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    Thomas Gaston
Thomas Gaston
   Managing Editor, Wiley

The scenario is all too familiar. You patiently read through the paper, you make exhaustive notes, you write up a comprehensive review with point-by-point instructions explaining exactly how the manuscript is to be changed and then, lo and behold, the author has the audacity to disagree! Makes you wonder why you bother.

 

 

Source: MACIEJ NOSKOWSKI/Getty Images 
Source: MACIEJ NOSKOWSKI/Getty Images

The author, however, sees things differently. They conducted the research, they wrote up their findings, they know their work better than  anyone else – of course, they are going to feel protective and likely to disagree if others cannot see the value in what they have done.  The  author has the right to disagree with criticisms of their paper and the right to disagree with recommended changes. Authors cannot  expect  to win over their critics but they have the right to try.

 

Below are some suggestions for reviewers on how to respond when authors disagree with their recommendations.

 

The Role of Reviewer

 

Sometimes authors, particularly those researchers early in their careers, feel that reviewers act as an obstacle to publication. Yet this is  not the role of reviewers; they are guides, not gatekeepers. Yes, sometimes as a reviewer you will feel it necessary to recommend  rejection, but that recommendation should be accompanied by a valid explanation of the problems with the paper. While reviewers are  not  obliged to mentor authors, it is part of that role to help authors understand the problems with their papers.

 

When recommending revisions to authors, the reviewer should be focused on providing suggestions that will improve the paper, not  stipulating the criteria for acceptance. Remember, it is the role of reviewers to advise; editors make decisions.

 

Review as Discussion

 

To a certain extent, the review process is a discussion between authors and reviewers. Reviewers do need to provide a judgement to the editor and, ultimately, the editor will make a decision whether to accept or reject the paper. Within this process, there is room for some degree of back-and-forth between authors and reviewers. And, as with any discussion, it will be most effective if both parties are speaking to each other’s concerns rather than talking past one another.

 

If a reviewer provides suggestions for improvements, ideally the authors should respond to them. This does not mean that the author will necessarily follow those suggestions, but if they do disagree then it is helpful to explain why. Perhaps the author has found a better way to address the concerns, or can provide clarifications that mean the concerns no longer exist. In any eventuality, the author should at least respond to what the reviewer has said.

 

In the same way, reviewers should engage with authors’ responses. Perhaps you feel that the author hasn’t met your critique and your suggested changes would still be valuable. Perhaps you feel the author’s “solution” has just introduced new problems. Whatever the case, reviewers should be engaging directly with the responses provided.

 

Bear in mind that you will never be the only person in the discussion. There will usually be two reviewers on each paper, possibly more, as well as one or more editors. So, it is not just your suggestions that the author will be addressing. Ultimately it is up to the editor to guide the author as to how to revise his/her paper (the editor may not agree with your suggestions!) Similarly, it is up to the editor to guide the reviewers as to any points to focus on when reviewing revised papers.

 

What if your comments have been ignored?

 

There may be situations where authors haven’t addressed your review comments. In these situations, try not to assume that you have been intentionally ignored – it may be an innocent oversight. You may like to reiterate your suggestion, highlighting why you feel it is important and try to encourage the author to respond. But, avoid being adversarial or doctrinaire.

 

There may be situations where the authors have not made any effort to address the comments provided by reviewers, or have only made a half-hearted effort to do so. You may not feel that it is worth your while engaging in further review of the paper until the authors have made a serious effort. If this is the case you should contact the editor directly with your concerns.

 

The Golden Rule

 

In the review process- as in life- treat others as you would like to be treated. When someone disagrees with you, whether a close friend or an author you’ve never met, don’t just assume that they are wrong. You would like others to take the time to understand where you’re coming from so try to extend the same courtesy to them.

 

Related Posts:
Cooperation not confrontation- how to convince referees and respond to reviews

    Biswapriya Misra
Biswapriya Misra
   Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Florida, Gainesville
Source:  George Clerk/iStockPhoto
Source: George Clerk/iStockPhoto

Depending on whether the previous night was spent in the lab or not determines whether the day starts at 6:30 or 8:30 AM. Onmy way  to lab, I’m checking email on my smartphone and responding to a few, including accepting journal requests for peer review, fielding  requests from colleagues to share resources, and checking updates from ResearchGate.

