At Communications Chemistry we try to consult referees with a range of backgrounds. We actively seek referees from under-represented demographics. In addition to experienced researchers, who often provide broad overviews of their field and insights into particular challenges facing a community, we may ask post-docs and senior grad students for their advice. We find that scientists at this stage of their career often provide detailed technical comments that really get into the guts of a manuscript. Such comments improve the rigor of the review process and are particularly valuable when assessing interdisciplinary work, or conclusions that rely on specialised techniques.
But despite the expertise post-docs and grad students can offer as peer reviewers, often it can be difficult for us to find and contact these scientists. And conversely, we hear from many post-docs and grad students that they are not sure how to gain experience as peer reviewers. Researchers who have yet to establish a reputation or a strong publication record may feel invisible, and wonder how to get onto the editorial radar.
Here we offer some brief words of advice for post-docs, senior grad students, and other early career researchers who want to receive manuscripts to review.
There are two key factors: expertise and visibility.
To establish your expertise in a given field or with a particular technique, there is no substitute for publishing good papers. This doesn’t mean we look for researchers with the longest publication list, or the most Nature papers. Rather, often we identify early career researchers as potential referees because they are a contributing author on a paper or review covering the area in which we need advice.
We understand that many projects never end up published, and hence researchers may have expertise that is not reflected in their publication record. But this is difficult for us to verify. The best way to be recognised as an expert is to publish.
Say we find your paper and think you may have valuable comments on a given manuscript. Now we need to find you – and we search online almost exclusively. Institutional profiles can be helpful, but they often consist of little more than a name or an email. Additionally, given the nomadic life many early career researchers lead, these profiles may quickly go out of date and linger for years after you have moved on. What you need is a stable, accessible web presence linked to your publication list – so we know you are the person we are trying to find.
We strongly recommend using an ORCID profile as a stable, visible web presence. This can automatically track your publications, and is easy to update as you relocate over time. A detailed and up to date ORCID profile tells us that you are still an active researcher who may be a viable referee. Make sure it has an email address so we can actually reach you.
And finally, you can always email us! We do read and reply to emails from researchers seeking experience, and refer to them when seeking peer reviewers. We are always happy to talk about the review process with our referees and offer guidance to referees who are learning the ropes.
Later in the year we will offer a look at how we choose referees, and what we think makes a good referee report. A lot of good advice on how to be a constructive referee is already out there, and we have linked to some of our favourites below.
For a slightly different take:
Writing an impact-neutral review (by Jan Jensen)