Early career research path: Walking in the jungle without a compass

I recently discovered that mapping a career path as a researcher is like walking through the jungle.

Some forests have beautiful roads adorned with scenic views, and even have a convenience store. But others, well, they are jungles – no roads just a plain old fashioned jungle.

A few weeks before my wedding, my brother and I walked through such a jungle. This is what happened.

My brother and I visited my aunt at her village. I was a teaching assistant and adjunct faculty at a college in Bulawayo, so I had to go back the following day. Unfortunately, my brother and I slept late and we missed the bus. And that meant we had to walk for about 30 miles to the nearest growth point.

At first, we followed the winding gravel road hoping to find a car heading to Karoi. We walked for more than ten miles and there was nothing. Exhausted, we decided to abandon the fancy road for the jungle. After all, we knew the direction we were had to take to reach the nearest growth point.

After walking for more than four hours, I was hungry and tired. Luckily, there were lots of mazhanje (brown berries) that season. So, after walking for an hour or so, we would eat mazhanje. But the problem with mazhanje is they make you thirsty.

Fortunately, we found a grocery store and asked for water. The shop attendant refused. The borehole was far and she couldn’t sacrifice her water for us. I understood. What else could I do.

We walked for another mile and found a homestead where folks were there. It was the farming season, most people had gone to their fields. My brother asked for water and they gladly gave us. But they forgot to clean the cup or cover the water container. There were floating dead cockroaches inside the cup. I drank the water.

As I look at my career prospects today, that tragic trip with my brother comes into my mind. Unfortunately, on this trip I have a wife and two kids who never never volunteered for a crazy trip.

Sometimes, I am filled with envy as I watch my peers getting better opportunities. Their graduate supervisor helped them find a postdoc or faculty position, appointed them an associate editor or board member at a high impact factor journal, and even recognized their effort in most of the research groups publications through co-authorship. They are walking through the jungle on a paved road lined up with convenient stores.

My case is different. I have to create my own opportunities. This is why I have sent probably 2,000 job application letters. This is why I wrote book chapters thinking that they were considered for tenure. I have even written book reviews. I am just trying to dig up a road through a dense forest.

Once or twice a week, I commit myself to writing a peer review report. I’m really serious about peer review. Because I heard when you’re a good peer review, the editors might consider you for associate editor or editorial board membership appointments. I don’t know but I will keep on trying everything and see what works.

I have met people who are worse than the shop attendant in this jungle. On numerous occasions, I rewrote manuscripts for peers. They would go on to submit the manuscripts, and they got published. But my name would not be on the authors list, or even the acknowledgement – an unwitting ghost author. It’s a jungle out there.

I have realized that no one is going to come to me and tell me what I should do if I want a career in academia. I know there are numerous books and blogs about securing tenure after PhD. But none of them are for an African researcher working in a foreign land. It’s a jungle out there.

Image by Kiwihug

Good Research Ethics Will Make You A Better Scientist

Besides a handful online classes, I have never taken a formal class in research ethics. And I think that’s a serious bummer. I believe graduate schools should offer formal classes in research ethics, especially students pursuing a career in natural sciences.

In the past five months, I have been working on a review manuscript that I plan to submit this summer. Review articles are demanding but sometimes the pay-off is high. Especially when your manuscript is reviewing an emerging research area.

But you must be willing to read at least 200 articles, with a red highlight and a thick notebook. Above all, you should brace for abrasive encounters with academic dishonesty. In the past five months, I had my fair share of such encounters.

As a combed through the 274 papers for my review, I came across serious cases of academic dishonesty. It was easy for me to blame the editors and reviewers for not noticing the unethical research practices. After all, scientific journals should be beacons for promoting research ethics.

However, expecting journal editors and reviewers to fork manuscripts with questionable research ethics is farfetched. It’s like expecting palladium catalyst to convert water into bronze. It ain’t gonna happen.

