Top 3 takeaways from “Peer Review: the nuts and bolts” attendees  

What does peer review do for science and what does the scientific community want it to do for them? Should reviewers remain anonymous? Does peer review illuminate good ideas or shut them down? Equipping early career researchers with the answers to these questions, Sense About Science’s Peer Review: the nuts and bolts, supported by SAGE Publishing, is a free half-day workshop exploring how peer review works, how to get involved, the challenges to the system, and the role of peer review in helping the public to evaluate research claims.

At the workshop held at Glasgow Caledonian University in November, three participants described their three top takeaways, from quality and journal impact factors to time-constraints and the value of the process itself:

Clara Hollomey

Clara is a sound engineer and researcher based in Glasgow. Her research interests comprise of audio signal processing, audiology and machine learning.

What does peer review do for science? What is its public perception? And how can early career researchers engage with the process? I think that the outcomes of the workshop can be summarised by the words of Winston Churchill: “Peer Review is the worst form of scientific assessment, except for all the others.” My three takeaways are:

  • Firstly, peer review, apart from being an efficient means for quality control, is also an opportunity to receive feedback on your research from more experienced scientists working in the same field, which can be particularly beneficial for early career researchers.
  • Secondly, while peer reviewers are humans and thus are not exempt from making mistakes, they are doing this work on a voluntary basis, which can be equally considered a strength and a weakness. On one hand, being unpaid means this work is unlikely to come top of any reviewer’s priority list. This may lead to inconsistencies in the review itself and can also, at least in part, be responsible for the long time interval from submission of the research to its actual publication. On the other hand however, the fact that there are normally no financial interests involved in the process certainly contributes to the impartiality of reviewers and thus comprises an important part of the overall quality assurance.
  • Finally, peer review is continually developing and changing. And as early-career researchers, it is our responsibility to contribute to its improvement.

Waqas Javed

Waqas is a PhD student at Glasgow Caledonian University researching Smart Grids.

My interest in attending the event was to gain insights into the peer review process and knowledge of what peer reviewers are looking for. I have published a few research papers but have felt unsatisfied by not understanding the reasons behind the rejection and acceptance of these. So I attended the Peer Review: the nuts & bolts workshop to find out more:

  • Firstly, through workshop discussions, I was able to clarify my thoughts about the peer review process, the voluntary nature of reviewers and how they review, detect and stop fraud and misconduct in research.
  • Secondly, I came to know about different impact factor journals related to my field. It was also informative to know about journals with innovative ideas, such as the neuroscience journal “CORTEX” which reviews and analyses research ideas before you even start to conduct the research.
  • Thirdly, it was helpful to hear from Sense of Science that researchers and the public alike should Ask for Evidence before making any conclusions after reading claims about science and evidence.

Lauren Elsie White

Lauren is a 2nd year PhD student based at the MRC/CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow. 

I attended the Peer Review: the nuts & bolts workshop after having been enthusiastically encouraged to go by a fellow PhD student who had attended one last year. It seemed very timely, as I was beginning to think about writing for publication in journals and had no clear idea of what the peer review process was or what it entailed.

My top three take-home points for the day are pretty simple, but ones I really do think I’ll follow!

  • The first is that you have to acknowledge that the peer review process isn’t perfect. It has its issues, but it is the best system we have at the moment.
  • The second is that being a peer reviewer does take a lot of time, but it is a privilege to do. Everyone’s papers have to be reviewed, so to be able to pay that back is worthwhile.
  • The third point is that you do have to watch where you publish and to choose reputable journals. Take your time researching where the best place to submit your paper is, it will save you a headache later on.

Find out more about the Peer review: the nuts and bolts here and read more takeaways from the sessions here.

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