A couple of weeks ago, an article of mine was rejected by a journal, and that was pretty depressing. But what was shocking about it was that the rejection only took eight weeks. I have never before had anything at all come back to me, positive or negative, in fewer than six months.
Most of the journals I submit to and review for have web interfaces that manage the submission, review assignment and tracking, communication of decisions, and editing of manuscripts. There’s no lag for postal service, no random piles of papers on desks into which an article might fatally fall. Hell, these tools even create sorted pools of potential reviewers in their databases. My experience might not be the literary norm--I am, I admit, a new media and digital humanities scholar and we always have nicer toys.
However! It does not take six months (or eight, or eighteen) to competently review a paper. It probably takes some time (a week? Two weeks?) for a submissions editor to find and secure an appropriate reviewer or two for a paper. It certainly must take a little bit of time (a week? Two weeks?) for the journal editor or editors to read the reports and settle on a decision. The papers I review take me anywhere from an afternoon to a day to read and report on a submission, and I can fit this into the week or two after it is assigned to me.
By my count, peer review is a process that should take, generously, about eight weeks to do.
I do about five peer reviews a year. Maybe that’s too many. Maybe I get asked more frequently because I’m fast and thorough, and write good reports. Maybe everyone else sits on their reviews for six months because they are prioritizing their own research at the expense of service in ways I should be emulating. Maybe they are cannily doing just enough peer review to get some kind of merit credit for it, and no more (and certainly, no faster.) Maybe I’m falling into gendered Mommy-to-the-profession behaviour by taking my reviewing so seriously and doing it so assiduously.
Nevertheless, peer review has to get done by someone, and so I beg of you, colleagues at large: if you agree to do a peer review, just get it done. Don’t put it off until the end of the month, the end of term, the end of time. Don’t wait until you get an email from the submissions editor telling you it’s already late, and then ask for a six week extension. Your colleagues are counting on your feedback to help them advance in their thinking and in their careers. Because I don’t want to get stuck doing the reviews you flaked out on, and I also don’t want to get stuck in ‘under review’ limbo for a year when my tenure committee is evaluating my research effectiveness.
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I wrote up this post as a draft in August, and I'm just coming back to it now. And do you know what? I've got two late peer reviews on my desk right now. Yeah, karma's a bitch, and now that the shoe of righteousness is on the other foot, I guess I'm the bad academic. My high horse has thrown me into the mud. How did that happen?
Oh man. How do you tackle peer review--the deadlines or the waiting or the procrastinating or the report-writing? And how do you handle both yourself and the review when you find yourself, like me, failing so spectacularly to live up to your own standards?