What do young scientists have to say about peer review and research quality?

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By: Lucy Frisch, Sun Sep 20 2020

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Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Sense about Science and Nature Communications are currently partnered and running a two-part Quality and Peer Review workshop and mentoring opportunity specifically for early career researchers (ECRs). Early this summer, 28 mentees were selected from over 100 applicants. The mission behind this program is to help ECRs get started in peer review and give them the confidence to become part of wider discussions about research quality at the earliest stages of their academic careers. 

Before beginning the program, we asked workshop participants a series of questions to help us better understand what knowledge and ideas early career researchers are coming to the table with as it concerns peer review. Here, ECRs share their answers to what part they believe they can play in research quality and the role of peer review.

What role can researchers play in discussions about research quality and the role of peer review within it?

Claire Price: Researchers are at the forefront of the scientific discoveries being made. We can help make other research better through peer review and can also make our own better by knowing what is required.

Jasper Verheul: Since researchers are the ones whose own work is affected (positively or negatively) by the quality of reviews, as well as the ones who typically provide the reviews, a thorough understanding and input of researchers is critical. Having researchers who have experience with both sides of the process is essential to improve peer review. 

Rohit Goswami: Researchers are the silent majority when it comes to how peer review is viewed. The pressure to make snap judgements on our peers based on summary statistics like the impact factor and others are all indications of a lack of understanding of the publication process, and the nature of peer review. It is interesting to note that though the peer review process is blind to the "perceived importance" of the journal being reviewed, post publication researchers flock to the journal impact factor, possibly due to a lack of open peer review.

Wasseem Emam: Researchers have to play a central role since it is ultimately a 'made by them for them' sort of situation. All researchers need to be equally active in reviewing others' work as submitting their own work, otherwise the system will be unbalanced and there will be backlogs, delays, overloading etc. The concept of research quality is also constantly evolving and as such needs to adapt to the latest standards. Researchers are regularly adapting to these standards when they produce work and as such can also provide input into how to make improvements.

Sam Coatham: Researchers can play an integral role in discussing research quality. Recently, I have seen twitter threads that reached massive audiences either sharing research that had yet to be peer-reviewed or taking quotes from research papers out of context, warping their meaning. In some cases, these cases have been corrected by researchers, improving the scientific content of the discourse and encouraging members of the public to regard unverified claims skeptically. 

Within academia, it is important for researchers to stress the importance of peer review, especially to early-career researchers who may be less aware of its fundamentality. Given that peer review essentially relies upon researchers volunteering their time and expertise, it is crucial that new generations of academics understand its role in ensuring research quality.

The mentorship program will run through to November 2020 and we will be sharing the personal experiences of a handful of participants in our next posts in honor of Peer Review Week. Check back for further insights we've gathered from early career researchers themselves on the topic of peer review.

Learn more about our resources for peer reviewers at Springer Nature

Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Lucy Frisch is a Senior Marketing Manager on the Outreach and Open Research team, based in the New York office. She has a passion for storytelling and works to humanize the research published across Springer Nature with a focus on the researcher experience.