By Leela Barham, Independent Health Economist and Policy Expert, UK
I’m a non-traditional researcher; by that I mean I don’t work in a university, or even as a researcher for a private sector organisation. Instead, I’m a researcher for hire and I bring a unique perspective to peer review.
Being a researcher for hire means working for many and varied clients. Working in the health and pharmaceutical sector, for example, translates to patient groups, the National Health Service, the pharmaceutical industry, and almost everyone else, too.
What unites all clients is how they respond to potential opportunities or threats. A concrete example is Ovarian Cancer Action, a charity dedicated to beating the UK’s most deadly gynaecological disease. It wanted to take an informed view on the economic implications of BRCA1/2 testing, which directly affects the health and wellbeing of the patients that they work so hard to support and to represent. The first step? Looking at the available evidence.
Being a researcher for hire means that almost every day is spent reading articles from journals and a host of other sources available in today’s fast-paced and digitized world. That also means, time permitting, contributing to the evidence base too. Pursuing academic publication is a way to share the insights generated from research that might otherwise be limited to the few people involved in commissioning and reading the resulting research.
A natural extension of this work is peer review: it’s a great way to engage and keep up-to-date with research and emerging evidence.
It’s unclear just how many non-traditional researchers like me are out there. With the rise of the ‘gig’ economy and freelancing there must surely be many non-traditional researchers in the 21st century. Chances are, they’re contributing to peer review, too, and therefore bringing a great deal to the peer review process.
Just as for traditional researchers, peer review is a valuable contribution: it shows you’re an expert in the eyes of others, not just your own! And, whilst the background of all researchers will differ, non-traditional researchers may have a greater depth of experience with other sectors. That might be more time spent in the private sector or third sector, for example. Our experiences shape our perspectives and that spills over into our views on research subject to peer review.
In it’s own way, the benefits we bring are an extension of the benefits multi-disciplinary approaches bring to research: different eyes see different things. That might shine a light on an overlooked benefit of the research, or spot a new avenue to pursue in future research.
Non-traditional researchers are often acutely aware of the trade-offs between ‘gold’ standard research methods and the ‘good enough’ research that is done when time and, for many many organisations, money is limited. We do research that will, inevitably, differ from the research that can be done in academia. Our feedback will be grounded in reality and most often be very practical.
Non-traditional researchers can also bring a sense check to the readability and the accessibility of the way that research is written up, especially those working on their own. These researchers are often their own editor and the critical eye gained from this is beneficial in getting the key points of their research across. That is becoming even more important in today’s publish or perish culture.
So the next time you’re looking for peer reviewers, think about whether there’s a non-traditional researcher to put forward. You’ll find them just as you do with traditional researchers: at conferences, publishing in the literature, increasingly on social media, and, of course, on Publons. You never know what their unique perspective may bring.
And if you’re a non-traditional researcher wanting to get more involved in peer review, don’t be shy at registering with Publons, enrolling in their peer review Academy to master the skills involved, or emailing editors directly. You can even add your peer review contributions to your CV, your website and your social media profiles.
It's important you don’t hide your peer review light under a bushel. After all, if you’re making your way as a researcher for hire then you need to network and peer review is just another avenue to pursue. It’s key to your development as a researcher and good for the wider evidence community.
Photo credit: abductit