I have received feedback from reviewers on my latest conference paper (this is in Computer Science). It was an acceptance, which is nice.

I feel I really need to consider in depth the reviewer feedback.

I have consciously noticed I have a emotional reaction. Which is not rational, practical, or useful.

How can I clear myself from it, and handle the review on a factual basis?

Is it better to sleep on it? Perhaps it would help to strip the acceptance from it. Or maybe to rewrite it in my words as if I were reviewing the paper?

Overall I guess I should feel happy, but of course the written reviewer feedback only points at the weaknesses in the work. Which is reasonable, since they can indicate it was generally good with their accept statement. (At the end of the day, an accept is an accept, right?)

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    I also have strong emotional reactions--positive and negative--to paper reviews. But I also suspect that in a couple of decades, if my career goes well and I become an established researcher, I'll miss the days when I cared this much.
    – user37208
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 17:46
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    Use SciGen to write your papers. Then you will have less emotional investment in the text, so will be better able to deal with criticism of it. Hope this helps. Have a nice day! Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 19:07
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    Great cathartic question on a problem often suffered, often untold Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 19:31
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    It's not rational, true. It's emotional. But it is also human, part of actual life experience. Don't reject being human. Accept it and recognize it. Sleep, or at least an explicit delay, is probably a good idea to let it integrate with your rational aspect. But don't discard it because it can be a powerful motivation to push ahead. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 23:35
  • Take up a hobby that releases aggressions. Then read Einstein's response to his very first peer-reviewed paper (it wasn't graceful). Then, take an ice-bucket challenge and have a second look whether the reviewer has had an actually good comment to make (sometimes it's indeed the case). Learn. Improve yourself. Improve the paper. And, take particular note of where reasonable criticism was delivered to you with unnecessary polemics so you won't do the same when you are on the other side of the reviewing game (which is, in my experience, the main reason for getting upset at reviews). Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 14:23

6 Answers 6


Personally, I find that the following process works well for me:

  1. Complain together with my co-authors about the blindness and foolishness of reviewers, the sorry state of publishing, and the general existence of injustice in a world not ready for the pure angelic beauty of our work. Remember not to take this too seriously.
  2. Ignore everything for at least 24 hours, letting my initial emotional response settle and giving space for rationality to return.
  3. Copy the review responses into a template for a response letter, separating each statement for its own response. This effectively forms a checklist of work to be done (or at least to be clearly explained why it should not be done). I do this even with conference papers where there is no response letter, because of the organizing benefit.
  4. When revising, focus on only one statement at a time, taking it in isolation and working until the comment has been fully addressed and I can write a clear and non-emotional response explaining what has and hasn't been done and why. Depending on the overall tone of the situation, sometimes I will start with the little things and work up to the bigger ones, and sometimes I will do in the opposite direction.

Finally, as I work, I always remind myself that every statement by every reviewer can teach me something that will improve my paper, even when I disagree with it. Sometimes, the reviewer has valuable insight. Other times, their apparently "crazy" or "ignorant" reactions are instead actually showing me how I have not spoken well to the community of readers, have opened myself up to misinterpretation, or have allowed my work to be viewed as part of an intellectual battle that I do not wish to participate in.

We are emotional beings, and we have emotions. Over time, you will hopefully learn to read the curve of your emotional response so that you can ride with it and manage it rather than fighting it or amplifying it when that would be counterproductive. The process that works best for you may vary, but one way or another I think that it is best to acknowledge emotions and then find a way to let them settle before trying to work with the criticism.

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    Indeed, you raised a fair point: If the reviewer failed to understand a core concept or why your work is outstanding, it might be because you failed to properly express all that in the paper :) ... Remember, pats in the back do not teach you much ... Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 15:01
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    And never, ever look at reviews on a Friday or just before you go home. Look at them on Monday mornings, when you're already prepared to be grumpy.
    – iayork
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 15:32
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    Point 1 is a crucial part of any academic activity. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 16:04
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    +1 especially for "are instead actually showing me how I have not spoken well to the community of readers"
    – Kyle
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 17:50
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    Great answer: this is exactly how I handle reviews. I disagree with @iayork's comment. If you read them on a Friday afternoon, you can go home, get some exercise, hug your spouse and distract yourself while you recover from the initial emotional response. If you read them on a Monday morning, it can poison your work week and reduce your productivity for days. But everyone is different. You know how your mind works. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 22:21

One-line answer: Don't try to "clear the emotions away"; but do things which might make it easier for you to process them better.

