5 Reasons to be a Peer Reviewer for Scientific Journals

If you hold an advanced degree in a medical or science field, chances are you've seen (or will see, at some point) emails pop up in your inbox with the subject "Invitation to Review for the Journal of…"

Last Updated: 30 March 2019

5 Reasons to be a Peer Reviewer for Scientific Journals

By Sylvie Stacy, MD

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Peer Reviewed Literature

If you hold an advanced degree in a medical or science field, chances are you’ve seen (or will see, at some point) emails pop up in your inbox with the subject “Invitation to Review for the Journal of…”

The message requests your assistance in peer reviewing a manuscript that’s been submitted to a scientific journal.

I’m guilty of seeing this subject line and thinking:

I just don’t have time for this right now.

The email typically includes a link that allows you to accept the review, or to decline it. Hitting the ‘decline’ button is by far the easier of the two options. Thoroughly performing a peer review takes hours. It requires undivided attention, critical thinking, and crafting constructive feedback.

All without compensation.

If you’ve been tempted to decline an invitation to review a manuscript – or ignore the offer altogether – I get it. But I urge you to accept opportunities to be a peer reviewer. True, you won’t receive a paycheck when you’re done, but the non-monetary rewards of reviewing journal articles undeniably make up for this.

Here are five reasons you should be a peer reviewer for scientific journals whenever the opportunity arises.

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You're more likely to get your own manuscript accepted for publication

Reviewing a manuscript submission is a lot more in-depth than simply giving it a quick read. You need to understand the basis for the study, how the research was performed, what the results show, and how the information assimilates with what’s already known or being practiced in the field. These things won’t always be clear. The manuscript may leave out important details, be worded poorly, or lack organization.

By formulating your own criticism of someone else’s article, you’ll glean insight that will allow you to better write your own papers down the road. You’ll stop writing only from your own perspective as the researcher, and start putting yourself in the shoes of the reader. Peer reviewing will help you avoid making the same mistakes that you come across during your reviews.

You'll stay up to date on research and developments in your field

As practicing clinicians, it’s tough to find the time to read journals – even those most closely aligned with our fields. Peer reviewing often necessitates that you check out other publications. These might be references included in the article you’re reviewing, sources you look up in order to verify statements, or background information to help you synthesize what you’re reading.

It’s rare that I complete a peer review without finding myself reading other articles on the topic. This helps to improve my feedback to the authors, but also has broadened my own knowledge.

You’ll be more likely to stay on top of research methodologies, hot topics, and guidelines that are relevant to your field.

It will help you be a better practitioner, scientist, and teacher

Serving as a peer reviewer can be a great addition to your professional experience. But it does a lot more than just pad your resume. It will actually strengthen the work you do – whether you’re a researcher, teacher, or practice clinical medicine.

You’d be hard-pressed to get through much peer reviewing without learning or deepening your understanding of clinical study design and statistics. You’re likely to learn at least a bit about topics such as epidemiology, healthcare quality, or clinical practice guideline development.

Though you may not see the connection between a manuscript and your day-to-day work during the review process itself, it may come up in the near future as an opportunity to teach a student about a statistical test or realizing that you’ve been ordering a certain lab test that isn’t clinically indicated.

Your involvement in your professional field will get noticed

Serving as a peer reviewer suggests that:

  • You support researchers in your field
  • You want to see advancement in your specialty area
  • Your opinion is significant
  • You have the qualities and drive of a leader

By saying “yes” to a simple volunteer opportunity like reviewing a paper, we set ourselves up for additional opportunities. Some of these may also be volunteer work, such as being invited to be part of a journal’s editorial board. But others might be paid. Either way, new opportunities will help to further your career and establish yourself within your field.

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You can use your experience as a peer reviewer to earn extra income

No researcher wants to get a rejection notice from a journal. But it happens. A lot. Journals have strict submission criteria and guidelines. If you enjoy writing and have gotten some experience as a peer reviewer, you can have a profitable side hustle reviewing and editing manuscripts before they get submitted to journals.

Most authors want to do research, not spend their time writing and rewriting. There are a lot of foreign and nonnative English-speakers who seek help with the grammar, word choice, and organization in their manuscripts. In fact, one of the most common pieces of feedback I give as a peer reviewer is “This manuscript would benefit from professional editing.”

Many of these folks are potential clients for you.

You can start your own business that specializes in journal article writing assistance or editing. Alternatively, you can work for a company that hires contractors to perform reviews or provide editing, such as Rubriq. Regardless of which route you take, you can use your experience as a peer reviewer to market yourself and offer a valuable service.

Conclusion

I hope this inspires you to click ‘Accept’ the next time you receive an invitation to peer review. If you want the experience but haven’t been invited to be a reviewer, consider reaching out to the editor of a journal within your specialty area and expressing your interest.

You can also touch base with a colleague or mentor in an academic setting to see if they’re willing to pass your info along to the editor at a journal for which they review.

Sylvie Stacy, MD

Sylvie Stacy, MD

Sylvie Stacy, MD, MPH blogs about careers, nonclinical jobs, income, and fulfillment for medical professionals at Look for Zebras.

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