Christopher Lo teaches classes, runs experiments and writes journal articles. However Lo-a fifth-year social psychology graduate student at the University of Toronto-feels untrained in one major aspect of scholarly work: peer reviewing journal articles.
"As professors, we will be expected to review articles," says Lo, the chair of APA's Science Student Council. "But most grad students don't get to practice doing it first."
But that may be changing, as graduate students increasingly take up red pens and ask their advisers and journal editors for the opportunity to review papers pending publication.
In fact, at least four psychology journals-the Journal of Social Issues, Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, Political Psychology and Representative Social Research in Psychology-reserve slots on their editorial boards for graduate students. Even publications without formal programs increasingly allow students to review manuscripts at the editor's discretion.
Students who participate in such opportunities get more than practice critiquing papers, says Jen Perry, a third-year behavioral neuroscience student at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
"Reviewing experience also looks great on your curriculum vitae," she notes.
While involved graduate students gain practice reviewing, they also can contribute to the quality of a journal, says Lo.
For example, graduate students tend to have more time than full professors to put into reviews, says Perry, who has reviewed articles for Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology and serves on APA's Science Student Council. As a result, they may put more time into giving papers careful reads and promptly send their comments to journal editors, says Perry.
In some cases, a graduate student may be more familiar with new techniques used in a study under review-perhaps in statistics-than a full professor, Lo notes.
However, doing a peer review shouldn't feel like a "sink or swim" scenario, says Perry. When students draft article reviews, they can ask for guidance and feedback from their advisers-allowing them a learning period before doing reviews on their own, she says.
And what students lack in knowledge, they can often make up in enthusiasm, Lo adds.
But how can students get plugged into peer review? Journal editors, graduate students and their advisers suggest a few ways:
Apprentice with your adviser. Many graduate students get their start writing reviews with their mentor, says Howard Egeth, PhD, a psychology professor at Johns Hopkins University. In fact, Egeth often works with his graduate students to produce a review; they read the article and critique it together.
Sometimes, though, he lets his students fly solo.
"If I am too busy to do a review, I will e-mail the editor and ask if I can hand it off to one or two graduate students," he says. "I can't think of a case when I was told not to."
Those who would like to take this route should simply express their interest in reviewing to their advisers. For example, offer to look over manuscripts as they land on your mentor's desk, says Rick Hoyle, PhD, editor of the Journal of Social Issues and a psychology professor at Duke University.
Seek student-designated positions. Once students have gained supervised reviewing experience, they may want to apply for a position on the editorial board of journals that reserve slots for graduate students. Editors often advertise such positions in the front pages of their journal, Egeth notes.
Additionally, students can review for Representative Research in Social Psychology, which is entirely student-run and based out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Such service can be a networking opportunity, adds David Dove, a fifth-year graduate student at George Washington University who sits on the board of Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology.
"It's a great way to get an idea of what people are doing in your field," says Dove.
Contact an editor. At an APA convention social hour, Jen Perry approached Warren Bickel, PhD-a psychology professor at the University of Arkansas and past editor of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology-and asked how students could get involved in reviewing papers for his journal. His answer? Just ask.
Some journal editors will send an occasional article to an advanced graduate student with relevant expertise, says Hoyle. Others, however, prefer students practice reviewing the papers of fellow students rather than those written by professors.
Bickel belongs to the first group. After his conversation with Perry, Bickel sent her papers in her field of expertise: animal models of impulsivity and drug use. Perry believes her experience informally reviewing her peers' manuscripts-as well as her assertiveness-contributed to her successful bid to review.
"Being published also gives you some extra credibility as a reviewer," she says.
Assertiveness and credibility might be exactly what it takes for students to break into the ranks of peer reviewers, Lo notes. And both journals and graduate students might benefit from such a coup, he says.
APA's Science Student Council will sponsor a conversation hour on graduate student peer reviewing at APA's 2005 Annual Convention in Washington, D.C. For more information, e-mail the council.