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Reviewer Profile - Dr. Ricardo A. Azevedo

Dr. Azevedo reflects on why it is so important to meet reviewer deadlines in our regular Q&A

 Ricardo A. Azevedo

Ricardo Azevedo is a Full Professor of Cell Biology at the University of São Paulo (Campus Luiz de Queiroz), located in Piracicaba, SP, Brazil. He obtained his Biology degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Campinas, Brazil, a Masters of Sciences degree in Plant Genetics from the State University of Campinas, Brazil and a Ph.D. degree in Plant Biochemistry from Lancaster University, United Kingdom.

His research activities have concentrated on amino acid metabolism in plants, in particular lysine and threonine synthesis in cereal crops, and on the study of heavy metal-induced oxidative stress in plants. He has served as a reviewer for 89 scientific journals from all continents, and has reviewed over 400 manuscripts. 

Apart from teaching, research and administrative activities at the University, he has acted as an Editor for the following journals: Plant Physiology and Biochemistry (Associate Editor), Environmental and Experimental Botany (Associate Editor), Annals of Applied Biology (Senior Editor), Food and Energy Security Journal (Assistant Editor), Communications in Biometry and Crop Sciences (Associate Editor) and the Istanbul University Faculty of Science Journal of Biology (Associate Editor).

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1. What do you enjoy most about being a reviewer?
As a geneticist, I like diversity and variability! It is amazing how much I have learned from other editors, other reviewers and authors. The different styles, the different views, that have come from a wide range of journals and publishers. In particular, I have enjoyed the possibility of making a contribution, of discussing Science and getting to know people.

2. In the time that you've been a reviewer, what trends have you noticed?
I acted as a reviewer for the first time in 1999. I received an envelope by post with the manuscript, referee form etc. Today I can get invited and return my comments on the same day! Publishers are much more efficient in dealing with the increasing number of submissions and the entire process of editing and publishing has become far more streamlined. The number of submissions has increased dramatically and so has my workload and the demand for more reviewers. Online submission systems have been essential for the rapid and increased efficiency of the entire process. The improved availability of international literature databases such as Scopus and the Web of Knowledge, are the best thing that have happened. I still remember those heavy volumes of Biological Abstracts in the library! With everything online, reviewers are now able to do everything in front of the computer, in the office, at home, in the train or even in the airport.

3. How do you envision the role of the reviewer being different in the year 2020?
I don't see the basic role of the reviewer changing. Once researchers produce data, they want to see it published as quickly as possible. Their peers will still be needed to evaluate the manuscript and provide feedback to help the author, the journal and the publisher. Ultimately society, will benefit from the information that is published. So I don't see the reviewing process being excluded from the system, as some people advocate, for the sake of having all information available freely without any prior consideration by peers. Most importantly the entire system will have to address the problem of the continuous increase in the number of submissions and consequently the demand for more reviewers, who need to be mentored by more experienced reviewers and editors

4. What advice would you give to a new reviewer?
Put yourself in the position of the editors and authors and write your report without prejudice. Try to get to know everything about the entire process. Before you are a reviewer, you are an author! As a journal editor what annoys me a lot are reviewers whom I invite and from whom I never receive a response. They do not even bother to send a simple message saying "Sorry, I cannot do it". If you agree to review a manuscript, please do respect the deadlines (you were told about them beforehand) and do your job to the best of your ability. If you are not able to comply with the deadline, please don't accept to review.

5. What would you change about the peer review process in the scientific journal publishing industry, if you could?
I think that overall it is pretty good. Perhaps we should think about attitude. What I think is needed is more participation, more authors seriously engaged, more understanding about how important it is to be a reviewer and do a good and fair job. It is amazing to see how many authors consistently decline invitations to review manuscripts! They submit their own manuscripts, but never agree to review other people's. I think that as an author, I want to see my work published and I know that someone has to do the reviewing. It follows that I also have to do my share of reviewing manuscripts. But, I only accept to review when I feel that I am competent in the subject area. It is the same for funding agencies. It is not fair to receive research grants from a funding agency and then decline to evaluate a grant proposal for that same agency. For me, all these activities are part of my job, so I try to contribute as much I can

6. What do you think people would find most surprising about your role as a reviewer?
I am Brazilian! I work in Brazil and my colleagues are no longer surprised anymore, as they were some 10-15 years ago, when it was less common to receive many invitations to review manuscripts, especially from overseas. Now, a much larger number of people are taking part in the process. In my case, what surprises my colleagues is the number of manuscripts that I receive as a reviewer and in my job as an editor. But what really draws their attention is how fast I can be. I hate to see a list in front of me with things to do, so when I get a manuscript to review, I try to do it within 1-2 days max. My turnaround time as a reviewer and editor is very short.

7. How do you balance your role as a reviewer with your other roles?
Reviewing takes a tremendous amount of my time. For the last 5 years, I have been much too involved with editorial activities, so I am now declining over 90% of the invitations I receive to review manuscripts as I need to organize my priorities. But, what I have been doing in the last 1-2 years is mainly accepting invitations from new journals or lesser known journals, in order to get to know them and help them if I can. I am very pleased with this approach as I have been receiving some very nice feedback from the editors and feel that I have contributed even more than I first expected. From my experience as an editor and from the priceless advice and guidance that I have received from close fellow editors, I have learned that we have to mentor our new editors and reviewers.

8. What is your favourite quote?
I've picked two. A short sentence from a Roberto Carlos (Brazilian songwriter and singer) song called "Emoções" ("Emotions": by Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos).  "If I have cried or smiled, the most important are the emotions I have lived".  And ‎"Though nobody can go back and make a new beginning... Anyone can start over and make a new ending." Chico Xavier, a Brazilian medium.
 
9. What do you like to do for fun?
I don't really have hobbies but I love photography and any chance I have when I am travelling I take photographs. I also like to watch documentaries on TV, especially on history and geography. One thing I don't do is reading. I do that all day long, so a break from it is great.



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