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Leveraging Your Reviewing and Editorial Activities

Faculty member editing a peer's article

Graziadio Research Tips

By Brian Jacobs

Lots of us are deeply involved with peer reviewing or editing at the academic journals in our discipline. I’m the Sustainable Operations Department Editor at Journal of Operations Management and a Senior Editor at Production and Operations Management, as well as an ad hoc reviewer for other operations journals. The long hours that we spend on these mostly thankless tasks is viewed by many as purely service work to our academic communities that takes away from time for research. But for me, I’ve found reviewing and editing to be very helpful to my research productivity. How?

1. Building Networks

The tried and true method of building a network of academic colleagues is through attending conferences and giving presentations. I agree that it’s an essential component, and I highly recommend it to everyone. But, it has its shortcomings. First, we might only attend one, two, or perhaps three conferences in any given year. Second, many times the opportunities to connect at conferences are hit-or-miss depending on conference schedules, personal commitments, travel arrangements, etc. Third, conference presentations are often rushed affairs, no better than a glorified “dog-and-pony show” without time for in-depth interaction. Last, despite best intentions, life sometimes gets in the way of our conference plans (ie. Covid-19).

I’ve found reviewing to be a big booster to the growth of my academic network. When I was finishing my PhD, my network was essentially my home department faculty. In my first year after the PhD, I reviewed three papers, largely due to recommendations from the members of my dissertation committee. But for anyone who’s served as a journal editor, you know that conscientious, reliable, and dependable reviewers can be hard to find. Word circulates very quickly among editors when willing and capable reviewers come onto the scene. In year two, I reviewed 15 papers, increasing to what I consider my annual limit of about 25 papers by year four. Each of those reviews was an opportunity to interact with senior faculty and peers from universities that I might never visit, many of them in Europe and Asia. At conferences, I try to physically connect with these people to put a face to a name.

This network has been invaluable to me as a researcher. I have reached out to others for help on different topics or methods, and I’ve had others reach out to me. Sometimes this translates into co-authorship opportunities. Good performance as a reviewer or editor can also make you a top-of-mind candidate for conference activities (e.g., panels, judging) or research colloquiums. Last, but not least, dedicated efforts in service to a journal will sometimes earn you the benefit-of-the-doubt when trying to publish there. What might otherwise be a rejected manuscript will instead sometimes become an invitation to revise- and-resubmit to give you an opportunity to see if you sufficiently address review concerns.

2. Staying Abreast

Reviewing means that I’m seeing the latest research in my discipline before it gets published. Granted, many of the papers are not great, but there are also some gems. Regardless, after reviewing enough papers, I’ve developed a sense of what others are working on, and what’s interesting (or not) to my research community.

Although it’s quicker and easier to read and review papers on topics and methods that we’re familiar with, the greatest opportunity for learning is to venture into new material. Agreeing to review papers not exactly in my current area of research interest is a low-risk way to expose myself to other research areas. For example, I don’t consider myself a survey researcher but I’ve learned a lot about surveys from reviewing papers.

3. Learning the Dos and Don’ts

Without a doubt, it’s a pleasure to review or edit a well-crafted paper. Being exposed to good writing and research practices helps me to elevate my game. However, a common complaint among reviewers is the poor quality of many submitted papers. The silver lining of reading so many poor papers is developing a checklist (either physical or mental) of what not to do in my own work. It also sharpens my eye when looking for potential flaws in my own manuscripts.

Every journal has their own particular focus and preferences, whether it’s favored (or disfavored) research topics or methods, writing style, or even things as mundane as copy editing and citation styles. Reviewing enough papers for a journal gives me a better feel for what they are looking for, and whether my work would be a good fit.

In summary, I think my reviewing and editing activity has been a great benefit to my research. But a word of caution: it’s not an especially easy path; it requires a lot of hard work and dedication. I think my ability to benefit from reviewing was largely due to my willingness to say yes. If at all possible, I agreed to any reviews that I was invited to do, particularly if it was for a journal that I might consider submitting future work to. Of course, each review takes time, and that time commitment has to be balanced against my other work and personal obligations. And, if I agree to a review, it’s key to do a quality job and deliver it on time. If editors have to chase after someone to submit their review, or correct/redo their review, that reviewer will quickly drop off their invitation lists.

With my editor’s hat on, I have to say that, aside from the potential personal benefits to my own research, reviewing/editing truly is a needed service in our academic communities. Without volunteer efforts, the peer review process, and our ability to publish credible work, would quickly fall apart.



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