Career Tips & Advice

Reviewer profile - Dr. Roger Purchas

We meet reviewer Dr. Roger Purchas who grew up on a farm in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand and has a PhD in Food Science

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After growing up on a farm in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand, Dr Purchas earned Bachelors and Masters Dr. Roger Purchas degrees in Agricultural Science at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand with an emphasis on Animal Science topics.  This was followed, first, by a four-year period at Michigan State University where he received a PhD in Food Science, and then a three-year Post-Doctoral position at Sydney University in Australia, before returning to become a staff member in Animal Science and, more recently, in Food technology at Massey University.  His research activity has focused on the interface between the on-farm aspects of meat production from a range of animal species, and the quality of the carcasses and meat produced.  There has been a particular interest in factors affecting the tenderness of meat and on the composition of nutrients and bioactive compounds in different forms of meat.


1. What do you enjoy most about being a reviewer?
I have not usually associated the reviewing of scientific papers with enjoyment, but the process usually does yield benefits, either through the nature of the results being reported and/or from seeing ways in which different groups of scientists have approached a particular problem.  Also, because papers for review come from many different countries, they often provide a window into the problems that are of concern in those countries.
2. In the time that you've been a reviewer, what trends have you noticed?

Trends have not been particularly clear-cut, but I get the impression that, while many papers are very well presented, there has been a trend for an increasing proportion to be rather unpolished, possibly because the authors are depending on the reviewers and editors to carry out the "polishing".  This may be associated with an increased pressure to publish in many institutions around the world, and also with an increasing number of papers coming from non-English-speaking countries.  At the same time certain aspects of the quality of papers overall has improved as a result of increasingly sophisticated and accessible laboratory methodology, along with increasingly comprehensive methods of statistical analysis, the application of which is greatly facilitated by improvements in computing power.  Unfortunately this has sometimes been associated with a misuse of statistical methods, probably due to poor understanding of the basic theory, assumptions and limitations of the methods involved.
3. How do you envision the role of the reviewer being different in the year 2020?

Currently the reviewing of scientific papers is carried out voluntarily by the peers of those submitting the papers on the assumption that the papers of the reviewers will be reviewed in a similar manner.  I am unaware of how variable the balance is between being a reviewer and a reviewee, but the success and fairness of the system is dependent on this not varying too much. This would become less important if reviewers were rewarded more effectively, although this would be difficult to standardize in a fair way because of the wide variation in the extent of reviewing required by different papers, and in the amount of reviewing provided for the same paper by different reviewers.  It seems likely, however, that further forms of recompense will be in place by 2020.  This is likely to be, or at least it should be, accompanied by an increased acknowledgement by employers of reviewers, that the reviewing activity is a very important part of their job.  It is difficult to envision other substantial changes by 2020.

4. What advice would you give to a new reviewer?

  1. Look on a request to review as an opportunity rather than a chore.
  2. Make your review as comprehensive as possible in the sorts of ways that you would like reviewers of your papers to do.
  3. Try to avoid being too critical and negative (although this will sometimes be difficult) and offer positive suggestions and advice whenever possible.
  4. Try to get the review submitted expeditiously, as it will take about the same amount of time if it is done sooner rather than later.

5. What would you change about the peer review process if you could?
Attempt to devise methods of more effectively rewarding and recognizing reviewing activity.   

6. What do you think people would find most surprising about your role as a reviewer?
Presumably this means people who have not been involved with reviewing scientific papers, in which case I would expect that many would find it surprising that reviewers of scientific papers are seldom paid for their work.  They would probably also be surprised at how much time and effort is involved in reviewing many of the manuscripts received.
7. How do you balance your role as a reviewer with your other roles?

There is not much balancing required as I am largely retired, with my main other roles being as an Associate Editor of a scientific journal, together  with some student supervising.  Generally an attempt is made to get a reviewing job done as soon as possible as that is what I hope reviewers of our papers will do.  Currently we have a paper that has been in the review process for more than five months, which is disappointing.
8. What is your favorite quote?

In the context of this profile, the current favourite is: "Try to learn something about everything and everything about something." Thomas H Huxley (text on his memorial).
9. What do you like to do for fun?

Reading, assisting with native forest conservation, tramping/hiking.

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