In this issue's Reviewer Profile we meet Dr. Annela Seddon, Graduate Teaching and Research Fellow at the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials at the University of Bristol, UK.
Annela graduated from Edinburgh University with an MChem in 1999 and began her PhD in the lab of Professor Steve Mann FRS in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol, in the area of bio molecular tem plating of organic-inorganic hybrid structures. Her postdoc in membrane protein folding was in the School of Medical Sciences.
Annela was awarded a Life Sciences Interface Fellowship by the Epsrc in 2006 which she held at the Imperial College London and the University of Chicago, where her work was on the use of microfluidics in the study of protein aggregation and crystallization. Annela has been at the University of Bristol since 2009.
1. What do you enjoy most about being a reviewer?
I like reading! Reviewing gives me a chance to keep up with the latest work in my field, but I also think that by reading other people's papers, it forces me to think about how I write, and how I present my work.
2. In the time that you've been a reviewer, what trends have you noticed?
The way that supplementary information is used. Now that many of us use online rather than hard copy journals, supplementary information seems to be far more important. This is a double edged sword – on one hand it means that far more detailed information can be provided about experimental procedures, without taking up too much space in the main paper, but on the other, it can be distracting to have to keep flipping between two documents to understand what the authors did. I'd like to see supplementary information standardized a bit more – at the moment there doesn't seem to be any clear guide as to how to use it.
3. How do you envision the role of the reviewer being different in the year 2020?
I think this will depend on how widely adopted archives such as arXiv are and also how far there is a move to open access publishing. Peer review will still remain a crucial stage of how an academic paper makes it into a journal, but it may be part of a different process, involving pre-submission reviewing, and post publication comments and responses.
4. What advice would you give to a new reviewer?
Try to select papers you're comfortable with in terms of your area of expertise. Don't underestimate the value of a Web of Science search on the key words to see what else has been published in the area recently. Give detailed feedback and ask for clarifications if you need to – if you don't understand something, chances are it's not been written clearly. Finally, don't be afraid to reject something!
5. What would you change about the peer review process if you could?
I'd like to see people submit raw data so that a reviewer could really check the veracity of the claims in the paper. I'd also really like some way of being able to review the experiments that didn't work, as I think you can learn an awful lot from these.
6. What do you think people would find most surprising about your role as a reviewer?
I don't think anything I do would surprise my academic colleagues any more. I do find though that outside of science (or even amongst undergraduate students), there's not really a clear understanding of the function of academic papers, or the role of a peer reviewer. This is why I do a PhD/MSc workshop on scientific literature, where I set the students up as peer reviewers and ask them to go through the process of reviewing a paper. I also run a journal club where students have 3 minutes to critque a paper in front of their peers, then answer questions.
7. How do you balance your role as a reviewer with your other roles?
I'm also a Journal Editor, which takes up a lot of time on top of research and teaching. I try to fit reviewing and editing into "dead time", usually whilst travelling or waiting for trains. I've also been known to take reviews to the pub to read during dull football matches.
8. What is your favourite quote?
I think this is usually attributed to organic chemist, Frank H. Westheimer - "A month in the laboratory can often save an hour in the library" is one I'm fond of, which I use often as a cautionary tale for my students about the value of doing a good literature search prior to starting an experiment.
9. What do you like to do for fun?
Listen to the radio and podcasts, watch cricket and motor sport, read science blogs and think up really bad puns.