What do early career researchers need to know about quality and peer review?

The Source
By: Guest contributor, Sun May 10 2020

Author: Guest contributor

Sense about Science and Nature Communications have teamed up to deliver a pilot programme for Voice of Young Science (VoYS) members, to help them get started in peer review. The programme comprises a two-part Quality and Peer Review workshop and an exclusive, hands-on mentoring opportunity with established editors from Nature Communications. Learn more about the programme and how early career researchers can apply below.

Written by Dr. Hamid Khan, Senior Partnershps Coordinator, Sense about Science

About Voice of Young Science

VoYS is a unique network of thousands of early career researchers (ECRs) around the UK and Europe who are committed to playing an active role in debates about science and evidence. VoYS is built on an ethos of taking responsibility for public discussion about science and evidence, which we are delighted Nature Communications supports. 

Sense about Science founded VoYS when ECRs were becoming involved in challenging misleading claims about research, but lacked confidence and engagement skills in policy and media settings. When we started, there were widespread public misconceptions and controversies including the MMR vaccine, the BSE crisis and GM crops. The evidence was being neglected or misrepresented, and in some cases it was missing altogether. Amid all that, it really struck us that so little attention was given to explaining how and why scholarly research papers are different to a news headline or a political press release. Worse than that was that researchers were not speaking out about it. ECRs told us they didn’t feel safety in numbers, they didn’t feel supported, and they didn’t feel like they had the confidence or skills to stand up for science, even when it really mattered in people’s lives. Now, 16 years on, amid the Covid-19 pandemic when the quality of research evidence used in policymaking has such an immediate, visible and powerful impact on society, there is an incredible call for the contribution of ECRs. This exclusive opportunity from VoYS and Nature Communications is their chance to answer that call. 

Quality and Peer Review Workshop

The active VoYS community gives advice and support to each other in the different challenges researchers are tackling all over the world. We support the network in campaigns and projects, as well as offering unique workshops, equipping ECRs to talk with confidence about the strengths and weaknesses of peer review and initiatives to address those weaknesses. At our Quality and Peer Review workshops, we hear that scholarly peer review remains a black box for ECRs. They tell us that they struggle to get hands-on experience and often don’t get appropriate credit when they contribute to a reviewer report. At the same time, journals strive to expand their reviewer networks, but find it hard to identify suitable reviewers among ECRs, because they are less visible than more established peers. A more inclusive peer review process would greatly benefit both authors and readers, science and society in general. 

The best thing we can do for peer review is ensure that concerns about its quality and execution are always a live consideration in the research community. And the best way to do this is to equip the next generation of researchers, with the confidence to become part of it as soon as they start publishing. So we hope that lots of ECRs will join us for the upcoming two-part Quality and Peer Review workshop to be in with a chance to be mentored by editors from Nature Communications.

What to expect and the application process

Two webinars will be held on 19 and 26 June 2020 as part of our two-part Quality and Peer Review  workshop. To apply for the mentoring opportunity, they can send their CV by following the instructions here.

During Part I on 19 June, an expert panel comprising an journal editor, a publisher and a peer reviewer will encourage participants to talk about the peer review system, its challenges including discussion about reliability of research, and how they can get involved in the process early in their careers. This is a great opportunity to ask questions, and it’s a truly interactive experience. During Part II on 26 June, editors from Nature Communications will give practical advice on how to review a research paper. The editors will also go through what is expected of reviewers, relevant policies and best practice, and how to write an informative report. 

We will select the 20 mentoring participants after that, ready for the mentoring process to start in July. Mentoring will run until November 2020. The 20 selected participants will get the chance to review a paper that falls within their area of expertise for Nature Communications. The team of established editors from Nature Communications will review the report and provide feedback to them on the quality of their report, and suggest improvements. This is an exclusive, hands-on coaching experience with a top journal. A wrap-up session will take place in early December to share everyone’s experiences, and we’ll share more details about this nearer the time. 

A survey will be sent out before the webinar and after the wrap-up session to measure impact. We will also be conducting interviews with some of the 20 successful mentoring applicants during and after mentoring, to find out their views on peer review and how they change as the programme goes on.

The peer review system is a public good that every researcher is charged with protecting. It’s within their power to shape the debate about the future of peer review and its role in society. So let’s open up that black box, learn about what makes good peer review and find out how they can get involved.

Apply now to participate! 

About Dr. Hamid Khan

Dr. Hamid Khan is the senior partnerships coordinator at Sense about Science. He leads the VoYS network in the UK, helping partner organisations to build confidence in media, policy and public engagement among their ECR communities. Hamid is the first point of contact for the thousands of ECRs in the network who want to stand up for science. Hamid is a leading voice in discussions about how researchers can make their voices heard in public and policy debates about science, evidence and research quality. Hamid has a PhD in nanoscience from the University of Southampton, where he also completed a Master’s in chemistry.


Author: Guest contributor

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