I believe the best place to teach research ethics is in undergrad. And in this article, I want to show you why research ethics is important and identify some common, yet less talked about, practices that are unethical.

What is research ethics and why is it important?

I learned the importance of research ethics when I was an analytical chemist intern at a national laboratory. The lab was mandated by the state to test and approve agrochemicals used in the country. One day, my boss came to our lab fuming. There was a problem with one of the agrochemicals we had approved – it was out of spec and was destroying crops.

A witch hunt immediately began. As an ISO17025 certified lab, our paper trail was exceptional. In less than two hours, we had found the culprit. A chromatogram showed the concentration of the target compound was higher than recommended. But the analyst wrote on the approval certificate that it was within range.

That small act of dishonesty resulted in a national crisis as many tobacco seedlings were destroyed. Unethical practices in science research may cause unexpected catastrophe. The lady who fudged the results of the pesticides did so out of pressure from the bosses. But most of the time people doctor results so that their results can fit a cute theory.

I learned my first lesson on research ethics from my mother. Our family was on the bottom of the societal rank. She was a widow and we were very poor. So, we sold fruits and vegetables to supplement her monthly meagre pension.

My mother used to send me to the farmer’s market to research on the current practices of fruits and vegetables. The prices rarely changed, so sometimes I would not go to the market and tell her the previous week’s prices. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it didn’t. And the result was, mom would go to the farmer’s market with money that wasn’t enough.

So, what is research ethics? Research ethics is the appropriate application of moral principles in planning, conducting and reporting research. Above all, research ethics define scientifically acceptable norms. Hence, research ethics can be learned from your parents, friends, spiritual leader or professor.

5 common practices in science research that are unethical

As I wrote my review manuscript, I came across 4 practices that looked like prototypes of poor research ethics. The 5th practice I heard about in lobbies at national conferences – it’s the most disgusting.

1. Paraphrasing same paper, publish in different journal

A group of researchers published the same data set twice in different journals. But they were slick. This how they did it; they changed the title of their paper. And then added two new target compounds to their initial 15+.

2. Pick a sub-sample of study, make it an independent paper

Another research team played around with sampling period. They carried out a ten-year survey and published in 2015. Then using a different first author, they published another paper for a 5-year survey in a different journal. And guess what? The 5-year survey was a sub-sample of the first 10-year survey. Slick.

3. Outlier, out of paper

Sometimes researchers use statistics to justify their questionable research ethics practices. You probably have encountered several papers that state they removed certain treatments because they would skew the results. Isn’t that supposed to read: we removed results of treatment A because it didn’t fit well with our hypothesis?

4. Poor research design, poor research ethics

I once heard a talk from a researcher who set out to investigate the degradation of 10 organic pollutants in sediments but discussed on 6. When quizzed about this, she said, “I did my sampling on day 1, 3, 7, 14, 21, 42 and 63. Those four compounds disappeared in the sediment after day 3.” Instead of redesigning her experiment she redesigned her results.

5. The unethical rings of research publishing

You probably heard of citation rings – a group of research cite each other to increase their citation index. But there’s a more pervasive ring; review ring. This is the most dangerous form of academic dishonesty. A group of researchers forms an extensive ring that review each other’s manuscripts and grants.

However, considering ethics in science research are built on individual values and experiences, these researchers might not have been aware of what they did. It is the responsibility of academic institutions to instill good research ethics.

What are other unethical practices you have encountered in your research?

5 Things I Learned After Publishing In A Predatory Journal

Like thousands of young African researchers, I am a victim of a predatory journal. I published my first research paper in a predatory journal. I was young, I was ignorant and I was looking for validation. And a predatory journal took advantage of all of this.

Predatory journals are con artists. They pry on your ignorance and take advantage of your pride. But what is a predatory journal? A predatory journal is a journal that charge researchers submission fees but offers little or no peer review or editorial support. Hence, the primary goal of a predatory journal is profit rather than advancement of sound scholarship.

