Monday, January 31, 2011

Open or Blind

I can imagine that a lot of reviewers (and I’m guilty of it too) relish a poorly written article only so that they can absolutely crush it. I’ve done enough reviews to know they’re annoying and tedious, yet necessary. However, when the work clearly doesn’t warrant publishing, or the authors have gross lapse in literature review, or it’s just poorly written/described/presented, reviewing for the sake of “helping the community” starts to lose its footing as a reason.

With one-sided blind reviews, the author does not know the reviewers but the reviewers know the authors. Eventually, I think most publishers will switch from this current system to either Open-Open, or Double-Blind. The reasons for a Double-Blind review are fairly strong. Helps remove gender bias, location bias, and research bias. The only major problem with this review system is the reviewer (if they’re any good…) should know who else in the world is working on similar research. Plus, with conferences, references, and a good literature study, the reviewer can easily figure out well established groups. Thus, in the end, I think the Double-Blind review process will in effect always be a quasi- one-sided blind.

An Open-Open review, on the other hand, lays everything out on the table. Authors know exactly who is critiquing them and (hopefully) the reviewers will give strong reviews (either for or against), even when their name is attached to it. The main problem with this type of review system is the softening of the review. Reviewers might be less inclined to reject a paper or even give strong criticism. Also, retaliation for a particular review is a problem.

In most of my reviews (which are typically one-sided blind), I have generally added the statement:
“I believe the review process should be open between reviewers and authors”
Awesome Engineering U
[Note: I know publishing a blog under a pen name is hypocritical while I readily give my name to the authors for which I am reviewing.]

However, I am curious, how do you think an Open-Open review process would affect young faculty members just starting out? Should they keep their principle or use the cover of peer review to their advantage? Is an Open-Open review process even a good idea?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Figures make the world go ‘round

One of the fundamental aspects of academic research is publishing. And it is the author’s responsibility to make things “relatively” easy for the reviewer. Aside from a terribly written paper, there’s nothing worse than referring to a figure/setup/design in the text that’s not there.

For example, I recently reviewed a paper where the authors described the design of a system and adjustments to an overall schematic, yet show no figure. Believe me, it definitely needed a figure. After trolling through two references, I managed to find said schematic but correlating the changes to the original was a pain. How hard would it have been to say “the extra widget here allows for more travel and this do-hickey’s placement was adjusted from a previous design [ref]. The updated schematic can be seen in Figure X”. That makes life a lot simpler for the reader reviewer. (Remember, no one’s going to read it if it doesn’t get past review…)

In this particular case, it was even more frustrating because the author (from their Scopus record) has numerous publications in reputable journals. If this was a graduate student working on their first publication, a reviewer like me might be a little bit more lenient. But from a seasoned author who presumably does reviews of their own, that kind of sloppiness is unacceptable.

I guess the one good thing about performing reviews is you get to vent, that is until things become transparent between authors and reviewers, but I’ll save that for tomorrow.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

T-minus 5 months and counting

Five months doesn’t seem like a long time but it is an eternity when you’re waiting to start a new position. At the same time, five months doesn’t seem long enough to prepare for everything that must be done. So why not blog about it?

The GEARS blog is about life as a PhD student transitioning to a young tenure track faculty member in engineering. Since there is time to spare before the big move, this blog will provide a real-time account of the preparation leading up to the start of the position. Afterwards, it’ll be a place to share insights into engineering academia and the hurdles of trying to get tenure.

If you’re a fellow faculty member reading this and you’re pulling your hair out because I did something stupid, please let me know. Any advice is appreciated. If you’re a grad student or postdoc reading this, hopefully it shed some light on what goes on during the trials of a tenure track position.