At the British Ecological Society journals we strongly encourage senior academics to review our manuscripts in collaboration with more junior members of their labs.
We believe that this is fantastic training for Early Career Researchers, whether it involves sitting down and combing through a manuscript together, or, if they already have some experience, the junior researcher writing the report and the senior researcher editing and adding comments later. We also recommend that the Early Career Researchers read our handy Guide to Peer Review before conducting their report.
This Peer Review Week, some of our past co-reviewers have kindly shared their thoughts on the process.
Ask the Senior Reviewer:
Why co-review a manuscript with an early career researcher?
We asked senior reviewers this question and many thought it was a no brainer, as Manuela Truebano Garcia (Plymouth University) explained, “co-reviewing provides and excellent mentoring opportunity, and a great way for early career researchers to familiarise themselves with the reviewing process. It also gives a different perspective when submitting their own work to be reviewed.” Joshua Hall (Tennessee Tech University) felt the benefits of co-review when they were a grad student and has passed this on to their own students – “I now conduct co-reviews with students as a standard peer-review practice”.
Joshua thinks co-reviewing should be a protocol for every research laboratory for three reasons: “First, it increases viewpoint diversity in peer-review. By including one or more junior reviewers, the knowledge, skill base, and life experiences drawn upon during review is broadened. Second, it tempers the emotional highs and lows of reviewing. It is difficult to be overly enthusiastic or overly pessimistic about a study when you are training students during a review. Third, it trains the next generation of reviewers. Being an expert on a subject does not automatically make one an expert at evaluating the work of others. This takes time and practice.”
First, it increases viewpoint diversity in peer-review. By including one or more junior reviewers, the knowledge, skill base, and life experiences drawn upon during review is broadened.Joshua Hall (Tennessee Tech University)
Michael Dawson (University of California Merced) agrees, especially when the student is a specialist on the subject: “The paper was relevant to a project being explored by one of the graduate students working in my lab. I thought it could help them in multiple ways: to gain experience reviewing, to see how other people were thinking about related problems, to provide a forum for us to discuss research questions, analyses, and the way a paper develops”.
“I don’t think I’ve yet turned down an invitation to co-review, because I think that co-reviewing is a very valuable experience for my graduate students, but not every journal allows it, so I feel I should take the opportunity where it arises” says Carol Frost, (University of Alberta). Carol chose to co-review with an MSc student, as it fell into their area of study, “but with a more applied focus, so I thought the study might be interesting for her to read to think about how the methods she has learned could be applied to real-world problems.”
In some cases (especially when the topic was from a small field), the early career researcher was invited first to review, then asked their advisor to support the process. This includes John Andrew Allen (University of Helsinki) who said “I was invited to review a very interesting manuscript which was directly related to my own research. However, since I am still a student and this was my first review, I asked my supervisors if they would be willing to guide me through the process.”
“I also think the review ends up being more rigorous and more constructive for authors. My students are often more up to date with the literature than I am”Sandra A. Binning (University of Montreal)
Co-review provides benefits to the more senior reviewer by gifting them with a second opinion. This was noted by Manuela Truebano Garcia: “My co-reviewer picked up on interesting points I hadn’t noticed”. Sandra A. Binning (University of Montreal) agreed: “I also think the review ends up being more rigorous and more constructive for authors. My students are often more up to date with the literature than I am, and can often offer suggestions or comments based on recently published work that I haven’t seen.”
How do you structure the co-review process with your student?
Most of the co-reviewers we asked said they each read the manuscript independently first, then met as a team to discuss their comments. Manuela Truebano invited their student to co-review, then “we reviewed (the manuscript) independently after sharing some guidelines, discussed our reviews, and synthesised it jointly into a single document, which we both edited and approved”.
Carol Frost tries to make it as similar to the real peer review process as possible. “I ask the student to read the article, prepare their ‘Comments for the Authors’ and ‘Comments for the Editors’ and to suggest answers to each of the other questions asked in the reviewer portal, like what their recommendation for the paper is. I prepare my own comments, and then we meet before the review is due to compare our comments”.
Carol said the structure of the process can depend on how much experience the junior researcher already has with peer review. “The first time doing this with a student, I write the final version, incorporating our combined comments. Once the student has become more familiar with the typical structure and tone of ‘Comments to the Authors’, I ask them to write the final version, but I read it over and suggest any changes before it gets submitted.”
