Why all researchers should add becoming a peer reviewer to their career plan 

Benefits of being a peer reviewer

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Peer review is a vital part of the scientific publishing process and by extension science itself. Yet, with a heavy workload already, many researchers could be forgiven for asking ‘why should I become a peer reviewer?’  

In this blog, we’ll take a look at what peer review is, why it’s worth putting yourself forward as a peer reviewer and how to get started. We’ll also hear from some early career researchers on their views of peer review. 

What is peer review and why does it matter?

Peer review is integral to ensuring that robust, high quality research is published. In essence, it’s the independent assessment of a research paper by experts in that field. Its purpose is to evaluate a manuscript’s quality and suitability for publication. 

As well as being a form of quality control, peer review is also a very useful source of feedback, helping researchers to improve their papers before they’re published. It should be a collaborative process, where authors and reviewers engage in a dialogue to advance the work. 

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“As an initial step towards established academic knowledge, the mark of peer review offers reassurance, to the reader seeking valid, significant, and original thinking on a subject,” said Huayi Huang, an early career researcher who attended a Sense about Science ‘Nuts and bolts of peer review’ workshop at our London offices. “Our current peer reviewing processes reflect the hope that multiple judgments on a piece of work will enable a rise above our personal biases.” 

Take a look at our Understanding peer review resources to learn more about the peer review process. 

Can early career researchers be peer reviewers?

You may be thinking, “But don’t researchers need to be very experienced to be peer reviewers?” Not necessarily. The most important requirement for being a peer reviewer is that you’re knowledgeable on the specific topic the paper covers. And you don’t always need years of experience for that to be the case. 

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“It is easy to assume that only experienced academics have the knowledge and skills to provide high-quality reviews,” said Adam Bateson, speaking about what he’d learned at the Sense about Science workshop. “However multiple panelists stressed that this is not necessarily true; young researchers use the techniques and ideas they will be reviewing on a day-to-day basis. Hence they are well placed to identify strengths and weaknesses in different approaches and results. 

“A journal might turn to a junior researcher for their expertise in the particular research methods or experimental techniques, for example,” added Huayi Huang. “They can complement this with an overview of the field from its high-profile scientists. Also, the 2-4 hours expected by journals for a thorough peer review of a submission, might more feasibly be undertaken by newcomers to the research area.” 

5 good reasons to become a peer reviewer

It’s undeniable that researchers have a lot on their plates. So why become a peer reviewer? What benefits will you gain from taking on another task? Let’s take a look… 

Improve your own writing

Unlike when you’re reading articles as part of your research, the process of reviewing an article encourages you to think critically about what makes an article good (or not so good). This could be related to writing style, presentation, or the clarity of explanations. These insights can, in turn, help you to improve and refine your own writing. 

“Reviewing is something that I think everybody should do,” said David Bogle, pro-vice provost of the doctoral school at University College London, speaking on our 15 minutes to develop your research career podcast. “I give [my own students] things to referee because it makes them focus on what the point of the paper is. I think refereeing before you ever write your papers is very important.”  

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  • Connect with other academics in your field

  • Ask questions, “crowdsourcing” ideas

  • Spread the word about the research you’re undertaking

  • Publicize your article, increase downloads, citations (in time), and impact

Ultimately, it’s a powerful tool for sharing your research and connecting with the people who could help it make an impact.

Boost your career

While a lot of reviewing is anonymous (though not all), there are many schemes and companies now set up to recognize the important contribution of reviewers.  

For example, we partner with Clarivate (formerly Publons) where researchers can showcase a complete record of their reviewing activity as evidence of their subject-area expertise. They can also earn “merit” points for their contributions. We also offer a number of other ways to recognize peer reviewers, such as certificates, free access to titles, and book discounts. 

You can also include reviewing work on your resumé. This is important because your work as a reviewer will be of interest to appointment or promotion committees who are looking for evidence of service to the profession. 

Keep up with the latest thinking

As a reviewer, you get an early view of the exciting new research being done in your field. Not only that, peer review gives you a role in helping to evaluate and improve this new work. This will help you to expand your own knowledge and also means you’ll be able to apply new techniques and ideas to your own research, long before you’d have been able to read about them in a final published article. 

Become part of a journal’s community

Many journals act as the center of a network of researchers who are in conversation about key themes and developments in the field. Becoming a reviewer is a great way to get involved with that group.  

This can give you the opportunity to build new connections for future collaborations. And being a regular reviewer may also be the first step to becoming a member of the journal’s editorial board. 

Help maintain the integrity of scientific literature

Peer review allows researchers and the wider public to have confidence in the robustness of the scientific process. This is vital to ensuring research can continue by reassuring funders and the public that they can trust research output.  

“To help restore public confidence and trust in this part of professional research,” said Huayi Huang, “it is important for us to continue to self-educate about how to conduct helpful peer reviews of other’s work.”  

“Ensuring I have a thorough understanding of the peer review process enables me to defend and explain the scientific process to the public,” added Adam Bateson. 

Yet it is often extremely difficult for editors to find peer reviewers, particularly because of the volume of research now being published. That’s where you can help.  

Visit our guide to becoming a peer reviewer for more details on the process of peer reviewing work, as well as opportunities to take part in our Expert Peer Review Training

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How do you become a peer reviewer?

So you’re sold on the idea of peer review, but what do you do now? There are a few different ways you can become a peer reviewer. These include: 

  • Contacting a journal editor – journal editors are always looking out for new reviewers, especially those with expertise in areas under-represented in the journal’s pool of contacts. If there’s a journal that you read regularly, email the editor directly. 

  • Asking a senior colleague to recommend you – is there someone who knows your work and is already involved with a journal, or regularly reviews? Ask whether they would be willing to pass on your details to the editor.  

  • Looking out for calls for reviewers – some journals make specific invitations for reviewers to get in touch. This might be the case if the journal is new or expanding its scope into a different area. 

  • Registering with a journal’s publisher – some publishers invite aspiring reviewers to add their details to a reviewer database. Visit our Expert Peer Review Training programmes for the opportunity to get onto Taylor & Francis database. 

  • Finding a mentor – ask a senior colleague, with experience in reviewing, whether you could work with them on a review.  

  • Being visible on researcher networking sites – academic networking sites, such as ResearchGate or Academia.edu, are opportunities to build a profile that editors looking for new reviewers can find.  

  • Writing a paper – many journals add authors who have published with them to their database of reviewers. While you’re unlikely to write a paper just for the opportunity to review, submitting a research paper or book review is a good way to become part of the community around that journal. 

Visit our guide to becoming a peer reviewer for more details on the process of peer reviewing work, as well as opportunities to take part in our Expert Peer Review Training

Where to next?

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