How I published in a predatory journal and why I regret it

I threw my pearls in a pigsty when I published in a predatory journal.

In undergrad, I studied the occurrence of acrylamide in traditional foods consumed in Zimbabwe. Since I didn’t have the right equipment, I collected my samples and sent them to Sweden for analysis. The study confirmed traditional foods had acrylamide, a cancer-causing chemical although at a lower concentration than French fries or cookies.

1. People publish in predatory journals out of ignorance

I decided to publish my study on acrylamide in food. But I didn’t know anything about publishing manuscripts. Researchers at my university in Zimbabwe often published at Academic Journals. So, I sent my manuscript to African Journal of Food Science, which is published by Academic Journals.

2. Predatory journals only want your money

A week after submission, I received an email saying my paper had been submitted. I had to pay about $350 for my paper to be published. One of my co-authors paid, “Edmond, I have published many articles but I have never paid for publication. Be careful.” I didn’t listen, I only wanted to list a publication on my resume.

3. Predatory journals lack a robust peer review system

After reading Beall’s List of Predatory Journals, I realized the African Journal of Food Science was a predatory journal. They had a shady peer review system and only cared about their profits. I think my research was good. But with a good peer review system, my paper could have been better. Editorial support could have removed the grammatical and spelling mistakes I made.

4. Predatory journals can ruin your career

Publishing in a predatory journal put a stain on my resume. I think when recruiters see that I published in a predatory journal they assume I’m a shady scientist. As a result, I often think of removing the paper on my CV when I submit job applications.

5. Predatory journals survive from the greed and pride of researchers

A recent study found in the past decade the South African government lost between $7 million and $23 million subsidizing articles published in predatory journals. Out of greed and probably ignorance, most researchers resorted to paying $350 to predatory journals. After all, the South African government would give them $7,700 in return. Researchers at my school knew Academic Journals was a predatory publisher but they wanted the pride that comes with listing a dozen papers on your CV.


Three years after publishing in a predatory journal, I published my first article in a reputable journal. I dreaded the peer review but it made my manuscript better.

To date, I have published several papers in peer-reviewed journals such as Journal of Chromatography AEnvironmental Pollution and Water Research. I even teach a graduate course on scientific writing here in China.

My email is flooded daily with emails from predatory journals. They want to me to submit a manuscript or become an editor. I mark all the emails as spam. And continue with my work, reviewing manuscripts or editing my own manuscripts.

Image by Eric MacDonell from Unsplash

Why early career researchers should care about teaching

Teaching is the art of enabling learning. For that reason, knowledge of the subject matter is not an adequate impetus to learning. A good teacher understands knowing how people learn is critical in facilitating learning. Sadly, many universities across the world are staffed by subject experts who have no formal training in higher education.

After completing my PhD studies in the US, I returned home and took a position as a lecturer. I enjoyed teaching but there was one problem; I had no idea how students learn. Of course, like most instructors in higher education, I knew how I learned. And I assumed that’s how everyone else learned.

No one taught me how to prepare course materials that addressed the learning objectives. But I had to. No one showed me how to draft a course schedule that guarantees students would master the subject content. But I had to. Importantly, no one showed me how to create a lesson plan, deliver a lecture or assess the students’ performance. But I had to.

Each day, as I stood in front of my zealous students, I became more aware of my inadequacy. My students deserved better. Although I had an impressive resume, a Fulbright Fellow, numerous awards, and a couple of papers in reputable journals, I had zero qualifications in education. How would I enable learning if I didn’t know how people learned?

I had to learn how people learn.

1. Enroll for a postgraduate certificate in higher education

After teaching in Zimbabwe for one academic year, I decided to take a postdoc position. It has been a year now since I started my postdoc. In January, I enrolled for a postgraduate certificate in higher education at Falmouth University. I realized that if I want to return to the classroom, I had to be better equipped.

