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Faces of Elsevier - Bahar Mehmani, Reviewer Experience Lead

May 27, 2020 | 5 min read

By Bahar Mehmani


"I am excited about the changes we’re planning for our Reviewer Hub"

1. What was your background before becoming Reviewer Experience Lead? I received my PhD in theoretical Physics from the University of Amsterdam. The journal peer review process I experienced during my PhD wasn’t an engaging one. I therefore created a journal club for the junior members of my institutes (no full professors were allowed to join!) in order to boost the self-confidence of PhDs and postdocs in criticizing each other’s papers. In 2011 I moved to the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light to persuade my academic carrier as a postdoc. During that time, I started to peer review manuscripts without any formal training. It was like walking in the dark. I had the same experience when I started to write my first paper, but at least then I could share my manuscript with my supervisor and discuss it with my fellow journal-club members. Peer review was a different story. The confidentiality of the process and lack of editor and author feedback after submitting my recommendations made me think further about reviewer engagement and recognition. I joined Elsevier in 2013 as a managing editor with the goal of improving the peer review process having these thoughts in mind.

2. Tell us a little about what your role entails. I oversee the features in the submission systems Elsevier journals use to orchestrate the peer review process. Innovation and thinking outside the box are an inevitable part of my role. I try to see what could be done differently to address reviewer pain points: lack of engagement, proper instructions and recognition. I also study author/editor/reviewer feedback to pinpoint bottlenecks. Another issue I work on is reducing bias in the review process. I am also working with other organizations trying to help improve the reviewer experience, for example peer review weekopens in new tab/window, PEERE opens in new tab/windowand the STM working group on standardizing definitions of different peer review models. I am also a council member of the European Association of Science Editorsopens in new tab/window.

3. How would you describe a typical working day? Lots of interaction with my colleagues across different departments and time-zones. Reading articles about the peer review process, authoring and reviewing manuscripts about the process, planning for next steps, verifying alignment between stakeholders, tracking relevant information, internal and external committee meetings, emails, lots of emails!

4. How do you measure success in your work? By measuring the impact of new parameters/concepts we introduce in the peer review process on reviewer performance and satisfaction.

5. Do you have any particular advice for new reviewers? Don’t fret if this is your first review invitation. Everyone who has written a paper and got it accepted is a reviewer at heart. Keep in touch with the journal editor and ask what they expect from you. Ask if it is permissible for you to co-review the manuscript with a colleague. Finally, after submitting your report, ask the editor for feedback.

6. What is the most rewarding aspect of your work for you and what do you find difficult about the role? Researcher feedback, being able to discuss my initiatives and ideas with academics and acting on their input. That’s why I am excited about the changes we’re planning for our Reviewer Hub. We’re busy cooking up some powerful enhancements which will enable reviewers to seamlessly manage their peer review activities, connect their peer reviews to their overall academic performance and receive due credit and recognition for their work. We are also working on features that enable collaborative peer review and co-reviewing, which helps younger researchers to learn from experienced reviewers by refereeing together and in a way which recognizes their contribution. Another exciting part of this tool is that it allows for editor, reviewer and author feedback on the quality of review reports and their helpfulness to editors for making their decisions and to authors for improving their manuscript. It is these feedback processes that make the peer review process an engaging one. Stay tuned for more news on this!

7. Name one item/tool/resource that you cannot do without in your job. Our submission systems’ data. That’s the heart of all my activities and is how I measure the efficiency of new concepts or the performance of an existing process.

8. How do you see your role changing (if at all) over the next few years? Peer review sits at the heart of any academic evaluation research output process. Traditionally, journals have been on the front line of this process but in recent years, with the open access movement and the expansion of preprint services, the quality assessment process has expanded beyond the realms of the journal. The COVID-19 pandemic and preprint peer reviews are good examples. This makes my role even more exciting and relevant to other outlets and platforms.

9. What would you be doing now if you were not working in publishing? I would be a full-time physicist, managing a team and teaching physics at university.

10. What is the most interesting/amusing/inspirational thing you’ve worked as Reviewer Experience Lead? Introducing transparency in the peer review process both at the article level for readers and at the data level for researchers interested in studying the peer review process as a scientific topic. That’s why I launched a pilot for publishing peer review reports in 2016 and how I became a member of PEERE and started creating a responsible data-sharing protocol to study topics like the impact of transparency in peer review on reviewer performance and gender-bias in peer reviw. As a follow up to this collaboration we have started to look into the submission data for all Elsevier journals to study the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on women across different disciplines and in different countries. You can read more about these studies in the below links