Thursday, April 17, 2014

Editorial Boards maintain role as "Keystones" in Science and Academia

Photo above courtesy of Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research.

I am in the process of recruiting Editorial Board members for the new Journal of Chess Research and have learned a great deal about the value of Editorial Boards as they relate peer reviewed academic journals as well as the career paths of prospective members. Below are excerpts from an article written by Laure Haak more than a dozen years ago in the Women in Neuroscience newsletter of April 2001. Although her principal audience at the time consisted primarily of female laboratory scientists, I would like to think that the gender equality issues have been substantially resolved in the intervening decade (thinking of my daughter and wife here) and that, otherwise, her words still ring true today.

Serving as a reviewer and editor for a scholarly journal in your field is a key step in the career progression of a research scientist. It is a lot of work, and can take a toll on your lab and the time you can give to students. The payoff comes not from financial compensation, but with the increased visibility being an editor bestows. Indeed, not only do you increase your visibility, but you also increase your knowledge of your field. "You have to get into editing to get to the top of your field," says Lisa Bero, associate professor of clinical pharmacy and health policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. "That's how you know what is going on."

Experience on an editorial board can be a significant contributing factor to career progression in the research sciences. In this article, current and former editors of bioscience journals comment on the editorial review process, describe how editors and reviewers are chosen, and offer concrete suggestions on how to get involved in editorial review.

The Editorial Review Process

The process of review is dependent upon the editorial structure of a given journal. Journals such as Nature, Neuron, and Science have full-time editorial staffs who handle the review process. Editors are generally assigned papers based on areas of specialization and often manage 10 manuscripts per week. These editors have the final say on whether a manuscript is accepted or rejected. Journals with part-time editors handle the review process differently.

Usually a full-time managing editor sends papers to one or more members of the editorial review board, who may either provide reviews or solicit reviewers and then recommend acceptance or rejection based on reviewer comments.

Board members in this model may or may not have final say in the decision to publish.

Carol Barnes, professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is a reviewing editor at the Journal of Neuroscience, a 3-year appointment for which she receives no compensation. In 2 years Barnes has processed almost 700 papers to peer reviewers. Based on the reviewer comments, she makes a recommendation to the senior editor that each manuscript be accepted, re-reviewed after revisions, or rejected. "Sometimes the senior editor does not agree with my recommendation. There is back-and-forth on this. It is a good process and nobody takes offense." Barnes has received funding from the university to hire an assistant to provide clerical support to assist her with the manuscript review process. She considers herself fortunate, because "without this help, I would have had to decline this position."

The Selection of Editorial Board Member

Cynthia Kuhn, professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, is one of about 15 associate editors at the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (JPET). Like Barnes and Bero, she runs a lab, teaches classes, and serves as an editor part-time. "I was asked to be associate editor when the editor of the journal changed. The editor knew of me by reputation because I often publish in JPET. For at least this journal, the editor personally selects associate editors--there is no 'application' process. I have this position until a new editor comes along or the current one wants to replace me. Remaining an associate editor is directly linked to performance, if we get reviews done in a timely way, and interact positively with authors so they are not calling the editor to yell at him, we keep our positions. The position is an honorific--I get no salary. I am compensated a fixed amount per manuscript for the costs of mailing and the like."

Word-of-mouth was equally important for Barnes and Bero, who were both invited to serve as reviewing editors by an editor-in-chief. Barnes had served as an associate editor for the Journal of Neuroscience and was recommended for the reviewing editor position by the outgoing editor. Her expertise casts a broad net over basic electrophysiology, development, aging, and learning and memory, which gave her an interdisciplinary foundation great for a reviewing editor position. Bero had previously served on the editorial board for the British Medical Journal and was well known by the editor of Tobacco Control. Both Barnes and Bero stress the significance of their prior experience as reviewers who were considered to do complete and timely reviews.

How to Be a Good Reviewer

Journal editors are always looking for good reviewers and a great one is a rare and wonderful commodity. A great reviewer knows a lot about their field and something about the fields outside their own. They understand and can articulate the difference between an incremental advance of interest only to the cognescenti and a major leap forward of interest to the broader community. Furthermore, they are willing to do this frequently."

How do editors find reviewers? Editors seem to tailor their own criteria. Barnes considers three key factors: has the person published in the best journals, do others cite the person's work, and is there evidence the person can review manuscripts quickly and thoroughly?

For other editors, a face-to-face meeting gives a better impression of reviewer quality than papers written. The Nature journals do not maintain an editorial board, and editors find reviewers at meetings and by word of mouth. Aamodt, for example, attends over 10 meetings per year, where she spends much of her time looking for potential reviewers and encouraging people to volunteer. "If you sound sharp and enthusiastic, I'll add you to my list." Nature editors usually calibrate a new reviewer in parallel with two others they know and trust before they are added to the reviewer database.

Dr. Bero summarizes things this way: "Take every opportunity to peer-review when asked. This is how editors find people. Sometimes a senior person will pass a review on to a junior colleague. You can ask the journal editor if it is ok to do a co-peer review. But if you do this, make sure the junior person gets their name on the review letter."

All the editors agreed: The bottom line is that you need to get your name out there.

Laure Haak, pictured left, remains quite active in the scientific community.
Go here
to read her 2014 blog entries. She currently works as Executive Director of ORCID, an open, non-profit, community-based effort to provide a registry of unique researcher identifiers and a transparent method of linking research activities and outputs to these identifiers. ORCID is unique in its ability to reach across disciplines, research sectors, and national boundaries and its cooperation with other identifier systems.

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