Boosting early-career involvement in peer-review – an update

by Steven Burgess

Back in March we invited people to join an early-career researcher (ECR) reviewer pool, which aims to increase opportunities for ECRs while addressing the shortage of willing referees. The response has been fantastic, with over 250 registrants from a wide variety of backgrounds.

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In parallel, I have had encouraging discussions with journals about increasing ECR involvement the reviewing process. In this post I want to share some of the initiatives that are underway, ways you can get involved, and future developments for the pool, including a new sign-up sheet for academic editors who are interested in drawing on member’s expertise.  

Right here, right now

Several journals have started to develop programs that provide both experience and training in peer review. So far I have come cross the Genetics peer review training program, Journal of Neuroscience Mentoring Program, eLife trial of early career reviewers in genetics and genomics and Plant Direct associate reviewer program. I can’t applaud these efforts enough, as it is exactly the kind of experience that ECRs most desire.

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Participation is limited, but if these programs are not open to you – do not despair! There are many other options available. The methods journal Bio-protocol is actively recruiting reviewers, and PeerJ has a fantastic reviewer-match function, where you can volunteer to assess specific manuscripts. If you work in Evolutionary Biology or Ecology, you might consider joining another ECR reviewer database established by Susan Perkins, it currently has over 420 members and 40 academic editors signed up. Finally, you can register as a reviewer for PLOS ONE, and those with significant experience may consider applying to become an Academic Editor for the journal.

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Why wait when you’ve got preprints?

If like me, you believe in taking things into your own hands, I strongly recommend joining the growing trend of reviewing preprints. There are a host of options available such as PREreview, BioOverlay, Peer Community In and PreLights. Sam Hindle from PREreview explains “[we] want to encourage researchers to post, read and engage with preprints, and support ECRs in developing their peer reviewing skills [and] by providing resources, we want to make this easy.” Each initiative has slightly different aims and target audiences which are compared below, so you can choose the one best suited to you.

preprint-comparison
Comparison of selected preprint initiatives by Sam Hindle, Daniela Saderi and Monica Granados (of PREreview)

What’s next?

The reviewer pool remains open to join, and if you are an academic editor interested to use it please register here. We will continue to promote the pool and reach out to journals for new opportunities. These are times of rapid change in academic publishing, and I’m optimistic that ECRs can play a big role in shaping the future.

Additional resources

PLOS Reviewer Center

Publons Training Academy

Nature online reviewer training course

Wiley peer review resources

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