In 2009, I’ve done ~9 reviews of journal articles, including two in the past week, and not counting the 1-2 more looming in the next two weeks. During the same period, I’ve submitted one 1st author manuscript, still in review, but probably only going cost 3 reviewers some time.
Anyone see a mass balance problem there? Or do y’all just see a case of a junior faculty member correctly working to build her international reputation in time for tenure? Or something else? ‘Cause I’m no longer quite sure what to make of the situation. I’m dancing around the question of “How many reviews are enough?”
As far as I can tell, there are three philosophies I could use to approach the question.
1. Accept all review requests, make the associate editors happy by turning the reviews in on time, get the early view of what’s coming in the field, build an international reputation through your diligent service. Let’s call this the “more is better” philosophy. This is a philosophy that is common to people with unlimited time and energy (no life outside of science or a stay-at-home spouse to manage all the “distractions”) and to the bean-counters who believe that a scientist doing 9 reviews in a year is fundamentally stronger and better-positioned than a scientist doing 7 reviews in a year.
2. Figure out roughly how many reviews your 1st author manuscripts have received, and give that many back to the scientific community before you reject any assignments. After you’ve achieved mass balance, accept review assignments that seem interesting to you and as you feel so inclined. Let’s call this one the “parity” philosophy, and its one I was introduced to by FemaleScienceProfessor (though now I can’t find the link). With the parity philosophy, a junior faculty member could still end up doing a lot more reviews than she was receiving in a year, if she felt the need to make up for the ones she received as a grad student. Also, the people who are *lucky* enough to go through multiple rounds of reviews before being accepted/rejected would end up with more reviews to do per paper published, but hopefully the process of doing those reviews would be useful to them in such a way that the quality of their submitted papers would improve or they would pick more appropriate journals.
3. Accept all reviews under the guise of the “more is better” philosophy, but do the reviews in a time-limited world. Budget only 4 hours per review, and sometimes have to write lower quality reviews as a result. Panic when you suddenly realize you have four reviews to do in a 2 week period, on top of getting ready for a conference and teaching a new prep. Let’s call this the “bad compromise” philosophy. I’ve never heard anyone advocate for it, but I know I’m not the only one who’s fallen into it because of influence from the “more is better” advocates.
In my experience, people who espouse the “more is better” philosophy do not seem to recognize that a 1/2 day to day doing a review is a 1/2 day to day not writing your own manuscript, collecting and analyzing data, or playing with your kid. Or maybe they just know how to stretch time. When the “more is better” approach is attempted by a time-limited mortal, I think there is a real danger that a scientist could put her service to the professional community over the higher-payoff time spent on her own research, graduate student advising, and publication.
And I think that’s what I might be at risk of doing this year. I’ve achieved mass balance in my review life, even accounting for multiple rounds of reviews and the backlog from my time as a graduate student. I know that reviews are a vital part of professional service, but I also know that I need to get another paper out this fall to keep me on pace for tenure. If reviews keep coming in at the same pace as they have this spring and fall, I know I won’t get that paper finished up. If the reviews dried up of their own accord, or if I grew a spine and stopped accepting all but the most intriguing ones, I might still not finish that paper, but I’d be closer. So I think I need to move from the “bad compromise” philosophy to the “parity” philosophy. But, how do I do that, dear readers?
If I decline a review, do I risk never being asked to review for that journal again?
If I decline a review and I know the editor, do I owe them some sort of explanation?
If I move towards the parity philosophy and that results in a marginal, but positive, increase in my publication productivity, does that cancel out any dints in my international reputation caused by declining reviews?
Are the people who agree to write the tenure evaluations all firmly in the “more is better” camp and blind to the correlation between the research and service productivity?