2. Take online classes on teaching

They’re numerous MOOCs offering courses on teaching for free. During the Christmas holidays, I enrolled for a class on inclusive learning offered by University of Southampton at FutureLearn. The good news was studying for a certificate was free for learners in developing nations.

3. Take advantage of the free faculty prep courses on your campus

When I was doing my PhD at the University of California Riverside, I failed to enroll for the certificate in university teaching. I regret it because I ended up getting a postdoc at university that didn’t offer the certificate. Some universities offer it, and it’s probably wise enrolling in the course.

4. Reflect on your teaching practice

One of the best ways to learn how people learn is by stopping and reflecting on your practice. I learned this during in my PGCHE class. In the past week, I went back to an online discussion and peer review assignment I gave my students when I was still a lecturer. Reading the comments, I learned a lot about student engagement. I never realized I was sitting on a gold mine all along.

There’s much to learn, and even more when it comes to learn about learning. As an early career researcher, you probably need to learn about learning if you want to be an academic. I know the jobs in academia are scarce, but it never hurts to learn. Does it?

Antibiotic resistance: this is what happens when you use antibiotics

Can you believe there was a time when tuberculosis was the number one killer disease in the world?

At only 43, Louis Braille, the French educator who invented the Braille system for the visually impaired, died of TB. And so did my favorite novelists Jane Austen and Emily Brönte, at only 42 and 30, respectively. If you are into music, you probably know Xian Xinghai, Carl Maria von Weber or Giovanni Battista Draghi. None of them reached 40.

Things changed with the discovery of antibiotics. No one freaks out when they get an infection. You can go to a local clinic and get an antibiotic. Antibiotics are so effective that most people think the doctor is not capable if they don’t prescribe them.

And that’s the problem.

If we’re not careful, by 2050, the world will return to that era where people died from simple wounds. Two weeks ago, my young brother complained about his ear. He visited a local clinic and was prescribed penicillin. A week later, nothing changed, except it was now more painful. He returned to the clinic and was given amoxicillin as a replacement antibiotic. Nothing changed.

I urged him to return to the clinic and he was finally referred to an otologist – ear doctor. The otologist asked him to take a different antibiotic, which is rarely prescribed. Today, he’s now a lot better. What happened?

My young brother’s ear was probably infected by a pathogen that was resistant to penicillin and amoxicillin. In 2015, antibiotic resistance was responsible for more than 700,000 deaths worldwide. That is almost twice the number of people killed by malaria, 438,000, in the same year. Compare that with a million killed by AIDS in the same year.

But it gets worse. It is possible that most of the people killed by malaria and AIDS it’s because of antibiotic resistance. It is not surprising then that if we don’t act now, antibiotic resistance will be responsible for the death of more than 50 million people in 2050.

In this article, I will talk about antibiotic resistance and what we can do about it.

Antibiotics in the environment


Image by Public Health Ontario


What happens when you take antibiotics? Up to 80 % of the antibiotics, you take go straight to the toilet. Your body only uses 20 %. But guess what? These antibiotics we flash in the toilet end up in the environment. Do you know why? Because most of our wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove antibiotics. From there things get bad.

There are some bacteria in the environment and some of them are resistant to the antibiotics. When the antibiotics enter the environment, they kill the bacteria that are not resistant leaving behind the ones that are resistant. The resistant bacteria will now have less competition for food and they will multiply. So, when antibiotics enter the environment, they will result in an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

How to reduce antibiotic resistance

So then, what can you do? You remember I said when antibiotics enter the environment, the kill bacteria that are not resistant leaving behind the ones that are resistant. This means we need to reduce the amount of antibiotics that enter the environment. You and I need to reduce the amount of antibiotics we use.

Not every disease requires an antibiotic. When a doctor prescribes you an adequate, you should probably ask if it is possible to use a different medication. There numerous drugs that are an excellent replacement for antibiotics.

Let me repeat – not every disease requires an antibiotic. I know many people think if a doctor doesn’t prescribe them an antibiotic, then she is not a good doctor. Antibiotics are miracle medicine if not overused or misused. Otherwise, we will head back to the era that took away my favorite novelists.

