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5 reasons why peer review matters

To mark Peer Review Week, PhD student and member of the Voice of Young Science network, tells us why peer review matters #peerrevwk15

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Roganie GovenderI recall the mix of emotions I felt on submitting my first manuscript to a peer reviewed journal - some satisfaction and pride in getting to the point of submission, but mostly anxious and nervous about this process called peer review. I had heard from others that many manuscripts don’t get past this stage, and that experts are ruthless in taking apart your work. But then a well published, highly respected expert and genuinely wonderful person reminded me – peer review is what the name suggests: your peers in the field examining your work and raising questions about aspects of the work that may need greater clarity.  They may also offer an unbiased view, highlighting when certain claims cannot be drawn from your work, given the scope of the study design and methodology. I pondered this and came to the conclusion that peer review should then be a good thing. ‘It will help me put my research claims in context and improve my paper’.

Peer Review Week 2015

Peer Review Week will run from Monday 28th September to Friday 2nd October, and will include a series of blog posts and interviews, a social media campaign, webinars, and more.  Follow Peer Review Week 2015 activities on twitter #PeerRevWk15

My newly framed interpretation of the peer review process meant I felt less nervous while I awaited a response from the journal.  It did not reduce the immediate disappointment and feelings of unworthiness I felt upon receiving a rejection!  Fortunately, I was able to learn from the experience, move on and go on to successfully publish.  Since then I have performed a few peer reviews myself and I can see the merits from both perspectives.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend a training afternoon – Peer review the nuts and bolts – hosted by Sense About Science as part of their VoYS programme.  It was a valuable opportunity to hear about peer review from editors and to discuss peer review with other early career researchers and PhD students.  The insights I gained from this workshop got me thinking once again about why peer review matters. I have come to understand that peer review is about striving towards the TRUTH – the very quest of scientific enquiry!  Here are 5 reasons why I think peer review matters…

Time to reflect: The process provides a reviewer with the opportunity to reflect on someone else’s work and to provide thoughtful comment using his/her own knowledge and expertise of the subject.  Being asked to review a manuscript assumes that the reviewer has some expertise relevant to the content, and that this knowledge will be helpful in evaluating the merits of a piece of work. Equally on receiving feedback from peer review, authors have time to reflect on how their research is viewed by experts in the field. It is a time when improvements can be made to a manuscript via constructive exchange between authors and peer reviewers/editors.

Research quality: I am a big fan of Which magazine– As a consumer I like knowing that products I buy have been reviewed and given quality ratings. On some level, I like to think that peer review does the same for scientific publications. It provides some quality assurance to consumers of research.

Understanding our ethical responsibility as researchers: We undertake and publish research in the hope that our findings will contribute to the betterment of some phenomenon. In medical research this may impact people’s lives. The way in which we conduct research and the basis upon which we make claims should therefore be subject to scrutiny. Authors and reviewers share this ethical responsibility.

Training: As a PhD student, engaging in the process of peer review, either as a reviewer or as an author receiving feedback contributes greatly to my training and development as a researcher. I see it as an opportunity for academic dialogue. Peer reviewing the work of others has helped me to think more critically about my own work.

Helping each other: Peer review makes me feel part of the scientific community.  There is some satisfaction in knowing that I can have input into improving a piece of work, and that others may do likewise for me. I would like to believe that reviewers share this sense of collegiality.

I do hope that I will remain true to my ideals as I develop as a researcher, but in case I should err – someone please remind me of this TRUTH!

Author Biography

Roganie Govender Roganie Govender is a speech & language therapist at University College London Hospital. She is currently on a 3-year research secondment undertaking a PhD focusing on improving the swallowing function in patients treated for head and neck cancer. Roganie won a National Institute of Health Research/ Health Education England Doctoral Fellowship which funds her work.

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