Reviewing for Journals

Jan 19 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

The question of "should I (Prof. Jr. Prof) review for journals? And how much?" is something that comes up all the time. It has, it does, and I suspect always will, come up in my meetings with jr faculty (as chair of promo/tenure/advising committees at various uni's). It comes up in casual discussions with jr and even sr faculty. It got asked of me by one of the tweeps in my online community.

I've edited & organized some of the answers I gave said tweep:


There are advantage:

First and foremost you are going to learn about what else is going on, in stuff close to you, on the ground floor. Yes, yes, of course you could read it after its published, but would you? At the same level that you review?

Secondly, you make friends (sorta kinda) with an AE. AE's always have trouble finding reviewers and when you do this, they like you. They REALLY, really like you.

Thirdly, you may learn something about writing by seeing stuff before publication. What needs to be changed. What you see as mistakes in others that you might have been blind to yourself.

BUT... There are many downsides, and almost all of them have to do with time.

Time, my friend, is your most precious commodity. It is more valuable than summer salary (if possible, but that's another post). You have much to do. We all have too much to do.

The advantages and benefits of reviewing are not linear with the number of reviews. These level out.

Do some, but a few a year. Protect your time. You don't get tenure or promoted for reviewing papers but for writing them.


11 responses so far

  • wally says:

    I did one in the Spring that was really helpful for me as a postdoc. After I sent my review, I was sent back (a few weeks later) my review and the reviews of the other reviewers and the editors' comments. I appreciated being able to see what I missed but that the other reviewers picked up on, and seeing how my thoughts were consistent with theirs. In terms of my training as a researcher and reviewer - this was fabulous. Sadly, I haven't gotten that back from any of the reviews I've done since then.

  • David says:

    My two cents, as an AE, if you are not going to review, let the AE know as soon as possible. I don't mind someone saying no, but the sooner I know, the sooner I can get someone else and minimize the delay.

  • imager says:

    Second David's comment as an AE. AND - suggest a suitable alternative.
    Regarding reviewing - its a good skill to obtain, quickly going through a paper and realizing its flaws. I can do that and I think its important that my postdocs and grad students learn that as well. Also, it gives me insight into new areas or even my own field before it comes out. That said 0 if it is off my specific interest area I politely decline but i always give a reason and if possible alternative reviewer.

  • Ass(ociate) Prof says:

    I don't accept every invitation to review, but I do find the practice valuable. Several journals sent "thank you" emails at the end of the year that supported my tenure application at my non-MRU. I also try to use the opportunity to promote a change in culture in peer review: 1) I try not to suggest additional experiments unless they will really make a difference in conclusions or are necessary for a missing control; 2) acknowledge what you thought was good/great/groundbreaking; 3) sometimes you do have to be blunt, such as noting that n=1 is pretty meaningless in most cases. I guess it comes down to making an effort to provide thoughtful review because it is important for your field. Last summer, a journal editor at a meeting made an effort to thank me for doing several good reviews, which of course made me feel like I am contributing to the field in another way.

    Of course, don't do too many, but a few per year can certainly help professional growth.

  • sweetscience says:

    "Do some, but a few a year."
    Wow, I was so surprised to read this! I (a postdoc) review any I'm asked to that I feel I have the experience to assess well, which amounts to a couple a year. It takes so much time to be as thoughtful as I want, and to match how thorough most reviewers have been for me, so I always wondered, how do senior PIs do so many reviews - what I perceived must be one a week or, at least considering requests for even more! Thank you for shattering this illusion for me.

    • potnia theron says:

      so sorry. I don't mean to be in the business of shattering PD level dreams.

    • David says:

      The website my journal uses tells the AE the number of reviews completed and declined by a reviewer (along with some other pieces of info such as time to completion). I don't know what everyone does with the information, but I certainly try to avoid overworking reviewers.

    • Rheophile says:

      In my experience, many senior people do in fact do more reviews than I do as a PD, but do them less carefully! (Or with less finicky attention to detail, if you like.)

      I try to review most of the papers I'm asked to - I think this was about 8 last year. I am OK with this, as this is about 2-3x my productivity as a first author, so I don't think I'm being a freeloader.

      By contrast, xykademiqz seems to be doing 1/week !!!??!!

      Maybe I'm just not experienced enough, but the time required to really review 1 paper/week in enough detail to catch things that are misleading or insufficiently proven sounds pretty intense.

  • Rheophile says:

    Potnia - how long do you spend on a typical review? I wonder if this is why I've seen such broad ranges in how many reviews people think you should do!

    • potnia theron says:

      I spend variable amounts of time, depending on the paper itself. Some I can get done in an hour (that's usually the least), because it's very good, or its very bad or its a re-review.

      I try not to spend more than 2-3 hours, because the marginal return to my time and comments is not worth it after that - ie my time is better spent on something else.

  • DJMH says:

    I once had a kind AE tell me, after I'd submitted a review, that even though the final decision went the opposite way from what I'd advocated, my review was so well done that I should be expecting more requests in the future. This AE is a significant and excellent scientist in a somewhat related area.

    So my two cents is, review things that come your way if you can put the attention into them to do it well. Your reputation among the mid-career and senior scientists who are AEs is a real benefit. (And of course you get to read stuff ahead of everyone else.)

    For Rheophile, I'd say around 2 hrs but spread over several days so you can digest it: 30 min close read through, another 30 min thinking about issues or looking up related stuff in pubmed so you don't say something dumb in the review, 20 min re-read with emphasis on areas you are concerned about, 40 min writing.

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