This has nothing to do with antibiotics but I just have to say it – I have read everything, book or collection of letters, written by Jane Austen. I am her African superfan!

Image by Drew Hays

Early career questions: Is writing a book review really worth it?

You probably agree that writing book reviews is a worst of time. Why spend a month critically reading a book, and then another week or two writing a review that will never be cited or counted as a scientific publication? You probably should have written an original research article or finished your experiments. However, book reviews deserve a better PR because they serve as an important resource for a busy faculty and a curious public.

Advising an early career researcher who had just written a book reviewer, Karen Kelsky wrote, “The important thing is that you don’t write any more.” She continued, “The problem with book reviews at your stage is opportunity cost. While you’re writing the review, you’re not writing the peer-reviewed publication that will actually count.”

I agreed with Karen Kelsky’s position. Until a family friend recommended me a book that was a deceptive pseudoscience quagmire. The writer of the book claimed he knew numerous natural treatments for cancer. And the US government did too, but didn’t want to disclose them last the big bucks in big pharma get ruined.

Sadly, my friend thought the claims were true. He wanted the miracle herb. After reading the book, I told him my thoughts – the book was rubbish. And using my little knowledge on cancer development, I pointed out the shortcomings of the book.

I’m sure he was disappointed. After all, who doesn’t want a miracle drug? Despite his disappointment, I’m glad I used my knowledge of the philosophy of science and mechanisms of toxicity to help him. Of course, my informal review of Kevin Trudeau’s Natural Cures will probably never appear on my resume. And I’m sure it will never count on tenure. But that book review, helped a person who was on the verge of being deceived.

Isn’t that the purpose of book reviews; fostering accessibility while promoting scientific integrity?

Writing a book review: My journey

A couple of months ago, I decided to write my first book review on climate change. As an African, climate change is a serious issue because we’re the ones who are going to be the worst affected. I contacted the book review editor at Science if they would consider my book review. They couldn’t because they had scheduled for the whole year. My inquiry on possible submission in 2018 went unanswered.

Since my book review was on climate change, I decided to submit it to Climate Change Journal. The editor told me they ‘consider book reviews by invitation only, and only those contributions which provide insight or stimulate discourse beyond a limited review are successful.’ I thought my review was up to scratch. It wasn’t, the editor rejected it because it was ‘too straight forward.’

I don’t consider the rejection a loss but I lesson. Because the next book review I wrote I made sure it provided insight and stimulated serious discourse. I submitted the review to Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management and it was accepted. There were two other books on climate change I wanted to review separately, but the editor advised me to consider a combined book review where I compare and contrast the two books. I loved it. And it was accepted too.

Working with book review editors helped me to become a better writer. But the best lesson came from the editor who rejected my book – a book review should provide insight and stimulate discussion. Doing that might take a lot of time, but I’m convinced it’s worth it. After all, even professors busy with research need book reviews for their own books and the ones they want to use in their classrooms.

Let me end this by quoting the wise words of Gary Natriello:

Reviewing books is truly a service to the community of scholars. Those who prepare careful reviews should be commended for their efforts. If all of us take the time to review books now and then, the resulting catalog of reviews will offer an efficient entre into our growing literature.

Image by Giammarco Boscaro

Citation Censure: When your peers don’t cite your research

There’s nothing more painful than watching your child getting rejected. A few years ago, I took my son to an on-campus early childhood education center. While I was signing him in, he walked up to a classmate and asked her if he could be her friend, “I’m sorry, Tino. I already have a friend.”

My son is a relentless person, he kept his head up and rushed to the next person. And the person said the same thing, they already had a friend. As my son walked to each person in the room, I watched his countenance changing as a feeling of rejection took over. No one wanted to be his friend.

