Not long after I emerged, blinking and proudly clutching my MA, I was asked to write a chapter based on my dissertation for a book on material culture. It was a bit of an emergency, the deadline was in a couple of months’ time (the other authors had had over a year), but it was also flattering to be asked and a publication would surely be good for my academic curriculum vitae.

So I bashed out my allotted word count, went through four drafts and sent it off. The editor trimmed some fat and made a few minor suggestions, and then the book went for review. A long time passed. I was able to refer to my chapter as “in review,” a good feeling.

And then the reviews came back. Today I learned that one reviewer had no comments at all, another noted in passing my scholarly parallels with Professor Paul Mullins of Indiana University, which is absolutely true, but the third, who waived anonymity and who I therefore know to be someone whose work I admire, had some pretty tough and searching things to say about a dozen aspects of my paper.

Now, I’ve always had to fight against a a sometimes overwhelming lack of self-worth. It’s a dark presence constantly looking over my shoulder and gripping at my vitals. I’ve usually managed to disguise it, to grit my teeth and push it back into the shadows, to choose deliberately activities that force me to the forefront, to lead as well as follow. To do all those things that cause a tightening of stomach muscles and a loosening of sphincters. So handling a review is a challenge.

My first reaction was, of course, despond. My chapter was rubbish, worthless, my scholarship crap, my writing terrible. Once again, here I was at the beginning of my PhD, something big and positive and fun, and here was a set-back making me doubt the whole idea, and myself! Groan!

But then I forced myself to think this through, bit by agonising bit. Firstly, only one of three reviewers thought to comment on my piece. Secondly, the article had satisfied the editor, a respected academic to whose field my work is very relevant. Thirdly, I realised that dealing with the reviewers comments will give me a chance to improve the piece. I recognise that the final version will be better once I have cleared up some confusions, sorted some rhetorical extravagances, got rid of some over-ambitious claims. Fourthly, I don’t have to agree with everything she says. Fifthly, the timing is good, in that it gives me another prompt to firm up, justify and clarify my thinking before I get into the nitty-gritty of three years of research.

And finally, the reviewer is a highly-respected career academic, a professor who has been working in this field for, what, 25 years or so. She has about 30 publications to her name.

By contrast, the totality of my academic experience is a one-year taught MA, during which I carried out a mere four months of research for my dissertation. I got a distinction and my dissertation won a prize. Perhaps I’ve done well to have got this far?

Still, I need a big glass of something strong and amber-coloured to fuel my next steps!