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Reflections from the Liminal Space: Reflections on Peer Review

By Katie Huth (@KathleenHuth)

The concept of liminality  is new to me. However, I am experiencing it daily in my transitioning into the role of clinician and medical educator. Standing on the academic threshold carries a sense of ambiguity and often unease. This was also the case as I moved from being simply a consumer of medical knowledge, to an emerging contributor, to being asked to appraise others’ contributions through peer review.

The peer review process exposes liminality. It obliges you to straddle viewpoints of reader, author and editor, for the purpose of upholding quality in the literature that informs clinical and educational practice. How does one learn to do this well?

There are a number of useful online resources available, including toolkits offered by medical journals (The BMJ and JAMA Pediatrics, for example) and this paper on becoming a peer reviewer to medical education journals. They offer a helpful framework to start from—what questions should I ask myself as I read a manuscript? What they don’t offer is an opportunity for dialogue, on how someone thinks through a critique of a manuscript and shapes a constructive response.

Mentored Peer Review

I wanted to find my voice as a peer reviewer, while getting specific feedback from someone modelling the process.  Moreover, given the methodological differences and unique challenges of educational research compared to biomedical research, I wanted more guidance on critically appraising this type of literature.

I asked a trusted mentor with experience in medical education and scholarship if she could offer this guidance. Enter Teresa Chan. Here are the steps we took to engage in a mentored peer review:

Peer Review Pearls

The value of this mentored experience was in learning the general approach, rather than specific information about the manuscript itself. Here are some of the pearls I gathered:

I’ve recognized another benefit of peer review—it is attuning me to the elements of thoughtful study design expected by the medical community, giving me a more critical eye in my own work. And just as I’ve found value in mentorship when developing scholarship, I’ve also found value in mentorship when learning to review it.

If you have served as a mentor or mentee for peer review, can you share your thoughts below?


  1. The BMJ. Guidance for peer reviewers.
  2. Cummings, P., & Rivara, F.P. (2002). Reviewing manuscripts for Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 156(1):11-13
  3. Azer, S., Ramani, S., & Peterson, R. (2012). Becoming a peer reviewer to medical education journals. Medical Teacher, 34(9):698-704.

Image a deppe. Flickr. under Creative Commons License CC2.0


Thank you to our editor, Teresa Chan (@TChanMD), for recruiting Katie for this article!

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. For more details on our site disclaimers, please see our ‘About’ page



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