By Chris Zavos, MD, PhD, FEBGH, Assistant Editor of Annals of Gastroenterology, email@example.com
Have you ever wondered how the Editor of the Journal you just submitted your scientific paper to selected the peer-reviewers? What were the qualifications he saw in those 2-4 experts he decided to invite to express their opinion on your manuscript in the first place? Have you ever wished to be part of the process of judging a paper before you see it in print? Are there any tips you could use to help get noticed by the Editors?
Having served as an Editor for several Journals in the GI field, and having been involved in publishing and reviewing papers for several Gastroenterology and Hepatology Journals, I will share with you some tips on how to receive invitations to peer-review articles for highly-acclaimed Journals.
What are the benefits of reviewing?
First of all, what are the benefits of spending your time reviewing an article for a Journal? Certainly not the money, as no Journal would pay you to provide them with your service.
Also, there is no moral reward in terms of seeing your name published along with the paper you reviewed. The vast majority of the Journals require that your identity remains undisclosed and your comments are kept confidential. You only receive an automated reply “Thank you for reviewing the manuscript” when you click on the "Submit Review" button.
So, what’s the point of wasting your time doing this job?
Being a peer-reviewer of other papers in your field sparks novel ideas as you dig into the literature on a topic related to but not identical with the topics you had been publishing. In the same context, you enrich your knowledge on cutting-edge research which may be applicable to your everyday practice, thereby staying abreast of our colleagues in an ever-growing competitive environment.
As we are more and more inundated with information by reading single articles, we never sit down to review everything that’s already been published on the same issue. Thus, we end up getting a fraction or frame and not the whole picture. Being a peer-reviewer means that you dig deeply into the literature to find any pieces missing in the paper you are reviewing, thereby helping you improve your own writing skills and learn how to better present your own research to the scientific community.
Peer review also helps you shape those critically important relationships with the Editors of the most highly-acclaimed journals in your field, which in turn opens up gates in terms of being invited to write an Editorial, a Review, or (perhaps) even have a more favorable stance when you submit your own work for publication.
In some countries, such as in the United States, performing peer review is regarded as a "service to profession" and can thus be used as a part of your promotion portfolio. The automated emails you receive from the Journals once you click the “Submit Review” button can be used as a proof of your service.
Furthermore, some Journals publish towards the end of each year a list of Reviewers or they forward you a pretty looking electronic certificate which can be printed and framed. The latter definitely stands out if you are working in private practice, as only very few doctors or researchers receive such invitations and recognition certificates.
Finally, being a reviewer fills you with joy and pleasure as you are among the first to read a piece that the rest of the scientific community will later notice. And on top of that, you feel like a mentor for the young researchers and scholars who wrote that piece. It is a feeling of being part of the discoveries of your time.
Why don’t I receive any invitations to review?
Most of the time, the Editors struggle to find new reviewers and they usually request previous reviewers to do the lion’s share of work. This is far from an ideal or sustainable scenario, and it’s causing a real hassle and burden to the same reviewers being repeatedly invited.
Most of the good reviewers have the time to review no more than 2-4 manuscripts annually. And, although the Journals are eager to invite highly qualified senior reviewers, they find great difficulty due to the large number of manuscripts they receive and the very low availability of the good reviewers who often have a heavy workload.
What do the senior reviewers have that the junior ones don’t?
Obviously, senior reviewers attract the attention by most of the Journal Editors. They are well known as they have published a lot and they have exposed themselves a lot in international conferences, they have an extreme knowledge on every subject in their field and can thus provide with an accurate review of the manuscript. However, accurate does not necessarily mean fair, and I will explain that in the next few paragraphs.
What do the junior reviewers have that the senior ones don’t?
Obviously, junior reviewers have more time, as they just begin their careers and are not heavily burdened with commitments here and there. This means that junior researchers can spend more time digging into the literature and submitting their review in a significantly shorter time. Most of the Journals now require that you hand in your review within 2 weeks of time or even less, and meeting such tight deadlines is less likely to be achieved by senior reviewers.
Junior reviewers can also be more open to new ideas as senior researchers are sometimes kept hostages of their own beliefs forged over the years. Being less likely to accept something totally new, means they are less likely to be fair in their criticism.
Finally, inviting older reviewers does not necessarily mean they are doing a more reliable job, as they usually check the main idea, the main outcome and the Discussion, while the Methods, Tables, and Statistics are usually overlooked.
What can I do as a young academic to start receiving invitations for peer review?
To get onto an Editor’s peer review database you need to try out one or more of the following 5 ways:
Get exposure from publishing your own papers in peer-review Journals in PubMed. The first thing that the Editors do before they invite someone to review a paper is to check who has published on a similar topic before. PubMed can help you get noticed by the Editors and if your email address appears on the paper, you are very likely to receive an invitation to review another paper. Whenever one of your papers gets accepted for publication, you can contact with the Editor and ask him to include you in his peer-reviewers’ list.
If you have published a few papers on PubMed, but your email address is not mentioned, and only the senior author’s email is displayed, it is more likely that the Editors will invite the senior authors to review another manuscript. However, as mentioned before, senior authors are not always interested or available and they simply decline these invitations. Most of the Editors however would be relieved to receive a recommendation of another reviewer, when a senior reviewer declines the invitation due to a heavy workload. Therefore, you could ask the senior authors of your papers to recommend your name every time they are unwilling to undertake the peer review.
Send an email to the Editors of the Journals you are interested in and present yourself. Also, make yourself available to review a manuscript, and you might be surprised how quickly you will receive your first invitation, particularly from Journals with a lower impact factor. This is definitely a good start!
Expose yourself by participating in congresses, by talking to other researchers in networks and fora, etc. Some Journals ask the authors to suggest reviewers for their submissions, so you can offer to help them fill up that potential reviewers’ list.
If you have reviewed 1-2 papers for some Journals in the past but then the Editors forgot about you, you may email them back and declare availability to do more peer-review work for those Journals.
Remember, always to accept invitations to review articles that fall within your niche; to spend a fair amount of time reviewing them and be precise in your comments; to meet the deadlines of the Journal; and to declare any potential conflict of interest to the Editor. This may sound like you will not be part of this process at that particular time, but the Editors will definitely appreciate your honesty and re-invite you on another occasion.