Awesome update on our call for URM and women reviewers: After lots of awesome feedback and 63 folks signing up, its clear that trainees and PIs turned out in droves. At the time I wrote this, we were specifically looking for young faculty who we might have gone off my radar (or the radar of other editor types).  I often rack my brain to get gender and racial balance from our pool of well published folks faculty and, as my blog noted, this is no easy feat. 

Even as a graduate student, I was able to draft reviews for my PIs for journals like J Neuroscience and in the past few years, the Journal has acknowledged that PIs allow graduate students and postdoc draft a review under the watchful eyes and guidance of their mentors. We now specifically ask for the names of these trainees when PIs submit reviews. 

Rest assured, we won’t be moving from this model of getting the best reviewers possible. We need the kinds of critical thinking that seasoned investigators offer, so fear not! The sign up list is in no way a tool to have someone learn at the cost of years of hard work from our authors. We’ve also found faculty do need feedback, and our online consultation sessions offer an opportunity to question the relative importance of specific comments and address gaps between reviewers. These advances have been invaluable in helping us drop the number of times we have to pull in the dreaded Reviewer 3 and speed the time from uploading a manuscript to getting feedback.

Since we have this super fantastic list of trainees who want to be more involved, a group of us at J Neuroscience will be rolling out a mentoring program for the where all those awesome grad students and early stage post docs can work with a designated editorial board member on manuscripts authors have previously submitted (with the author’s permission, of course) and challenging our trainees to identify weaknesses and strengths. We’ll help you get feedback on your tone, content and insight (for the importance of tone see today’s twitterstorm on reviewers).

I have no doubt stickers, praise and (maybe??) a cool certificate will be involved. Keep your eyes here and on The Journal of Neuroscience for updates. Twitter feeds for @jneuroscience and @marinap63 are great ways to reach out with suggestions. In the meantime, be sure you sign up on our spreadsheet indicating if you are a faculty and ‘ready to review’ or a trainee and ‘eager to learn’. Because we will be in touch. Thanks to all who helped spread the word and envision a way to make these opportunities a win for J Neuroscience.

Women and URMs, Peer Review Needs You


This week, I tried to make a tiny dent in a publication system that is top heavy with male editors and reviewers with the help of Marina Picciotto, editor extraordinaire of Journal of Neuroscience. After a quick look at some of our numbers, the editorial board realized we were still relying too heavily on male reviewers. Women represent over 40% of the membership of the Society for Neuroscience but females but do far less reviewing for us. The numbers for underrepresented minorities are far bleaker. And by bleaker, I mean, dreadful.

There are a lot of problems with putting numbers on how awful science is with regard to these disparities. For one, I have no idea if someone named Dana is a super awesome woman doing genetic analysis energy and protein homeostasis in Seattle or a man working on consciousness in primate models at UT Austin.

I always try to figure out the solutions that require the absolutely least amount of effort on my part. It’s a trade secret. My first idea was simply to ban people named Dana from science. It seemed brutal, but all alternatives seemed like hard work that might bloom like algae into the most dreaded of academic entities….a committee. Blargh! I then realized Danas weren’t the only problem I had with attempting to impart gender and racial parity. There’s the entire continent of Asia. And that’s a big problem to have. Much to my embarrassment, I can’t tell you if Jin is predominantly male or female surname and I frankly need to figure that out because this part of the world is making major contributions to advancing science. But that’s a problem we’ll leave for future Fighty Squirrel to figure out (advice appreciated!).

Current Fighty Squirrel was brought up in a culture where reviewing papers was not optional.  Reviewing gets you known as a thoughtful scientist and good citizen and those things are invaluable. You needed to have an internal organ protruding in order to turn down a review. And yes, I’m old as (awesome) dust, but even reviewing for low tier journals that you read is important to hone your reviewing skills. I don’t, and won’t, review for journals that I don’t read. Sorry/not sorry. It’s my line in the sand. I’m sure I’m the most junior Reviewing Editor at Journal of Neuroscience but those folks are my tribe. They are smart, empowered and on a mission to do better for science. You need a science tribe so start accepting more reviews, folks. The meet and greets you get to attend with these folks can keep you energized in a job that doesn’t do a lot to cheerlead.

Still struggling with obtaining more gender and racial diversity in my reviewer pool, the second laziest solution I could come up after banning Danas, was to ask Twitter. For what it’s worth, this is usually my go to solution. My twitter feed is a veritable babel of conversations folks normally have in their heads ranging from what I should have lunch (‘tacos’….twitter loves tacos), questions about if a t test can be used for every experiment in my lab (turns out ‘no’) and other pleas for help and clarity.

So here’s the deal. The twits helped me refine an idea to spread the word that if you are an up and coming female or under represented minority in neuroscience, add your name to this list. I will personally enter you in our reviewer database if you aren’t already in there and I’ll reach out to your Reviewing Editor and point them in your direction. If I ask you to review and you, um, suck?, I’m going to get back to you in a consultation session pointing out how to smooth out your review, balance your concerns and scoring and anything else I can do to help you learn to review for us. If you’re awesome, which you will be, I’ll send you an awesome sticker because you deserve it. I won’t always be right. But I’ll talk to you because it’s the right thing to do and we need your voice. We appreciate your voice.

Let’s skip the committee and do this, neuroscientists.  Sign up here and let your friends know.

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