Friday, July 10, 2009

Peer Review Workload

I review a lot of papers and proposals. It’s part of my job. For those of you not in a scientific research field, here’s the deal: all of the papers I submit to obscure journals and all of the proposals I submit to funding agencies are then sent back out into the world to several other scientists in the field for “peer review.” The editor or program officer then takes these reviews into account when making their decisions. When there is a specific proposal deadline, this usually means that the agency will convene a one or more panels of peer reviewers (in addition to mail-in reviews), where 5-10 people will sit around a table for 2-3 days discussing and rating each of the proposals submitted on a particular topic. All of these people are anonymous to the submitters and are supposed to be unbiased and objective in their evaluations. Typically, journal paper manuscripts go to 2 reviewers and proposals go to up to 5 mail-in reviewers. If there is a panel, then each panelist is usually assigned to be lead on 3-4 and secondary on 3-4 more.

So, with this in mind, I should be peer reviewing several manuscripts and proposals for every paper I submit (as first author) and every proposal I submit (as PI). I submit at least 2 papers a year as first author. I used to submit 4 or 5 as a research scientist, but that another story. So I should do 4 manuscript reviews a year. But that’s not enough. I should also do 2 for every paper my students or postdocs submit (not the research scientists, though), because they will most likely not be asked to review anything yet. This adds another 3-4 papers a year. So, I should be reviewing at least 10 journal manuscripts a year. I submit probably 3-5 proposals a year as well. If the average mail-in review number is 3, then I should be doing at least 10 mail-in proposal reviews for various funding agencies. Also, I submit mostly to NASA (that always convenes panels) and NSF (that sometimes convenes panels), and, because each panelist is lead on 3 or 4 proposals, so I should also be serving on at least 1 panel per year as well (which means another 6-8 proposal reviews from those assigned as part of the panel).

A paper review takes me about half a day, and a proposal review a little less than that. So, this adds up to well over 100 work hours of time each year devoted to evaluating what other people are working on. This is a hidden time sink that no one told me about when I was considering becoming a scientist. Maybe I’m just too nice to editors and program officers and don’t say “no” enough, but I’ve worked out the stats and think I’m doing a reasonable number of reviews for the burden I place on others.

Scientists out there: does anyone else do this much peer review?

1 comment:

  1. No!

    Sadly, I try to turn down a lot of papers, then one pops up that is 'irresistible'. So, I agree. Then, a few days later a 'better' paper is offered. So I take that. Then my students all finish papers and ask me to review their papers. And I am stuck with 5 papers to read.