Monday, September 12, 2016

Professional service

An underappreciated part of a scientific career is "professional service" - reviewing papers and grant proposals, filling roles in professional societies, organizing workshops/conferences/summer schools - basically carrying your fair share of the load, so that the whole scientific enterprise actually functions.  Some people take on service roles primarily because they want to learn better how the system works; others do so out of altruism, realizing that it's only fair, for example, to perform reviews of papers and grants at roughly the rate you submit them; still others take on responsibility because they either think they know best how to run/fix things, or because they don't like the alternatives.   Often it's a combination of all of these.

More and more journals proliferate; numbers of grant applications climb even as (in the US anyway) support remains flat or declining; and conference attendance continues to grow (the APS March Meeting is now twice as large as in my last year of grad school).  This means that professional demands are on the rise.  At the same time, it is difficult to track and quantify (except by self-reporting) these activities, and reward structures give only indirect incentive (e.g., reviewing grants gives you a sense of what makes a better proposal) to good citizenship.  So, when you're muttering under your breath about referee number 3 or about how the sessions are organized nonoptimally at your favorite conference (as we all do from time to time), remember that at least the people in question are trying to contribute, rather than sitting on the sidelines.


Pizza Perusing Physicist said...

I personally like this proposed solution, what do you think?

Anonymous said...

I like the solution in that Slate article - now it generally goes the other way. If you publish in a journal you have not published in before, then you can count on being asked to review a paper from that journal in the next month or two.

Note that I do not at all recognize anything she describes with respect to her experience with peer review.
I think that suggests that in condensed matter physics we are somewhat more civil than in her particular field.

Douglas Natelson said...

Anon, I've heard the claim that CMP is the most pugnacious subdiscipline in physics because we have the most divisional associate editors at Phys Rev Lett. (to settle angry disputes and author appeals). :-) I do like the solution of the Slate article, and like you, I think our world is very different than the humanities and social sciences. There is zero chance these days that editors would let you sit with a pending review for months - thanks to computer tracking, they can automatically start prodding referees with increasing levels of urgency and frequency.

Anonymous said...

DN, Social sciences and humanities is very different to sciences. Metrics do not play a decisive role as they play in sciences. I do not know if I am totally right, but I have heard from many social scientists, reading the full paper i.e qualitative assessment of publications is practiced for all aspects right from selection to promotion.

Anonymous said...

Doug, agreed (I'm Anon 12:00).
I do think PR could improve by first asking whether someone wants to review like ACS does, and when the answer is yes, to set a firm timetable for that.
I feel that PR lets things slide too much.
But other than that, I agree with your remarks.

Dmytro Solonenko said...

Altruism has a short lifetime (especially for ESRs). If only reviewing was payable.. What are the objections?

Anonymous said...

Could that change the game in the future..... refereeing/commenting via the community.... ?