Peer review is at the heart of scientific publishing. It provides the opportunity to discuss and improve upon a manuscript before publication and helps to ensure quality standards of articles published. But current complexities in the academic landscape, variations in the approach to assessing research, and difficulty securing reviewers due to demands on time are pulling at the seams of the peer review structure. Journal editors often complain that reviews are not useful and don’t offer appropriate direction for authors to develop their papers. Reviewers say they are uncertain of what the editor expects. This is true for even seasoned researchers, but is particularly the case for the young research community, many of whom desire practice at reviewing manuscripts and seek feedback from the editors on the relevance of their comments.
While discussing the pain points around peer review, Matthias Starck, Editor in Chief of Journal of Morphology, wanted a new approach to cultivating good reviews. With help from a few very devoted editorial board members and colleagues at Wiley, we set out to trial a Peer Review Mentorship program sponsored by the journal. With the aim of educating and identifying the next generation of researchers and engaging with the community, the journal held its first workshop at the International Congress of Invertebrate Morphologists in Berlin on August 6, 2014. The 20 attendees were comprised of Editorial board members from the journal who agreed to become “mentors,” and enterprising young researchers who were nominated to attend the workshop and take part in the live reviewing setting that would continue on for the next 12 months.
Starck, who has been Editor in Chief of the journal since 2008, believes there is a strong need to develop young reviewers, saying:“Recent years have seen peer reviewing deteriorating, the worst being false positive reviews that always end in frustrating experience for authors, reviewers and editors.”
The format of a Peer Review Workshop:
- A one day workshop was held in Berlin on August 6, 2014
- Journal Editorial board members nominated promising young researchers who have both the interest and the potential to become reviewers on the journal.
- Invitations were then sent to these researchers
- The workshop included a lecture and interactive discussion with the well known Editor in Chief and board members with topics including “Current Challenges and Innovations in Peer Review”, “History of Peer Review”, “What makes a great reviewer” and “How to know what the editor wants”
Following the workshops, trainees were paired with mentors in their areas of expertise, with whom they will work to discuss and deliver a reviewer report for a paper in a live setting. With the completion of at least 2 successful reviews, trainees then “graduate” to fully-fledged reviewers and will be eligible for appointments as junior members of the editorial board. Thus far, the pilot has been met with wide enthusiasm, even from authors who are notified upon submission that their papers may be subject to the program (and given the chance to opt out). We will consider the event a success if we have 5 or more trainees who fully pass the reviewing setting, though it was clear from the post-workshop survey that attendees found the initiative insightful- 100% of those who responded found the event “Extremely or somewhat useful”. One attendee commented that “The workshop gained from the many anecdotes regarding the peer review process”. A highlight seemed to be the personal interaction with the editors, with one attendee expressing appreciation that “The organizers took the time to answer all questions and engage in discussion with the audience.
Apart from outreach into the community, there are practical advantages to addressing this gap as it eases the burden on editorial boards and offers access to talented researchers coming up through the system, perhaps cultivating the next generation of strong journal editors.