Professor Richard Berger – the benefits of being a PRC member
Professor Richard Berger
Being a member of the Arts and Humanities Research Council's (AHRC) Peer Review College (PRC) is a “fascinating and rewarding” experience, says Professor Richard Berger, as the organisation invites the nomination of new members.
“I'm not sure how I got picked to start attending panels on the PRC – I think it's because I am reliable and I always do my reviews on time!” says Richard Berger, Associate Professor, Head of Research and Professional Practice in the Department of Media Production at the University of Bournemouth, who has just started his third term as a member of the PRC.
The PRC is at the heart of the AHRC's process of peer review and draws its experts from academic and other organisations, covering the full range of arts and humanities research areas.
“I started getting invited to panels towards the end of my first term on the PRC, and then I started chairing panels as I got more experience. More recently I've started running training events, such as mock panels, for new members.”
The College reflects the breadth of disciplines and subjects within the AHRC’s subject domain and PRC members make a substantial impact on the funding decisions made by the Council.
“The peer review process is something I believe in and enjoy doing,” says Professor Berger. “When you start doing it, it can be quite scary because it is genuinely unlike anything else you will have done before.
“But you very quickly get used to it and then can really enjoy the privilege of being able to take the temperature of arts and humanities research from across the country.”
Professor Berger says he particularly enjoys the variety of proposals that come across his desk, which can come from famous scholars, early career researchers, museums and charities, and that “no two panels are ever the same”.
“Sometimes on a panel you might be working on something that does fall within your area of expertise, but I think the most interesting panels are when you are looking at something that you don't necessarily know a lot about,” he says “but as a professional researcher you can bring something important to the conversation.”
The current call for PRC members is open to any organisation that has eligible staff – including organisations from the charitable, third and private sector – who can supply eligible nominators.
“You really do see some incredible work that in turn benefits your own research – you start to think 'I can do this',” says Professor Berger. “You get ideas. For example, being on the PRC has given me more confidence as a researcher to do all the complicated impact and engagement aspects of my own research.
“Almost by osmosis, you learn to write really good proposals because you see such good examples.
“You also find out about sources that you may never have heard of before – I bought a book the other day that I discovered as a result of a panel!”
But Professor Berger says he also takes his responsibility as a UK citizen seriously and likes to think of himself as a taxpayer as well as a researcher.
“I like to ask myself when I am reviewing a bid: what work would I like to see in the world? What do I think is valuable and how would I explain that value to a non-expert? I think that mind-set gives me a good perspective. When I'm on the train home from the AHRC HQ in Swindon I feel proud of what the AHRC is doing and what we have agreed to fund.”
But there are other benefits that go beyond satisfying a scholar's curiosity and civic duty.
“I think I'm seen differently in my institution because of my work with the AHRC,” says Professor Berger.
“My colleagues see me as the go-to guy for advice on writing bids, and I'm often asked to talk about the AHRC. I think that’s because I've been on so many panels I'm able to offer insight into how proposals will be discussed and evaluated, and that advice can help people write a better proposal.”
Professor Berger also says that he's met many interesting people on panels and has been invited to become an external examiner for various institutions as a result. “I've forged new professional relationships – and made friends,” he says.
But all these benefits only come if you are prepared to put in the hours and do the work.
“New members of the Peer Review College do need to take the role seriously, because it is quite a lot of work,” says Professor Berger. “It's not just like being an external examiner. It's more involved and you will be asked to read and review things throughout the year, as well as being asked to attend panels.
“I can easily spend a long morning reading a review, and for a panel I do try to read everything, which can take a couple of days.
“But you get better at it as you go along. Doing everything you are offered really helps, because then you can get into a rhythm. If you only do it once in a while it can feel like you have to restart your brain every time!
“I believe that being a member of the PRC is a fascinating and rewarding experience. I would urge anyone who is thinking about applying to find out more.”