Sandra Binning also gives some tips on running collaborative review meetings. “During these sessions, I let the students give their impressions first so as not to bias their views with my own. So far, we have been mostly all on the same page when it comes to our comments and our recommendations! We then decide together on the most salient points we would like to put forth in the reviewer comments letter.”
Once the student has become more familiar with the typical structure and tone of ‘Comments to the Authors’, I ask them to write the final version, but I read it over and suggest any changes before it gets submittedCarol Frost, (University of Alberta)
Other senior reviewers highlight the importance of first explaining the requirements for a review. “We first go over expectations for constructive review and then the structure of reviews. Subsequently, we read the paper in parallel. The student provides their draft, we discuss…and then based on that discussion I edit the draft review” said Michael Dawson.
Joshua Hall uses a similar technique. “I gave a talk once about the importance and methods of conducting co-reviews. I provide my presentation slides from that talk to students prior to the review. We then have a short meeting where I explain how the review should be structured with respect to content and organisation. I also provide them with a sample review that I have conducted in the past.”
Ask the Junior Reviewer:
As an Early Career Researcher, what did you learn from the experience?
The junior reviewers we interviewed had learnt a great deal about the peer review process and generally felt a lot more confident in their ability to write a report. “My confidence in reviewing papers improved because my comments were similar to that of my collaborator; it made me think ‘I can actually do this'” said Kaitlyn Murphy (Auburn University).
Kaitlin explained that co-review allowed them to develop a clearer understanding of the scientific review process, providing the opportunity to strengthen their own skills as a reviewer and contemplate what other reviewers might consider of their own manuscripts. Ella Daly (University of Alberta) agreed about the added benefit to their own writing: “Prior to this experience peer review was an important but abstract concept to me…I learned a lot about the process and expectations of peer review, which have now been demystified for me and this should help when submitting my first journal articles in the coming months.”
I learned a lot about the process and expectations of peer review, which have now been demystified for meElla Daly (University of Alberta)
However, it was also noted that more collaborative review experiences are necessary before being ready to review alone: “It was a great first experience(…)I think I have to learn a lot more about reviewing before I can be confident about assessing papers.”- Anonymous Reviewer, Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
What are the other benefits to Early Career Researchers?
The benefits go beyond learning how to be a peer reviewer, as highlighted by Nattanon Wutthituntisil (University of California Merced): “An opportunity to co-review an unpublished paper gives me early access to the novel and thought-provoking research from people in the field, and experience of the process of how publication happens. “
John Andrew Allen (University of Helsinki) learnt about the importance of choosing the right journal for future papers, and acknowledges the small contribution to their reputation in the scientific community and the potential to be asked to write more reviews.
An anonymous reviewer for Methods in Ecology and Evolution now feels less nervous about receiving critiques from reviewers: “The whole experience made me realise that the reviewers’ comments can benefit the final paper significantly and that made me less hesitant to send a future paper in a journal and ask the opinion of reviewers about my work. Moreover, involvement in peer reviewing makes any future rejections easier to understand and process, so more ready to handle the pressure of publishing a paper in the future.”
If you feel inspired by this article and would like to conduct a collaborative review for one of our journals, please bear in mind the following:
- Contact the journal first – please don’t forget that the review process is confidential and it is very important that the journal is informed before a review is shared
- Give the names of all who read the manuscript and contributed to the review in the confidential ‘Comments to Editors’ section. This is important for two reasons: 1) So that there is a proper record of anyone who has read a copy of the manuscript; 2) so that anyone who contributed may be approached directly to review in the future.
- If you’d like to suggest that the journal passes a review request on to a lab member, rather than sharing the review as a development exercise, then it is important you decline the review but suggest your lab member as an alternative. This is vital to ensure the individual builds up their own reviewing record, and so that the journal editors preserve their right to choose reviewers.
And don’t forget recognition! If you are conducting a co-review, ensure that all reviewers involved get recognition on Publons by following these steps:
- The person who was the journal’s point of contact during the reviewing process (hereafter referred to as the “review owner”) should add the review to Publons, this will make it easier to have the review verified. Once this is done the review owner can add collaborators via the review’s “Progress” page (accessed via the “Progress” column in your review history).
- The review owner can copy the collaborate URL and send it to the reviewers they worked with. Those reviewers will then be able to follow the link to “claim” the review and end up with a copy of it in their review history. The review owner maintains control over the review’s display preferences, content, and the status of any review collaborators.