Peer review is central to the publishing process and has a fundamental role to play in maintaining the integrity of the published literature and advancing discovery. For the most part, peer review works well with researchers wanting to improve not replace peer review. Indeed, in 2009, 91% of researchers surveyed as part of a Sense About Science survey felt peer review had improved their manuscript.
However, despite this, peer review can sometimes come under criticism. Research output is growing exponentially and this is putting pressure on the system, with many individuals inundated with requests to peer review. We therefore wanted to see if there was a way to increase the diversity of peer reviewers who undertake peer review from the standard pool and bring more variety and inclusivity to the process.
Today, we are delighted to announce that four BMC journals have launched a pilot aimed at increasing diversity and inclusivity in peer review by proactively endorsing peer review mentoring of early career researchers. These journals are Trials, Systematic Reviews, Pilot and Feasibility Studies and Journal of Medical Case Reports.
Why are we proactively endorsing peer review mentoring?
Anecdotally we hear that peer review mentoring frequently happens behind the scenes, with senior researchers involving their post-docs or PhD students in the process but not necessarily acknowledging them in the submitted report or informing the journal. We also often receive requests from time-stretched reviewers who explicitly say they can only accept an invitation to peer review if the journal is happy for them to involve other researchers in their lab in the process.
Setting up peer review mentoring endorsement within the journals
With this pilot our objective is to formalize the process of peer review mentoring, make it transparent, ensure expectations are clear (for both mentor and mentee), and maintain the integrity of the peer review process.
All of the journals in the pilot adopt an open peer review policy, with authors and reviewers knowing who each other are, and if the paper is accepted the peer review reports are published alongside the article.
Each journal has launched a dedicated page (see this example in Trials) that is linked to from the reviewer invitation email and via the journal homepage and journal about page (see here via left hand navigation). It includes detailed guidance on the process, what’s involved, what benefits it can bring to the reviewers, and guidance and training on how to peer review.
All of the journals in the pilot adopt an open peer review policy, with authors and reviewers knowing who each other are, and if the paper is accepted the peer review reports are published alongside the article. This means all will be able to see which papers included peer review mentoring, including who the named mentor and mentee are.
The process is relatively simple; if you are invited to peer review and you’re a professor or senior researcher and want to mentor an early career researcher with relevant expertise through a peer review, you can decline the invitation and in the reasons for declining ensure it’s clear that you want to mentor someone through the process (include the name and email address of the mentee). The editor can then invite the mentee in your place. The mentee must accept the invitation and together the mentor and mentee work on the report, which is submitted under the mentee’s name. The report must be transparently co-signed by the mentor and mentee, and include reviewer contributions and full conflicts of interest statements for both the mentor and mentee.
When the mentee submits the report via our editorial system they will also be asked ‘Were you mentored through this reviewer report’; the mentee must state yes and enter the mentor’s name and institution into a free text box.
This process has taken into consideration Committee of Publication Ethics (COPE) ethical guidelines for peer reviewers, which includes information on peer review mentoring, as well as discussions with journal editors (who are also reviewers for other journals) and internal departments within BMC (part of Springer Nature), who publish the four journals.
Peer reviewing manuscripts is an essential skill for any researcher and developing the next generation of researchers in best practice is crucial.
What do we expect?
Ultimately, we hope this pilot will bring more diversity and inclusivity in to the peer review process. We also envision that this pilot will particularly help the journals directly involve more early career researchers in peer review (who are often not very ‘visible’ via their publication record).
Peer review mentoring within open peer review journals (open content and open identities), such as Trials, Systematic Reviews, Pilot and Feasibility Studies and Journal of Medical Case Reports, also has some specific benefits for early career researchers. If the article is accepted, the reviewer reports are posted alongside the article under a CC-BY license, which means they are citable. We welcome early career researchers to cite their reviews to help with their own personal development.
All four journals in the pilot can also provide confirmation of review on branded letterhead or certificates of reviewer acknowledgment. If a reviewer requires this (not just mentee reviewers but any reviewer!), please contact the journal directly using the ‘Contact us’ email detailed at the bottom of the specific journals’ website page. These journals also post annual reviewer acknowledgement lists (see this example in Trials).
How can you get involved?
We have launched this initiative as a pilot on a small number of journals to ensure the process works for the community, for our authors, editors and peer reviewers.
We aim report back in coming months and will be sharing our experience in the hope that other journals may also like to endorse peer review mentoring in a similarly transparent way.
Peer reviewing manuscripts is an essential skill for any researcher and developing the next generation of researchers in best practice is crucial. If you are invited to peer review for any of these journals over the coming months and meet the criteria for mentoring, please do initiate the process and let us know your feedback. We welcome any comments on what works or what may need to be streamlined!