The Peer Review Process PART 1 of 2
September 18, 2013 | by Nick Snead
I really appreciated my mentor Dr. Rossi forwarding me an early opportunity to write a review article in my 2nd year of my graduate school years. The experience was a training tool not only for the scientific aspect of it but also for the organizational and communication side of it. Specifically, the process of communicating with an editor, uploading files into a journal’s submission website and following the different intricacies of every various journals’ guidelines (e.g., guidelines for figures and artwork, where a journal may prescribe that figures generated in PowerPoint are not (!!) accepted because they may not be of high enough quality. This saves time for having to go back and re-do all figures again in Illustrator...) are important skills that may seem logical and easy, but I would argue that sometimes it’s not so easy, and that practice can improve the smoothness of the process each time. There likely are principal investigators (PIs) out there who insist on doing all the manuscript preparation themselves, but if I had to guess I’d say there are probably many PIs that are quite busy, and they would welcome having the lead authors take care of all the manuscript stuff.
After authoring a couple of review articles, it became time for the submission of my main thesis project manuscript. This is a different beast - in my experience, the peer review process for review manuscripts had been kind of lenient, but I was aware of various horror stories and experiences I've heard from colleagues (stay tuned for a future post from me about this? Maybe.). Indeed, the file uploading process alone took more than an entire day due to all the small mistakes I would find, and have to un-load, then re-upload modified components to the upload process. Sure, some people have told me that as long as I got the bulk of the file formatting correct, the journal will just have me clean up the loose ends after review. But, I think I am more the type of guy who tries to follow the rules, especially when the rules were clearly spelled out in the first place. I also want to state that my coauthors were very valuable in answering my questions about the review process — I really appreciated it. Overall, the manuscript submission process is still annoyingly tedious at times, but I can’t imagine how frustrating it might have been if I had no exposure to it previously.
Related to the idea of getting some practice with the peer review system, I would also like to make students aware of a new journal that has arisen on the scene of biological science publishing, eLife. In addition to the content of this journal is the fact that the published articles are accompanied by the reviewers’ questions as well as the authors’ replies to the reviewer comments (!!!). I will certainly scope out a few of these, and look how authors eloquently (or not?) respond to reviewer comments (some of which, I’m guessing, might be quite challenging or negative).