Reviewing academic papers

One of the joys of academic life is that we get (a lot of) requests to review papers sent to journals and conferences.

Internally, my university recognises this type of activity as “research service”, and it is accounted for when we fill out our “academic workload model/sheet” every year. What I found out in the last two years by filling out this document was that I spend way too much time reviewing other people’s work compared to writing up and publishing my own work.

As an academic, you send your own work to conferences and journals that organise the peer-review process. So, of course, you have to oblige when asked to do the same thing for others.

Reviewing papers in your field of expertise can be a rewarding activity: you get to see new theories being developed, to read about interesting field work and the design of new services and products before anyone else. But it is a time consuming and difficult exercise. It’s a bit like gardening: after pulling out the weeds, you start working with the papers that have a chance to make it in. For some conferences, a 2 phase review process led to a lot of candidate papers blooming after a first round of reviews. And it is really rewarding to see how your advice helped improve a paper!

Having worked in various research areas over the years (from IT Evaluation, Knowledge Management and Software Engineering to Learning Technologies, Social Media and ICT for Communities), I get a lot of requests to review papers for all kind of venues. After having spent days and nights in agony reviewing papers that I couldn’t resonate with, I learnt to be more selective and actually decline to do reviews.

But the last period was particularly busy from this point of view. I accumulated 13 reviews (for CHASE, ICWSM and ECSCW)  to do over a 3 weeks period. Which, on top of all my other commitments, is a lot. Especially because I also attended a 4-days very intense project  meeting in Sheffield during this period – it was the kickoff of the meSch project.

I went to sleep finishing a paper review and I got up early in the morning starting another one. It is interesting and challenging, but also exhausting. And I’m here writing this blog post because I reached a block – I have to finish the last reviews by tomorrow, and then go back to working on my own submissions,  due  one in two days and one in seven days.

Among my favourite blogs talking about academic life, I count FemaleScienceProfessor. She has an excellent older post on doing manuscript reviews that goes into more detail on the whys and the hows here.




March 13 2013 | blogging and Research | No Comments »