Junior scientists reviewing manuscripts: A game of diminishing returns?

Jan 03 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

In addition to a twitter discussion about lab safety last week, there was a conversation about reviewing manuscripts as a postdoc/junior PI and the value of it, that I thought worth bringing to the blog. The origin was a conversation between CoR and @bam294 about whether manuscript reviewing is a way to increase one's influence. Also, whether doing a number of reviews for a particular journal may lead to an Associate Editor post, which further expands a person's sphere of influence.

The desire to review manuscripts is something I often hear from either postdocs or junior PIs and I admit to seeking them out as a postdoc as well. I think it is a good idea to be involved in the review process from early on, as it helps improve one's own writing. It also sharpens your feel for what reviewers will look for when you submit something. However, I don't see the benefit of carrying a heavy review load pre-tenure. This may sound stupid coming from someone who just accepted the role of AE at journal, but I only did so after ensuring that the review load would not be overwhelming, and after talking to senior people in my dept to see how it would be viewed for tenure.

As much as reviewing can be personally helpful and is an important service for the community, I believe there is certainly a point of diminishing returns. IMHO, I think the cost/benefit of reviewing when it comes to one person's influence is wildly skewed towards cost. This is especially true if compared to attending conferences, getting invited to give talks at other universities and publishing your lab's stuff in journals people read. And if you are reviewing for a journal that keeps reviewer names secret, this is doubly true as only the AE is going to know you were involved.

Don't get me wrong, I think reviewing is a good thing, overall. But I am happy for a month that goes by when I don't get asked to review anything, because I have that much more time to focus on the things that are important for my lab.

12 responses so far

  • Alex says:

    The most important review invitations are the (1) the first invite from an AE you haven't previously reviewed for (shows that another person recognizes you) and the second from the same person (shows your work is respected). After that it is just a service, not a feather in the cap.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Ugh. I agreed to 3 separate MS reviews in the last week. One was a revision of something I'd previously reviewed, one was for an AE I'm trying to impress, and the third was just too relevant to my own work to say no. I imagine everyone's trying to get things out before the end of the year, but seriously!

    I need to start saying "no." Forcefully.

  • odyssey says:

    I also agreed to review three manuscripts in the past week. Must be the crazy time of year...

  • Joat-mon says:

    I was wondering, how many MS does one have to review to get invited to become an AE?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    IME, it doesn't work that way very often.

  • Pat says:

    I also had 3 invitations to review on December 24th and 25th...These invitations followed 3 weeks of radio silence from associate editors. I agreed to review one manuscript because 1) the study was highly relevant to my work, 2) the invitation came from an important journal in my field and 3) this invitation represented the first one to review for that journal.

    I started to say "no" in the beginning of 2011...

  • Anon2 says:

    When I started my career, I tended to say yes to almost all review requests, because there really weren't too many (maybe 5-6 per year). Then, all of a sudden, I had reviewed 24 manuscripts in 2010. An average of 2 per month is not absurd, but it is real work, so I was more selective last year. Once you start saying "no" occasionally, you learn that it's really not that hard. As an added bonus, when I started to say no whenever the abstract was barely readable or the journal was one I'd never publish in, I found reviewing a more pleasant experience in general.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    As an added bonus, when I started to say no whenever the abstract was barely readable or the journal was one I'd never publish in, I found reviewing a more pleasant experience in general.


    I try and keep it to about 15 a year if I can.

  • You should categorically refuse to review manuscripts for journals with IF's that are in the fucken basement (like sub-2 in the biomedical sciences). These journals shouldn't even exist, the science they publish is worthless, and the scientists who find it necessary to publish there should find other jobs.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Hahahaahaha, CPP your trolling lacks subtlety..

  • CS says:

    In my field a healthy reviewing record is important for your tenure case. It also helps to maintain a working relationship with Really Famous Names (also known as Editors) which can later on come handy during the reference collecting stage. After that, reviewing is nearly irrelevant and whatever number you do is driven by a social conscience more than anything else.

  • pyrope says:

    In addition to refusing reviews for crap journals or when abstracts are illegible, I've become pretty selective about the topic too. If I don't find the abstract interesting, it is likely to be painful. I'm also around 12-15 reviews per year, but these days I almost never accept more than one at a time.
    Someone once told me to review as much as my papers require review each year (i.e. 2-3x your annual pub rate), which has always seemed reasonable to me.

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