Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reviewing the Job of Reviewing

As I have written before, reviewing is a big part of the academic job.  Reviewing articles submitted to journals, reviewing books and book proposals that publishers need evaluated, reviewing tenure files, reviewing grant applications, and so forth.  I posted recently about folks advising about how to do a good job.

One of the most important strategies for doing good reviewing is to know one's limits.  Jacob Levy had a facebook conversation about when he will say no to a review, and it got me thinking about when I should or do say no.  So, some mild plagiarism from Jacob's rules plus some of my own to build these rules with the default of saying yes to doing an article review unless:
  • I have three journal article reviews sitting on my desk already (the Jacob Levy rule);
  • the topic of the article is outside my expertise (that territory seems to get larger, not smaller);
  • I have an article under review or just accepted from that journal (makes the karma seem just a bit more immediate);
  • But I will say no if the journal is one that I never read or submit to--as I don't know what its standards are.
 But there are different rules for other kinds of reviews:
  • For reviewing a book project for a press: it frankly depends on the money, the timing, and the project.  Reading an entire manuscript is a lot of work, so I definitely do not feel obligated to review books for presses (academic or commercial), but will be more likely to do for presses that have accepted my stuff or where I plan to send my stuff.  Still, my default for books is no, and I have to figure out whether I should say yes---the opposite of what I do for journals.  I still say yes, especially if the money they offer, usually a token amount, is less token.
  • Tenure/promotion files: I will say yes as long as the person's work is in an area that I feel comfortable reviewing and if the timing is not awful.  Saying no to a tenure review can be read in a variety of ways, including "he said no because he would give a poor review" so there is an obligation to take care about saying no.  
  • Grant applications are closer to articles than books--not only are they shorter but the sense of obligation is more.
If I am particularly swamped, such as when I have two or three students finishing their dissertations at the same time as when I am moving, I am more likely to say no.  Otherwise, I would be unfair to whoever is being reviewed by taking too long.

Of course, the truly rational course is to be unreliable so people don't ask you do this stuff that has few direct rewards but costs heaps of time.  The funny thing is that I am usually a skeptic when it comes to collective action, but when it comes to reviews, I do not free ride.

What are your rules?

1 comment:

Beth DeSombre said...

Yes to all tenure/promotion reviews EXCEPT when they are non-confidential. That's a new (and hard and fast) rule, and I write to explain it and (most) of its reasons when I decline.

No to article reviews when they give me less than 4-6 weeks to do it. I know that they give short timelines because people don't live up to their word, but I do, and I'm only going to take it on if I can do it in the time allocated. My time in the next month is always fully committed.