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Peer Review Week 2020: Time to Make Peer Review An Essential Part of the ECR Experience

With this year’s Peer Review Week coming to an end it can be a good idea to turn the focus and look specifically on the importance for ECRs to early on get engaged as peer reviewers. Not only does the peer review process help you improve your skills as a scientist, it can also boost your career.

For you who may be unfamiliar with the concept, Peer Review Week is a yearly global event first held in 2015 celebrating the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality. 

However, as been pointed out by several journals, there is a general lack of opportunities for ECRs to engage in training in key skill areas, such as peer reviewing manuscripts, which can hinder career development.

As PLOS’ Chief Scientific Officer Veronique Kiermer wrote earlier this week on The Official PLOS Blog, peer review needs better recognition and should be considered a scientific output in its own right and be part of research and researchers assessment. It is fairly striking that this seems to be something that ECRs often are supposed to engage and learn by themselves, and often outside office hours.

According to a survey in eLife about different aspects of peer review most (92%) ECRs surveyed had some reviewing experience, but more than half, and 37% of PhD students, had performed their review without the assistance of their advisor. Most of the ECRs responding had learned to peer review by following advice from their advisor or by learning from the example of reviews that they had received. 

For ERCs embarking on a new scientific career it is important to learn how to navigate around the challenges of peer review when you want to publish your research. Maybe, the greatest challenge is to get ECRs involved in peer review at all and to get them the necessary training to be confident reviewers.

But, as pointed out by guest writer Rebecca Chandler-Bostock on the PLOS ECR Blog earlier this week, there are multiple ways to get involved with peer review. One way is that publishers run courses to teach researchers the fundamentals of peer review, which allow them to build up a relationship with that journal. A second way is to turn to journals that allow ECRs to co-review a paper with their supervisor or mentor. This is a great way to get the experience needed to take on peer-reviewing on your own. A third, and very important way, is to take part in a peer review workshop aimed especially for ECRs.

Another way is to visit the PLOS Peer Review Center where you can learn the basics of peer review and get helpful tips for handling reviewer tasks, from accepting a review invitation to completing your review.

Using tools like ORCID and Publons is a great way to get recognition for your efforts and also as a way to further your career as a researcher. If you later are interested to become an editor for a scientific journal these tools can be used to show that you have the skills to handle editorial responsibilities and engage other peer reviewers.

The central message from Peer Review Week 2020 is that good peer review, whatever shape or form it might take, is critical to scholarly communications. Let this also translate into truly engaging all scientist as early as possible and give them the right tools to engage in the scientific community. It is ECRs who drive science forward with their new ideas and enthusiasm. Let them continue to do so.

About the Author
  • Andreas Vilhelmsson 0000-0002-6635-8182

    Andreas Vilhelmsson is an ECR Community Editor and a post-doctoral researcher at the Division of Social Medicine and Global Health at Lund University in Sweden. His research focuses mostly on patient reporting of adverse drug reactions and pharmaceutical regulation with respect to health policy and public health, but he is also interested in broader global health issues like climate change and welfare systems.

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