Sometimes, actually most of the times, a career in academia feels like a day in my son’s life. All the people you walk up to do not have time for little you. As rejection begins to mount, you can’t help it but notice how different you’re from the in-group. It becomes easy to blame your point of difference as the cause of your dilemma – may be it’s because I’m an African.

My postdoc is going to be up in a year and I have started looking for positions in other places. I’m looking specifically for an assistant professor position. I know that sounds crazy considering the dwindling job market, but a man gotta have some faith.

The main reason I am focusing on assistant professorships is that I have a young family. My kids need stability. My wife needs to get her career back on track. My wife sacrificed her career for me: early career researcher confession. She has sacrificed a lot for me. One-year and two-year contract jobs won’t bring stability in my family.

Citation Censure and the crazy demands of academia
A faculty job posting at Jinan University

I recently came across a job posting for an assistant professor. They wanted someone; with at least 2 publications in top tier journals, I had 6; who studied at a university ranked in the top 200 by Times Higher Education, mine was at 198; and at least one year experience teaching undergrad, I have four.

But there was one caveat. They wanted someone with one paper that had at least 50 citations. I have 8 papers with a total of 37 citations on Google Scholar. In grad school, I worked in a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-discipline that had only two labs actively working on it. And I don’t think any of my grad school papers would ever surpass 25 citations in my lifetime. I’m just being realistic.

I’m glad I came across the job posting. Without it, I wouldn’t have noticed how researchers in my sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-discipline of chiral pharmaceuticals in the environment view my work. They don’t think it’s valuable. How else would you explain that after four years of actively publishing in the discipline none of them has ever cited my work?

The only time one of them cited my work was when I reviewed their papers. There was a special issue and they submitted two papers which I reviewed. In both instances, I had to write the editor informing her of the apparent censure. I hate self-promotion but I had to do it because I just had to do it.

But don’t think after this incident things changed. A group published a review on the chiral analysis of pharmaceuticals, my papers were missing out of 120+ references. Another works on the degradation of chiral pharmaceuticals in wastewater, my paper that developed the method they used, and another that pointed out a confounding factor they ignored were missing. The list goes on.

While in grad school, I signed up for daily Google Scholar alerts on my research topic. It helped me a lot to stay abreast with developments in my area. But recently it has been a source of great stress. Instead of reading the content, I check the references. Just to see if any one out there noticed my papers.

“Daddy, no one wants to be my friend,” Tino finally said, tears gushing from his eyes. I looked away because I was about to cry too. Why don’t people want to play with my son? Is it because he’s black. I told my son that he doesn’t have to worry about people who don’t want to play with him. I reminded him of his friend who was in the next class. He could play alone and then play with her during the break time.

I guess it’s time to take my own advice…

Scientific Ostracism: On being black at an academic conference

You probably heard a dozen reasons you should attend an academic conference: practice public speaking, learn the latest practices, trends and challenges, showcase and receive feedback on your work, and network for future collaborations. After attending academic conferences for 10 years, I’m convinced they are overrated. The truth is academic conferences are not meant for everyone.

Maybe I have a buyer’ remorse and I’m disappointed with my poor returns after attending numerous conferences in three continents. This year, I intended to attend another conference in a fourth continent but I decided otherwise. Because it wasn’t worth it. I submitted two abstracts, one for a poster and the other for an oral presentation. They were both accepted as posters.

I’m an early career researcher, and I am aware attending international conferences is good for my resume. And at this stage of my career, I need to actively make new connections. I need to know the right people at the right places in the right positions for future research and possibly a future job. But all things considered, expecting that from an academic conference is a pipe dream. It ain’t gonna happen.

Let’s be honest, how many of you would pursue a collaborative relationship with a postdoc from Africa who is currently working in China? Here’s the thing; humans are highly selfish social animals. I am a selfish social animal who only pursue relationships that has obvious benefits to me. That’s human nature. Unless you are into anthropology, there’s nothing you could benefit scientifically from an African who lives in China. Period.

