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Gaining Peer Review Experience

  • Most researchers are not meaningfully mentored or trained in the process of peer review.
  • There are ways to gain experience, even before you are leading your own research group.

How to gain peer review experience

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:

1. 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, The EMBO Journal allows for “co-review” with a lab director and postdoc.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Seek out peer review experience outside of a specific journal

There are several independent peer review systems, including Peerage of Science and Axios Review. These services allow for researchers to evaluate manuscripts that have not yet 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. Peerage of Science creates a quality index that you can put on your CV.

5. 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 as an example) 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!

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