 

Once in the lab, I’m collecting samples, treatments, extractions, and attending to and running the Mass-spectrometers (our tireless  workhorses). Towards mid-day, the collected data starts running through a host of programs on my laptop as I enjoy my home-  cooked, Indian lunch. Phase II of experiments for the day start by running to the growth chambers/greenhouses to see that the plants  are well-watered and that cell cultures are maintained before venturing onto phase III of the experiments. In between, a lot of time is  spent on experimental planning, design, record-keeping, archiving, and cataloging of the ‘huge-omics data” (Big data!) that are  generated. There’s usually some banter with my multicultural lab-mates (read: US, China, India, Brazil, Korea, Egypt…) which keeps  me awake and on my toes. Oh, and tea and a bag of chips help with that too.

 

As the sun sets, a delayed dinner is inevitable as data interpretation and manuscript writing tasks begin. A literature review on Google  Scholar keeps me dreaming about the future of‘science, full of immense possibilities’. I just need to keep going! While browsing articles in Scholar, I archive the searches in a Mendeley interface so as to help in future manuscript and review drafting and I keep my phone on silent to avoid distractions. Occasionally, I attend departmental seminars from eminent speakers on topics ranging from: anything-to-do-with-plants, to statistics, to publishing. I also speak at and attend a plant breeding interest group that has formed a Plant breeding Journal Club. As a contributing Editor to the Postdoc Journal (a journal initiated by, of, and for the Postdoc community), I contribute reviews to the journal and help the Editors with reviewing, proposing special issues and coordinating reviews. It’s tricky to keep track of all of these events, and there’s only so much time in one’s life for scientific discovery, so I try to strike a balance.

 

Later in the evening, I check in on peers and notable colleagues on ResearchGate, both to see what they’ve published and to be inspired by their progress. I frequently have a paper waiting to be reviewed, as I perform peer review for about 25 journalsm averaging three to five every month. While this is a substantial time commitment, (!), I feel it’s worth it to contribute to the development of my peers. Some evenings, it’s worth posting a question at Metastars, the Biostars equivalent for Metabolomics, so as to interact and keep updated with the field. Serving as an Early career Member’s Network (EMN) of the Metabolomics Society also involves someweekly tasks that need to becompletedThis role also helps me to collaborate with the global metabolomics researchers who are the future of metabolomics research. Occasionally, I share research thoughts on Slide Share which also helps me to network and connect with researchers sharing similar interests. Although I do maintain a blog called Science-o-nomics, it is very difficult to find time to update it frequently.

 

It’s not only crucial to keep updated in biochemistry and plant physiology but I also need to keep current with the newly released tools, software, programs, databases and webservers as well as the latest technology that is being implemented in mass-spectrometry be it TripleQuads, Orbitraps, SWATH, GC-Orbitraps and so on. While I’ve explored a variety of social media platforms to stay connected, Facebook proved to be useless for career building, while Twitterwas overwhelming. ResearchGateturned outto be the best option around. LinkedIn, which never worked for me in obtaining a job opportunity, possibly for reasons other than the opportunities presented by the site itself, is a really good platform for networking with industry professionals, trading recommendations, and taking part in a huge number of interest groups (and discussions). On a weekly basis I also update my Scoops on Scoopt.It for Plant Metabolomics, Plant Genomics and Databases & Softwares.

 

My current workload leaves very little time for even a weekend away, much less a vacation. I can’t hide from the reality that the global research funding crunch has nurtured a cut-throat competition to obtain a tenured position in both the US and my native county, India. Sometimes the realization that time is not enough and there is not enough time is overwhelming, yet I have the passion that drives me toward my goals. As I elevate in my position and in the labs I’m working for, I feel I’m getting closer to my dream of contributing to science and humanity. This is not merely for philanthropic reasons, but to make sure that the purpose of science ultimately is to make human lives easier.. And yes, plants are central to the development of food, fiber, fuel, fodder, and medicine. Every day the backlog piles, up, and balancing a personal life alongside it is not easy. Therefore, a supportive and calm PI is pivotal, whether they’re advising on funding issues, offering mental support, or nudging you to ‘keep going’. Likewise, lab colleagues form the pillars of a lab’s “mental health”.

 

Every day begins with the same question as originally stated by Steve Jobs “Do I wanna become what am I going to do today?”, and ends with “How did I fare today?” At my core, my passion for the research is constantly driving me forward,, challenging my current status, fueling my interests, filling me with ambition and, and asking me to RISE, and I do just that the next morning with the intention of doing even better.

 

Biswapriya isa member of the Wiley Advisors program, a group of early career researchers and professionals who serve as a voice for their communities. For more information, please visit Wiley Advisors online or on twitter@WileyAdvisors.

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