Early career researchers (ECRs)—PhD students, post-docs as well as recently-appointed principal investigators—constitute a large fraction of the scientific community, however they are often excluded from direct interaction with the publishing process, particularly with regards to reviewing the work of others. Frequently, there is no formal training available on how to become a fair and constructive peer reviewer. The PRE-review Open Reviewers pilot programme aimed to address this gap by providing formal training material to ECR mentees and journal editor mentors who then engaged in reviewing preprints in pairs. But usually, if they are lucky, ECRs can learn on the job by performing a review under the supervision of more experienced colleagues.
Even in that case, often the ECR will not be given credit for the work performed as a reviewer. To address this issue, in 2020, the Nature Reviews journals initiated a programme to encourage reviewers to enroll and mentor an ECR from their group through the peer review of an article, while providing at the same time a framework to formally recognise the work of the mentee. However, for the most part, the situation is frustrating for the ECRs, who feel left out of the publishing system. This cohort of investigators will lead the future of research but currently the peer review process is not benefiting from their diverse contributions as much as it could to shape advances within their fields.
In an effort to make peer review more inclusive for those investigators, in 2020 we piloted a support programme for ECRs in collaboration with Sense about Science, a UK-based charity that “champions the public interest in sound science and ensures evidence is recognised in public life and policy making”. The programme started with two webinars; the first one delved into the need for peer review, including its importance for research reporting and scientific progress, while the second discussed the specifics of editorial processes and gave practical guidance on how to be a fair reviewer and provide constructive suggestions aimed at improving the technical soundness and rigour of the conclusions presented.
The small-scale pilot has been useful to test the logistics of the programme, and this year we want to offer support to as many ECRs as we can, focusing in particular on those who otherwise have more limited access to journals and editors—for example, if their institute is not located where in-person conferences usually take place.
Having built relationships with this cohort of new reviewers, we look forward to meeting and engaging with many more future and diverse research leaders this year. We are starting enrollment now and the programme will start in June.
Apply by the 25th June to secure a place in the 2021 cohort