Sharon Tang, a third-year clinical psychology graduate student at the University of Oregon, has achieved something that few students manage--she's on the editorial board of a psychology research journal. Tang joined journal editors Gordon Nagayama Hall, PhD, and Rick Hoyle, PhD, at a conversation hour at the 2005 APA Annual Convention to talk about why students might want to become journal reviewers and how they can get a foot in the door.

Hall is the editor of APA's Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology (CDEMP), and Hoyle edits the Journal of Social Issues, both of which use student reviewers. Tang is the student member of CDEMP's editorial board.

"For a student, being on an editorial board or being a reviewer really shows that your expertise is respected in the field," said Hall.

Reviewing other researchers' articles is also an excellent way to improve your own research and writing, according to Hoyle. And, he said, it provides students with an avenue to network with colleagues and to begin making their own contributions to their chosen field.

How to get the job

Hall, Hoyle and Tang shared their suggestions for becoming a journal reviewer:

  • Apply for slots designated for students. In addition to CDEMP and the Journal of Social Issues, at least three other journals reserve slots on their editorial boards for students--Political Psychology and Representative Research in Social Psychology. In fact, the latter is run entirely by students, mostly out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The third is the student-operated Graduate Faculty Psychology Bulletin, founded in 2003 by students at the New School for Social Research. The publication features research by the school's graduate students and faculty.

These jobs are rewarding but not easy to get: In order to snag the student editorial spot at CDEMP, a student must be enrolled at a university where another member of the editorial board teaches and must work under that psychologist's supervision, according to Hall.

The student members of the Journal of Social Issues editorial board are chosen through a formal application process, and students are welcome to nominate themselves, Hoyle said.

  • Ask your mentor. There are also more informal routes to becoming a journal reviewer. If your mentor or adviser reviews journal articles, offer to help out, Hall suggested. Eventually, your mentor might--with the journal editor's permission--pass some reviewing duties on to you.

How to do it well

Once you get the chance to try your hand at reviewing, Hall, Hoyle and Tang also had some suggestions to get the most out of the experience:

  • Read model reviews. Ask the journal editor to send you sample reviews he or she thought were particularly constructive, said Hoyle--it's the best way to learn.

"Many of us are willing to remove identifying information and provide students with sections of reviews," he said. Also, suggested Tang, ask for both favorable and unfavorable reviews so that you can learn to write both types well.

  • Know your competencies. Understand your own strengths and weaknesses and stay within the boundaries of your knowledge when editing, suggested Tang.

"For me, for example, it's not certain kinds of statistics," she said. However, since she has expertise in cultural diversity issues, she can offer useful comments in that area.

  • Be honest but constructive. Think about how you would react to a comment if the paper were yours, Tang said. Make your questions and critiques as specific as possible, so that they will be useful to the paper's author.