As an early career researcher (ECR), I realised that I need to contribute to my field of research and to share my research findings through involving in academic activities such as presenting at conferences, writing blog posts and more importantly, and most difficult, publishing my work at academic journals. Another way that I have found to be equally important to develop my research knowledge and skills, although it is less famous and more intangible, is to peer-review. Benefits of peer-reviewing are diverse; in addition to the recognition that one may get out of it, there is a wide range of benefits that can develop you as a researcher.
First review experience and the imposter syndrome
After finishing my master’s degree in educational leadership and management, I was trying to publish a paper, that builds on my dissertation, with a prestigious journal in this field of research. To my surprise, the editor of the journal invited me to review a paper; an invitation that I had never expected earlier. I accepted that invitation reluctantly, I felt that it was a huge responsibility. At that time, I experienced the imposter syndrome: the feeling that I have got this opportunity out of luck rather than merit while doubting my ability to fulfil such an academic role. This feeling sounds reasonable considering my limited research experience, compared to my extensive professional experience as a classroom teacher, head of Maths department and teacher trainer. To stay honest, I experience this feeling every time I get a review invitation since then, no matter how confident with the paper’s topic I might be. This feeling as I will clarify later acts positively with me.
Intangible benefits of peer-reviewing
The more I become involved in reviewing papers, the more benefits I believe I get out of this academic endeavour. These benefits include the opportunity to read and critique latest research in my field of study, which means that I not only become up to date with research developments but also, I will be knowledgeable of gaps in my field of research. The latter is particularly a great privilege that can inform my future research agenda. I made use of this privilege in publishing one of my recent papers. This, to make the advice more comprehensive, should be accompanied by the expert writer practice of designing your paper with the journal and a specific type of manuscript in mind, both combine to increase your chance to publish.
In addition, when making a critique, one broadens own understanding of what good papers should look like, which means a higher ability to organize my own writing and argument. This also I believe helps to appreciate reviewers’ feedback on my manuscripts and to attend to their recommendations in an active way. My own view of reviewers’ feedback has altered due to my peer-review practice, I realized that they are not there to undermine me, they rather try to help me to reach the potential of my research and to assure high quality standards of publication. Back to the imposter syndrome, peer-reviewing called me to read and dig deeper in the literature related to the topics of the papers I review. This is necessary to make sure that I am in a position to fairly judge the quality of them and also to seek support when in doubt (i.e. with language). All these opportunities I believe support my efforts to fulfil the role of an educator-researcher and become an effective member of academia.
Reviewing duties to always bear in mind
One of the earliest and most important lessons I have learned about peer-review is to adhere to ethical guidelines. My feedback is most importantly constructive, even when I recommend rejecting a paper, I try my best to provide recommendations on how to develop it. Pay it forward, it is a cycle. Ethical duties include that I should not accept a paper that I feel biased for or against it for any reason (conflict of interest). Also, I should not accept a paper that is outside my area of research or breach the paper’s confidentiality (i.e. to share its findings). It is my role to see the topic from the authors’ perspective not from my own, I should not try to turn their paper into mine. It is necessary to ensure that my feedback is constructive and aims only to improve the quality of the manuscript and importantly not to raise the bar in subsequent rounds of review.
Top tips for early career researchers
As an ECR, your involvement in peer-reviewing can facilitate achieving your academic targets; most of all to get your work published. Ethics are central to the review process; always adhere to the publisher’s ethical guidelines and never raise the bar as your role is to ensure a quality research output not to make the process complex. Ask for help when in doubt; make your feedback as constructive as it could be, it is a cycle. Your review motto should be “review others as you want to be reviewed yourself; this motto says more than it might appear! And finally, do not allow the imposter syndrome experience to put you off, make it rather to act as an active source that informs your academic PD agenda.