Jul 152013

Peer review is a critical part of scholarly publishing. When done properly, it catches errors, combats fraud, and helps improve the presentation and impact of a research manuscript. Therefore, despite its inefficiencies, peer review is a process that every researcher should contribute to. But how are researchers taught to be an effective peer reviewer? Where can a young investigator gain experience and, even more importantly, recognition for their efforts?

As students and postdocs, almost everyone has the opportunity to review a manuscript with their advisor. This experience is valuable, and is often the first step toward learning to be a good peer reviewer. However, the advisor usually shares the manuscript off the record, meaning that the journal does not know that the student or postdoc contributed to the review (or completed the entire thing). Here are some ways to provide peer review and receive credit or even compensation:

  • When reviewing a manuscript for your advisor, make the journal aware of your contributions.
    As you complete a review with your mentor, look at the journal’s website for information about how they handle the review process. Some journals encourage or even require acknowledgment of a student or postdoc’s contribution. For example, Nature specifically requests that reviewers mention any input from another lab member, and The EMBO Journal allows for “co-review” with a lab director and postdoc.
  • Ask your mentor to refer the journal to you directly.
    If you are better suited to review a manuscript assigned to your mentor, ask whether they would be comfortable contacting the journal editor and suggesting your name instead. This switch is not possible in every case, but the editor would probably be grateful to have another potential reviewer available. Writing a good review in this scenario can lead to more assignments from that journal in the future.
  • Contact journal editors directly.
    After you have published a couple of papers, write to the editors at the journal(s) where your work was accepted. Remind them of your publications and tell them that you’d be willing to review manuscripts for their journal in the future. This correspondence doesn’t guarantee any review assignments (it depends considerably on the type of journal and its submission volume), but it can’t hurt.
  • Seek out peer review experience outside of a specific journal.
    There are several independent peer review systems, including Peerage of Science and Rubriq [a sister company of AJE]. These services allow for researchers to evaluate manuscripts that have not been submitted to a specific journal. This type of peer review is slightly different, as it does not require determining whether a manuscript “fits” a journal, just whether the report is valid and well presented. Rubriq offers compensation to its reviewers, and Peerage of Science creates a quality index that you can put on your CV.
  • Open peer review.
    As you begin reviewing on your own, consider signing your name to your reviews. For most journals, this will only provide your identity to the author, but several journals now publish reviews along with manuscripts (see PeerJ and PLOS ONE as examples) or list reviewer names beside accepted papers (as with Frontiers publications). If you have written a thorough and insightful review, your efforts can be seen by anyone.

Peer review is a great service provided by hard-working researchers. We hope that this post helps you find ways to get experience and recognition for the work that you do. Best of luck with publication and your career!

Image credit: Queen’s University.

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Ben Mudrak

As Business Development Manager for Research Square/AJE, my mission is to build connections that help all researchers publish their work more easily. Read a brief bio here or check out my ImpactStory, Google Scholar, or ORCID profiles to see more about my academic background and research interests. You can also follow me on Twitter (@BenMudrak).

  One Response to “Gaining Peer Review Experience”

  1. It is difficult for young researchers to gain experience in peer reviewing, and too many receive very little guidance on how to review. At COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) we’ve produced some ethical guidelines for peer reviewers, which we hope will help new reviewers:

    http://publicationethics.org/files/Ethical_guidelines_for_peer_reviewers_0.pdf .

    If any have difficulty in getting their supervisor/PI to make journals aware of their contribution to a review (and I’ve heard from many that this is a real issue), they can point to the following in the guidelines (p3):

    ‘Peer reviewers should not involve anyone else in the review of a manuscript, including junior researchers they are mentoring, without first obtaining permission from the journal; the names of any individuals who have helped them with the review should be included with the returned review so that they are associated with the manuscript in the journal’s records and can also receive due credit for their efforts.‘

    There’s also an article that describes the background to the guidelines and their evolution
    http://www.ismte.org/Shared_Articles-COPEs_new_Ethical_Guidelines_for_Peer_Reviewers_background_issues_and_evolution .