what in the actual hell?" so keep feedback helpful, specific, and supportive~ (and if you can, give the reviews specific articles and authors to look at because examples are always nice.)
Tip #2: Checking the boxes
Before the review stage when you volunteer as a reviewer, you will be asked to check off boxes based on methods and theoretical frameworks you feel confident in, so make sure to check those carefully. On the off-chance that you get one that doesn't fit your wheelhouse, you should feel totally comfortable in emailing the program team and ask them to reassign because that's really what's best for everyone involved.
Tip #3: Are you qualified?
Honestly, I have no idea. But at the same time, I would also say that most of us operate feeling like imposters and not feeling "(good) enough" so I say, check the boxes carefully (tip #2) and try it. To be frank, I wound up being a reviewer completely on accident; I had volunteered to be a chair for a conference session (which is just timekeeping and introducing each speaker) and then I got an email saying I have 3 conference proposals to review. So you might not be "qualified," but at the same time, let's challenge what "qualified" actually means because I think we all know plenty of people who are "qualified" and give terrible feedback. So instead of framing this question as "are you qualified," I'd instead ask, "can you give supportive, specific feedback to help improve a proposal"?
Tip #4: Who is your feedback for?
I'm not sure of all conference review portals, but at least for ASHE, you are able to provide comments separately to the person/people who submitted the proposal and then also to the conference organizer and/or program committee. With this type of distinction, I tried to keep proposal comments (to the individual) centered on the clarity of the proposal (i.e. parts I found hard to follow), helpful literature to include, questions about analysis/implications, etc. On the other hand, for the program comments (to the organizers), this is where I put concerns about fit— for example, if the person applied to a College Access session but wrote about Higher Education Philanthropy— and would then provide recommendations (if I thought that the proposal was good but misplaced in the session.) I think the bottom line is be specific and when you provide critiques, give alternate suggestions and/or resources.
First, before closing, I want to thank the friend who asked me about the process of reviewing and for the kind words about the blog. It means a lot and is encouraging when, at times, I feel like I'm writing off into space. Second, the only other note I'd add about reviews (which I didn't think warranted a separate tip #), is to make sure to keep it timely so if you aren't able to meet the deadline to review, to make sure to let the conference organizers know. Other than that, go for it, try it, and of course, be critical & kind with your words~
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