Today, we will be discussing peer review for academic journals or web-based platforms as a career development opportunity for academics. Peer review often gets associated with impossible reviewer comments and requests for revisions of manuscripts. After all the research, discussions, and writing involved in preparing a manuscript for publication, we tend to get emotionally attached to our work. When the reviewer comments come back, we most often face either revisions or rejection, giving the process a rather negative connotation. Of course, there is also much to be said about the peer review process in general, but this goes well beyond the scope of today’s Blog. Here, we will focus on the positive aspects and learning opportunities provided by engaging in peer review: what are the benefits, and how can you get started.
What are the benefits of engaging in peer review
Peer reviewing offers great benefits and opportunities to those who take it seriously. First of all, it’s an opportunity to learn how to deliver (constructive) written feedback. This can be done by highlighting critical issues and providing suggestions on how to overcome them, or placing them in the context of other research. Provide sufficient background information to explain your way of thinking. Consider yourself on the receiving end, after having spent months on collecting data and preparing the manuscript. Even if you disagree with the results, try to keep an open mind and avoid to make it personal. As such, peer reviewing will improve your communication skills.
Second, peer review exposes you to innovative ideas, technologies, and ways of presenting data. This is a fine line to walk when it comes to research ethics (more on that in a later Blog), but when treated with integrity and respect, peer reviewing can offer excellent learning opportunities that will improve your expertise and innovativeness.
Another important lesson to be learned from engaging in peer review is familiarity with the academic publishing process. You will be in close contact with the editorial office, which facilitates the exchanges between authors, editors, and reviewers. This will give you insights into the decision-making process related to getting published or rejected. Such valuable experiences will let you grow as a strategist.
Fourth, getting involved in peer reviewing is a great way to establish your reputation as an expert. Journal editors are often experts working in your field, who have a network of their own. By showing them your expertise and skills, they may spread the word. In addition, peer reviewing will increase the overall quality of your own work, which will be better perceived by your peers.
Finally, peer reviewing often occurs under time pressure and requires strict deadlines and formats, so it will certainly enhance your management skills.
Getting started with peer review
For most of us, the first step into peer reviewing was when our supervisor gave us a manuscript with a tight deadline. Reviewing on behalf of someone else may be a good start to get a foot in the door, but as soon as you gained some experience you should start reviewing on your own account. Maybe someone you know works as an editor. They are always on the look-out for motivated expert reviewers and willing to send you manuscripts on a regular basis. Another approach could be to reach out to editors and present yourself as a potential expert reviewer. In the end, it comes down to your reputation and credibility as an expert, as well as the reliability and quality of the work you deliver.
A final word of caution, be careful with overloading yourself and do not offer more than you can handle. Depending on your ambitions and career stage, avoid doing more than one manuscript per 2-3 months. Also, while some lower-quality journals may offer you easier entry, you should keep the quality of the work in line with your own ambitions (i.e. it’s not your task to correct language or spelling, and it’s perfectly fine to reject a manuscript if it does not fulfil basic written communication standards).
Engaging in peer review can bring great career benefits, both if you plan to pursue a career in research, or when looking for something outside of academia. Knowledge about the academic publication process and evaluation criteria allow you to improve the quality of your own manuscripts. Depending on your reputation with the editors, peer reviewing may even get you invited to write an editorial about an article. Transferable skills like clear communication, providing constructive feedback, and overall project management are valued in many workplaces. Maybe you find out that your future may be in academic publishing?