Peer Review Week 2018: Creating equal opportunities for peer reviewers through training
This week it’s Peer Review Week 2018 ― a global event celebrating the essential of role peer in maintaining scientific quality ― and the theme this year is ‘Diversity and inclusion in peer review’.
Peer review ensures a certain level of scientific rigour and accuracy in published work by giving authors critical feedback to improve their papers. It is an activity academics must find time for among all the other demands they juggle. However the burden of peer review is carried unevenly with some researchers doing more than their fair share and others not being offered (or not taking) the chance to participate.
Although it is known that women are underrepresented in STEM fields, the proportion of women contributing as peer reviewers is smaller than their representation in science overall. Female researchers are also less likely to accept invitations to review than their male counterparts. Early career researchers, regardless of their gender, can also be subjected to seniority bias, reducing their opportunities to contribute to peer review.
These biases threaten the supply of reviewers needed to cope with the ever-increasing volume of scientific output. In addition, by being unwilling (owing to a lack of confidence, for instance) or unable to peer review, researchers can miss out on a valuable experience that could help them improve their writing skills, provide insights into emerging research topics or the latest advances in a field, and raise their profile as a researcher.
Addressing the problem
The biases that lead to underrepresentation of certain groups in the peer review process are often unconscious. Therefore, one way to broaden participation is to encourage editors and authors to be mindful of underrepresented groups when considering their choices of referees or recommending peer reviewers to assess their papers.
Another approach is to improve access to training. Some researchers might have the chance to help their supervisors to produce peer-review reports early in their career, but this option might not be available to every researcher. Formal training on how to produce a useful referee report can improve researchers’ confidence to participate in the review process and the quality of their reports, and can help widen representation.
Our training course
At Nature Masterclasses we have developed a freely available online course called ‘Focus on Peer Review’ that provides an overview of the peer review process and offers practical tips for how to be a great reviewer. To access the free course, simply register on the website (or sign in if you’ve registered already) and go to the course.
In the course, Nature Research editors and renowned scientists explain the importance of peer review and advise on how to review an article and how to write and structure an excellent report. They also discuss the ethics of peer review and new variations and innovations to improve the process.
We hope that this resource will help level the playing field and encourage equal opportunities for researchers to peer review, independent of their gender, seniority, access to resources and geographical location.