In most universities today, faculty, staff, and graduate students are being asked to do more with less. Many report being stretched too thin and becoming burned out. To cope, we are learning to guard our “free” time jealously, and we are honing the much-needed skill of saying no to more service. The service that we do choose is either unavoidable or personally meaningful to us. This strategy for self-preservation and mental health is important.
One service demand that is on the rise is conducting peer-reviews of manuscripts for journals. According to John Robert Warren (2019), there has been an explosion of publication demands in sociology in the last 30 plus years. In 1986, the Social Sciences Citation Index’s Journal Citation Reports listed 64 journals about sociology, compared to 143 in 2016. This proliferation of journals is related to increased requirements on graduate students and faculty to publish, and it inevitably creates a greater demand for peer-reviewers.
In this context in which so many people feel over-extended and under-appreciated, why take on the purely elective, time-consuming, and largely invisible work of conducting peer reviews?
We believe that there are several key reasons why you should say yes to reviewing, or at least put reviewing manuscripts closer to the top of your elective service list, especially for a journal like Gender & Society.
- Practice feminist mentoring. By reading, constructively critiquing, and responding to authors, you help them develop their writing and analytical skills. If you were fortunate enough to be well-mentored yourself, you can pass on what you were taught, paying it forward, contributing to a vibrant intellectual community of scholars. If you were not as lucky and received less than constructive feedback somewhere along your intellectual journey, peer-reviews give you an opportunity to interrupt and correct assumptions that feedback must be harsh and demeaning in order to be critical.
- Grow your own research and writing skills. By reading and responding to other people’s work, you expand your skillset. You might get excited about a new concept, approach to data collection, or data set. Reviewing helps you stay on top of what’s happening in the field, and what you read might help fertilize your own projects.
- Build the discipline. While this is obvious, it behooves us to point it out because it is so important: Serving as a peer-reviewer shapes the state of knowledge in sociology. As a traditional gate-keeper, you help ensure that published work is of high quality. As a feminist gatekeeper, you can help transform the discipline in key ways. The work of individual peer-reviewers may be invisible, but their collective work builds the discipline.
- Expand your network. Although authors won’t usually know who you are when you review their work, editors and deputy editors will. Your thoughtful and constructive reviews increase your cultural capital within this network, and they will seek you out as experts in the future. While this may mean more service—not the goal—it might also mean new scholarly opportunities. At the very least, you help make a name for yourself in the field of sociology.
- Enhance your cv. Although there may be no fame and glory in “blind” peer-reviews, this work does enhance your cv. You should list the journals where you’ve reviewed articles and save thank you emails and certificates from grateful journal editors. You may be able to include those in tenure and promotion packets and annual merit reviews.
We are writing this blog to gently remind our community of scholars of the importance and the value of peer-reviewing. The work of peer-reviewing is precious, and peer-reviewers who engage in feminist mentoring are essential to the evolution of a vibrant and critical body of work within disciplines. When fewer people accept invitations to review, those few people are not doing more than their fair share and they inadvertently get to have a greater voice in shaping the discipline. A wide range of peer reviewers ensures intellectual diversity and inclusion of multiple perspectives in the field – an exercise that forms the core of feminist knowledge production. We particularly appeal to those advancing in the field to engage in peer review because, as members of the academic community, we regularly call upon our colleagues in the field to review and write for us (sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly). Peer review is one vital way of giving back to the field for all the times someone has contributed to our journeys and helped us move along. We strive to recast reviewing articles as a form of service that is empowering rather than demeaning. Perhaps it can be a way to intellectually recharge in an otherwise draining work world. Let’s hope so. One thing is certain: We need you.
Kristen Myers is Professor and Chair of Sociology at East Carolina University. She has published work on gender in STEM fields, gender in childhood, masculinity and fatherhood, and racetalk. She is a Deputy Editor of Gender & Society.
Pallavi Banerjee is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Calgary, Canada. She has published work on immigrant families, gender, motherhood, tech-work and intersectionality. She is an Editorial Board member for Gender & Society.
Warren, John Robert. 2019. “How Much Do You Have to Publish to Get a Job in a Top Sociology Department? Or to Get Tenure? Trends over a Generation.” Sociological Science 6: 172-196.