Saturday, July 29, 2017

How many manuscripts to review?

Question from a colleague about how many manuscripts to review:

I saw your note about being awash with review requests on Twitter. 

I'm just curious what your opinion is on the number of papers we should agree to review per month; i.e. What is professionally responsible?

I still learning the rules here on when is OK to say no to things.

My fairly off-the-cuff response (although it is something I've thought about over the years): 

Well, I don’t think there is any rule at all against saying ’no’; especially to review a paper. 
Before agreeing to review, I must:

1. Be very interested to read the manuscript
2. Confident I am qualified to critique at least 1 major aspect of the paper
3. Not be reviewing more than 2 other manuscripts already at the time (unless REALLY interested in it)
4. Feel I have a reasonable chance to be able to complete it in the timeframe they request (ie not too swamped with other stuff at the time). 

I suppose my rule of thumb-calculus is that every paper requires 2-3 reviewers (although more if submitted more than once), so to break even, we’d need to review 2-3 manuscripts for every publication — but don’t forget to divide by the number of co-authors of all your publications. So, for me, my papers have at least 2-3 co-authors almost always. Therefore, reviewing 1 paper for every publication feels fair to me. I’ve never discussed this with anyone before, so there could be some flaws in my logic.

But honestly, I don’t think about the quota, I think about #1-4. I get enough requests that agreeing to the interesting ones leads to enough (based on my rule-of-thumb calculus; which others may disagree with, of course).

If declining, I try to do so quickly, and recommend someone else.  

Also, I sometimes ask grad students to review papers that I”m asked to do. If they are new at it, I read their review, and let the editor know about that. It is good training for them, and can save a little time for me doing the full review. A few journals now have a formal process for that, I think it might be common in molecular biology.


Carl Bergstrom said...

Good thoughts. I largely agree but I think you can only divide by the number of co-authors who are at the assistant professor level or higher. My graduate students (and usually postdocs) don't receive enough requests to be able to review one paper per submission. So when I submit as a PI, I need to be ready to do the reviewing to cover the reviewing obligations of the others in the lab.

Todd Oakley said...

Thanks Carl - yes, I agree that is a valid point I had not considered.

Todd Oakley said...

Although as I think a little more about it, some senior postdocs do get quite a few review requests, in my experience - so not a perfectly discrete line at Assistant Prof.