Reflections on TASP and the passing of academic judgement

I have long been fascinated by how much academic practice centres on the passing of judgement on students and peers. We review articles, and our articles get reviewed. We send in grant applications, and review those of others. We comment on each other’s work in seminars, and we make evaluative comments (sometimes in a low voice) about conference presentations.

Given how important this is for academic life, it is striking how unsystematic we talk about these things. There are scattered resources on topics like article reviewing available on the net, but I have found little systematic literature to help in developing one skill making and communicating academic judgements. I love Michelle Lamont’s *How Professors Think*, where she among other things displays the intricacies of passing judgment on grant applications. It is a rewarding read. Yet, one could wonder why there is not more talk and resources about the skills of passing judgment.

A while ago I came across three fascinating expert judgements regarding applicants for a professorship at a Swedish university (not Linkoping!). The reason these were fascinating was the markedly different styles in how they communicated their judgement of each applicant. One of the experts made extensive use of tables for presenting the achievements of the top candidates. In these we learnt the number of monographs and articles published by each candidate as well as the number of citations according to ISI and Google scholar.

Another expert was more condensed in his communication, but indicates in his introduction that the assessment has taken many sources into account (such as a ranking of journals for assessing the publications on the various candidates).

It was, however, the statement of the third expert that really caught my eye. She used a set of abbreviations for summarising her judgement of each candidate. These abbreviations were presented at the beginning of her statement and included: “TASP (there are some problems)” and “HOML (high on my list).” In all, five such abbreviations were defined.

One take on this would be that it is terrible with such a varied and unstandardized way to make and communicate such an important academic judgement as this one. Another one would be that it is precisely because it is of such importance that we as academics have to have quite some room in how we make these judgements. Maybe, then, the lack of more advice is all for the better in the end.

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