The assumption that there is a marked distinction between "rational" and "emotional" thought, that people can "clear" themselves of emotions etc. is not - AFAIK - grounded in scientific fact. Our motivations are emotional, even our intuitions are emotional, our sense of what's "nicer" and what's "right" about abstract concepts is partially emotional.

Why do you think you need to detach from your emotions in order to process criticism? If that's a problem you feel you have a lot, you might need to work on that regardless of research. At any rate, I would recommend:

  • Doing some physical activity which has an element of monotonicty, or a meditative effect, like jogging, or yoga.
  • Reducing your effective workload for a while and, yes, getting more sleep than you usually do.
  • Go do something that has a humbling effect with respect to your capabilities, but does not poorly reflect on your sense of self esteem. Something entirely unrelated to the (partially artificial) competitiveness or your field of academic pursuit. For example, ask a friend or a family member to let you try out something that he/she likes to do and you're not particularly good at, or some kind of craft.

While doing all of that, don't try to force yourself to think on the reviewers' notes/criticism; and don't try to force yourself not to think about them.

I realize this is not particularly "clever" advice. But: 1. It's based on my experience; 2. I think it should help and 3. At worst you'll have spent a couple of days doing harmless stuff.


Before even discussing with co-authors I do the following:

  1. Print out the review. Yes, I print the report on good old paper. In this way the review becomes something you can touch, put away, crumple, burn, frame, do whatever you want… It looses some of its emotional content by becoming a real world object; it's not just some statement anymore that can stick in your mind for hours. If you want to stop thinking about the review, put the paper away.
  2. Work with the printed review. I go over the review and highlight:
    • Praise.
    • Comments that I totally agree with and where I just do what reviewer suggest.
    • Comments that seems reasonable but it is not totally clear what should be done.
    • Comments that need more thought, seem unfair or unclear.

After that I try to get in contact with co-authors and start working on a revision.


Start out with the recognition that:

  • Somewhere around 50% of the people generally disagree with the actions of the president.
  • Christ himself (who is generally considered a pretty decent guy despite your personal religious convictions), was crucified on the cross.
  • There are countless stories of very successful entrepreneurs who were told there ideas were fairly worthless.
  • I get honked at regularly for not tailgating in rush hour traffic - as if that were going to move us along any faster

The point is that opinions are just that, opinions - and some people frankly are just idiots. Even if they are not, no human has a hold on the "truth" - and many very, very smart people disagree with one another on critical matters. Just because someone provides a critique doesn't mean it has merit --- sometimes even the professor.

Your job is to decide whether the critique is valid. Did you do your due diligence? Did you write a document that you can be proud of? Are your positions defensible? If so, then take critique with a grain of salt - recognizing that the reviewer may indeed be the one that is unreasonable. Look at the specifics of the critique - are the arguments reasonable?

Even if the critique is valid, understand that is what critiques are for. We are all learning, all of the time. If someone points out something that you didn't know - don't take it as an affront - simply be grateful that you came away from the experience with more knowledge.

If the critique is just mean, recognize that there are simply mean people in the world and that has nothing to do with you.


I would say, try to understand why they did review that way. Except if the reviewer knows you, it makes no sense to blindly throw arguments just to destroy your research.

It is possible that the reviewer did not understand the experiment, then explain it better.

If the weakness is recognised, you have to be able to explain the limitations of your work in the paper. If the reviewer can pinpoint weaknesses you did not elaborate on, they will put them in their report.

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    to be clear, I don't think there is anything wrong with the reviews, I don't doubt them at all, I haven't read closely yet, but I am sure they point out things I knew (either outright, or in my "heart of hearts"). But never the less I do feel a bad taste in my mouth, as it were. I can readily rationalise that is not the problem. Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 15:23

Its because your also enormously happy when you get things done. You got high ups and low downs, and feeling very personal about it. Some people try to push themselves all the time as heroes. Centrally to this is the brain rewarding system. And maybe a lack of a normal comfort state, you should try to focus on other less exciting things as well. Try to take the moment, enjoy it. Because if value your normal life as well as your super presentations. Then those will standout less and you get more balance in your life.

You might as well reduce coffee, cola, sugar, as those non natural foods also cause peeks in your energy, and drain your brain from the steady balance it needs.

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