Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Graduate Student Reviewers

Is it OK for a grad student to do a review that their advisor was asked to do?

Pros: By doing a review, grad students are exposed to the process of reviewing (not just being reviewed).

Cons: Even if a particular student has the necessary expertise and judgment to do a review, grad students have enough to do without the extra time involved in doing a thorough review.

** I would never ask one of my students to do a review for me -- that is, instead of my doing the review. **

A few years ago, I was talking to someone at a conference who had reviewed one of my papers not long before the conference, and was horrified to find out that although he had signed the review, one of his postdocs had done the review. The review-signer hadn't even looked at the paper. I would have been fine with his postdoc doing the review and either signing or not as he wished, but I thought it was disgusting that someone had signed another person's review.

I recently involved one of my graduate students in a review, with permission from the editor, because the topic was directly related to the student's thesis topic. My student is about to graduate (Ph.D.) and had published on this topic, so I felt he was senior enough and in the right stage of his career to see what was involved in a review. In the end, 99.9% of the review comments were my own, but it was an interesting exercise for us both to read a manuscript and compare our opinions with respect to what should go in the review and how the comments should be worded to be clear and constructive. I have involved students a few other times in the past, but not often.

As an editor, I often ask postdocs for reviews. Postdocs, assistant professors, and other early-career scientists tend to do thorough and prompt reviews, though I also try not to overload any particular person with reviews just because they're a good reviewer. In general, I will ask someone for a review once/year.

5 comments:

iGollum said...

I'm a grad student on the last leg of my programme (defending in July) and was recently asked to review a manuscript. I'm not entirely sure the editor was aware I was still a grad student, but I have published papers on a very closely related topic, so I suppose that was the criteria. My advisor helped me out pretty much like you did with your student, and it was a very interesting learning experience. I would say it's a good thing to do in the last year of the PhD, when you can still afford to go to your advisor with slightly naive questions that you can't really do as a postdoc (I imagine).

Maxine said...

At Nature we are happy to receieve reveiwers from postdocs, students or others in the lab of the person who has agreed to do the review. We do ask anyone who has contributed to a review to sign so we know who they are.
It is a great learning experience and it also increases the quality of the journals, as from our end it means we get to know good new reviewers, so we can ask you directly next time. There's no escape!

mapletree7 said...

A few years ago, I was talking to someone at a conference who had reviewed one of my papers not long before the conference, and was horrified to find out that although he had signed the review, one of his postdocs had done the review. The review-signer hadn't even looked at the paper. I would have been fine with his postdoc doing the review and either signing or not as he wished, but I thought it was disgusting that someone had signed another person's review.

That sounds like plagiarism. It seems that profs claiming credit for students' work is accepted in some situations, not in others, which can not be a good trend. I hereby coin the phrase 'plagiarism creep' to describe the deterioration of this boundary.

Ms.PhD said...

Maxine,

How often do people actually sign multiple names to a review for a paper for Nature? Is it common?

I think it would be better if journals explicitly stated that if you don't have time to do the review yourself, but you want to recommend someone in your lab, you should send the person's name back to the journal and have the editor decide whether they're appropriate. Then the editor can send the review directly to that person.

Though as usual I think all of this unethical stuff could be avoided if we had a non-anonymous review system.

FSP, I find it interesting that you trust some postdocs to review other people's papers but don't want your own paper reviewed by somebody else's postdoc. I realize that when you do it, you probably read the paper yourself, also, and the difference here is that the PI didn't even read the paper. But still. Isn't the whole point of anonymous peer review that your paper should get reviewed by someone you don't know anything about and have never met? Isn't that more representative of the faceless mass audience who will read it in the journal?

Anonymous said...

I'm a graduate student finishing up my program within the next few months. I recently completed a few manuscript reviews for my adviser. One of the manuscripts was closely related to my work, so I felt able to provide a sufficient review. A month after turning in one of the reviews we received the rebuttal from the authors as well as the comments of and rebuttal to the other reviewer. I was surprised to see that my adviser used my review word-for word. I was not given any credit, but just assumed this was SOP. What I also assumed was that my adviser used my reviews as a guideline, but still completed his own separate review. I'm guessing this is the norm.