I agree with Rebecca Bodenheimer when she wrote at Inside Higher Ed:

When you meet someone at a conference, invariably the first thing that person does is look at your name badge to assess the institution with which you are affiliated. For many academics, that tells them how much time they should spend on learning about you… But if you’re at a no-name or regional institution or, even worse, an independent scholar, you can’t do anything for them, so you’re disposable. And often they’ll jump at the first chance to start talking to someone else.

You can replace independent scholar with African and a no-name or regional institution with Chinese university. And you get a guy like me.

You see I have two things working against me before I take a flight or book a hotel for a conference. One. Researchers are always skeptical of studies from China. I have reviewed for at least 20 journals, and I have noticed Chinese scholars are often maligned and overly scrutinized. Two. I’m an African. Should I say more about the perceptions the scientific body has on African researchers? You can check what other people are saying at NPR.

I used to think I’m poor at networking during conferences because I’m not a social person. My academic advisors in the US, Zimbabwe and China often adviced me to be more sociable. I tried. At an ACS annual meeting in Boston, I gave people my business cards, visited at least 200 posters, asked questions, and even emailed at least two dozen people after the conference. No one responded.

The thing is all those wonderful benefits of attending a conference are not for people like me. The problem isn’t I’m not a social person. It probably has to do with my dark skin and thick accent, which quickly informs my suitors that I’m of no advantage to them. Maybe I’m wrong. But unless I get full-ride travel grant, I will pass from attending conferences. It’s not worth it.

5 Reasons you should probably just say no to a peer review request

You probably agree that the peer review system is broken. Several ideas have been proposed to fix the system. Some journals tried double blind peer reviewing and others experimented with open peer review.

However, I think these proposals are like putting a Bandaid over a cancerous wound because they don’t really address the root cause of the problem.

Scientists often pride themselves as a highly objective contingent. Yet, research on single blind peer reviews show women and researchers from low and middle income countries are often viewed unfavorably. Thus, double blind reviews might help, a little.

But double blind peer review has its problems. Sometimes, a reviewer needs to look at the previous work by an author, especially when understanding the context of the research is important. Open peer review might help by taking transparency to the limit.

But there’s a problem with open peer review. If scientists can succumb to bias, nothing can stop them from falling into revenge and vindictiveness. The science world is very small; I’m a postdoc, giving a negative review to a senior researcher has dire consequences to my career.

The answer to peer review challenges is probably going back to basics. And different polls agree – to fix peer review, peer reviewers need formal training. It is often assumed graduate advisors teach their students how how to conduct peer review – most don’t. Hence, publishers have developed formal programs to teach peer review.

I think formal training is good and should be encouraged. Training is like removing the cancerous cells. It addresses the heart of the problem. And I recommend anyone who cares about science to take an online class on peer review. You will thank me letter.

I came across a paper in Environmental Research that had wrong chemical structure of compound, poor experimental design, and numerous logical errors. Reading the paper, it was obvious the original manuscript lacked a solid peer review.

In a more serious case, a prominent researcher submitted a manuscript in his son’s name. I noticed this because, he cited himself about 15 times out of 40. Importantly, the son had zero research experience in the subject area but the father did. Anyone who actively researched on the topic of the paper should have noticed the red flags.

I’m certain that if some of the reviewers who reviewed these two manuscripts had rejected the request and let competent researchers do the job, these manuscripts would have been rejected.

Reviewers should learn to say, NO. Period. I think this should be the easiest decision considering that as a reviewer you probably spend 5 unpaid hours preparing a review for a journal that will probably charge you $50 to read that same article.

But if you need additional reasons to text the next request to review, I have five for you. Say no:

  1. When you’re busy and are certain you won’t be able to read the manuscript at least twice.
  2. When you think the paper is boring after reading only the abstract.
  3. When you have doubtful knowledge on the subject matter.
  4. When you are friends or mortal enemies with one of the authors.
  5. When the results of the study affect your financial interests in any way.