SAGE Advice: Tips From Top Peer Reviewers

SAGE has just announced an extended partnership with Publons, adding a massive 1,000 journals to the network for automated peer review recognition. To help us celebrate, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology Jennifer Villwock, and a handful of other top reviewers for SAGE, shared their background in research and review, and offered some tips for reviewers new to the scene...

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Otolaryngologist Jennifer Villwock and the 'privilege' of peer review

          Dr. Jennifer A. Villwock

        Dr. Jennifer A. Villwock

Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, Jennifer Villwock, is passionate about her research and review - and it shows.

When we asked Jennifer, who works a the University of Kansas School of Medicine in the United States, how she feels about being one of the top reviewers for SAGE's journal Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery on Publons, she reminded us why we're commited to recognizing the work of reviewers. Check out her answers below.


Publons: Can you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and your research?

Jennifer: I am an Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center. I joined the faculty in 2017 after completing a fellowship in Rhinology & Skull Base Surgery. I have multiple areas of passion in terms of research. Despite the seemingly disparate topics, I believe the unifying theme is "How do we make things better...and how can we do that now?" First, I am very interested in olfaction (sense of smell). This has wide ranging impacts from monitoring disease course in sinonasal disorders to potentially diagnosing neurocognitive disorders. Unfortunately, many of the diagnostic tools are either prohibitively expensive or difficult to use. My research aims to change this.

A second area of passion is medical education. More specifically, how do we better equip students to handle the myriad of challenges they will face as they progress through their training and careers. I was lucky enough to receive from pilot grant funding from my institution for my study "A Personality-Based Curriculum - A New Paradigm for Professional Development and Wellness," that investigates the role of personality assessments to provide additional information for mentoring and coaching.

Thirdly, I am also very interested in all the data we (the collective we of medicine) are collecting through the electronic medical record. One of the projects I am most excited about is investigating, through a health informatics and machine learning approach, prescribing patterns and how we can be better medication stewards.

(I could go on and on about my other projects, but will spare you :))

You're one of the top reviewers contributing to SAGE's Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery on Publons - how do you feel about that?

Reviewing is a privilege. It’s something I enjoy because it’s a unique way to keep up to date on cutting edge research in the field, while also critically appraising the writing and findings.

Honestly, I am a bit surprised! Reviewing is a privilege. It's something I enjoy because it's a unique way to keep up to date on cutting edge research in the field, while also critically appraising the writing and findings. At risk of sounding too nerdy, it's also kind of fun to have the ability to ask the authors questions, in the form of requested revisions, about their research and any gaps in your understanding that, I believe, their work should be filling. I also think about reviewing as generating good karma, which is why I almost never say no! Every author and publications desires quick turnaround time. Being an efficient reviewer is the best way most of us have to contribute to the timeliness and, hopefully, fast reviews for my own submissions. It's also a great way for me to refine my own writing skills. As I read my own manuscripts for the last time, I'm always thinking "what would reviewer #2 say?" (WWR2S - I should make some bracelets saying this for my residents! ;))

What do you consider the most important aspect of peer review?

Providing fair, appropriate, and timely critiques. I think it's also important to provide criticism that is constructive and able to actually be addressed by the authors. There is no place for overtly mean feedback.

What was your first peer reviewing experience like?

I sometimes suffer from impostor syndrome, so initially felt unqualified and almost declined my first invitation.

I sometimes suffer from impostor syndrome, so initially felt unqualified and almost declined my first invitation. However, upon finding some tutorials and nice articles on how to provide reviewer feedback, I realized that not only is this something I could do, but that I would probably enjoy doing it! I did anxiously await the email with the decision letter to the authors to see if my comments aligned with the other reviewer, which they did. That also helped boost my confidence to continue as a reviewer.

The theme for PRW18 is "Diversity and Inclusion" in peer review. What does this mean to you?

"Diversity" and "Inclusion" are hot topics in most industries now, and for good reason. Numerous studies have shown that diversity is more important for success, innovation, and growth than many other objective metrics. From my own experience, the phrase "it’s hard to be what you can’t see," resonates with me. Being the "other" can make it hard to feel like you are the right person to be doing associated tasks…whether that’s being a male in a female dominated field, a female in a male dominated field, a person of color, etc, especially if those things are not modeled by someone in your field that you personally relate to. Though an important social dialogue, it is also important in science and peer review. Diversity and complexity of thought can lead to new breakthroughs or paradigm shifts that might otherwise be delayed or never come to fruition. Diverse perspectives also add depth to studies and writing that may lead to overall more engaging and applicable conversations.

Diversity and complexity of thought can lead to new breakthroughs or paradigm shifts that might otherwise be delayed or never come to fruition.

Additionally, with an ever-increasing populace accessing the ever-growing scientific body of knowledge, being able to effectively communicate, incorporate diverse perspectives, and be aware of our own blind spots and biases (from a study design that doesn’t include a diverse population and is, therefore, lacking in external validity to writing in a way that doesn’t acknowledge the social complexities involved in the clinical topic at hand – just making up some examples) is crucial. This is one reason why I love that the clinical research directory of our otolaryngology department – Dr. Kevin Sykes – is a PhD, MPH with a focus on global health. His unique background allows him to often remind us of all the things we didn’t think about or challenge our assumptions.

Main photo courtesy of the University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences (CC BY SA 2.0).