I feel it is a privilege to review, as well as a great opportunity to see the latest research manuscripts in our very diverse community. Even in my area of mycotoxins, there are so many different types of research. Being a peer reviewer can give you a better idea of what other labs are doing, which may help you in your research. It benefits both the author and the reviewer.
I get great enjoyment from the opportunity to share my thoughts with others. Peer review is a double-blind process; generally the reviewer doesn’t know the author, and the author does not know the reviewers. So we can have a very straightforward, transparent communication, focused only on the scientific results. In a face-to-face conversation, you might worry about being too strong; but in the peer review process, these concerns are gone. It’s kind of freeing.
The most important thing is to be knowledgeable on the topic. Second, get the review done as soon as possible and don’t wait until the last minute! That’s what makes a good reviewer. As an author, I send papers to different journals, and it can sometimes take up to two months to hear back, which is hard. But you can’t force someone to turn a review around in 24 hours, that’s just not fair. It takes time to read the manuscript, think about it, and make comments of good quality that improve the manuscript. Being a peer reviewer is common among my colleagues. But to make your mark, you can’t just do a few reviews – it’s a long-term commitment.
Enjoy it! Otherwise don’t do it. But if you do want to, the Journal is a good place to start. It can be hard for young researchers to find this kind of opportunity. You’ve never reviewed anything, and editors might not pick you up. But everyone has to start somewhere. The more you review, the more experienced and knowledgeable you become, so you can do a better job. You do have to dedicate some time and effort, show initiative, and let editors know you want to review.
You get many invitations to review, so you do have to reject some of them because there are only so many hours in a day. You look at the title, the abstract, the manuscript – is it relevant to what you’re doing? Is it an interesting topic? If so, it is worth the effort.
For the past three years, I have been a guest editor for the JAOAC, working on special sections on mycotoxins. I purposely invite young researchers in order to bring new blood into the community. I find new scientists by talking to colleagues and searching the literature.
Once I send in my comments, it’s up to the editors. But when an author changes the paper based on your comments, you know they do appreciate your feedback. That’s the part that makes you happy. But actually, it doesn’t matter if they accept or reject your comments – if they have a logical explanation, that’s fine.
Good research is based on solid scientific data. But that’s not enough, because how that data are interpreted and presented can be biased. That is why you need peer review – someone to honestly tell you what they think about your research. It doesn’t matter whether you are with FDA or other research institutes, publishing is an important part of the job. You cannot ignore this part and say, “I just want to focus on my research.” No one can survive like that.