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I've recently started as a PhD student, but had previous publications in forms of conference papers and various talks, so I consider myself very experienced with my particular field of research. One of my supervisors had once assigned me for a review task for a journal because she did not have time to complete it. This was fine with the editor of the journal, too.

Starting from that date, I began receiving invitations to review manuscripts every few months. Of course, I took that opportunity and completed the reviews – which naturally takes a lot of time.

Now, I cannot really invest the time anymore. I've previously rejected two review invitations with "I do not have the time to complete this review" (or similar), but I keep receiving invitations.

What could I do to politely ask the editor not to consider me for review?

Is there anything I'm about to do that could be considered inappropriate? I understand that reviewing activities are positive contributions to my academic career, but I don't think I can take it now.

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For some more creative ways to decline an invitation, check the comments on this FSP post. My favorite: "Last time I accepted a manuscript to review, the last 2 pages were chewed to oblivion by my toddler before I could read them. As it turns out, her assessment of the quality of the writing was fairly spot on, and she was simply trying to save me much pain. As such I am not reviewing any more manuscripts unless they have survived a battery of test toddlers. Feel free to call me when your journal has implemented this procedure." –  ff524 Apr 29 at 6:34
A single journal asked me to review 7 papers in less than two months. When I politely told them that I cannot sustain such workload for a single journal, their reply was along the line of "please click the 'refuse review invitation' button each time". –  dgraziotin Apr 29 at 9:33
@dgraziotin Sure, you can't review seven papers in two months but, presumably, you declined most of those. Your workload is determined by how many papers you agree to referee, not how many you decline. If you'd only agreed to do one, it seems perfectly plausible that you'd have time to take on a second paper so asking again seems reasonable. –  David Richerby Apr 29 at 11:07
I've been told by several senior people in my field who edit journals that they prefer not to ask graduate students to review, since they should have other priorities. A lot of the answers haven't addressed this aspect of the question. It's not like the questioner is saying she will never review again, just not right now. –  Zach H Apr 29 at 11:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 21 down vote accepted

As far as I know, there is no official please-do-not-bother-me-ever-again button that removes you from the reviewer list in a journal's submission system. That being said, I assume just writing the editor a polite email should do the trick. Other than that, you can always continue to refuse reviewer invitations, and I am pretty sure editors will relatively quickly stop sending you invites (they hate wasting their time, too).

That being said, I would personally urge you to reconsider your stance on this. Reviews are an important community service that are essential to the functioning of science, and one review every few months really is not an over-the-top amount. For instance, I review at the very least one journal submission every month, plus proceedings papers for conferences and workshops where I am in the Technical Program Committee. That you recently started your PhD studies should actually only be more of a motivation to keep reviewing, as this is actually a pretty good way to stay on top of your field.

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This is an excellent point. A rough rule of thumb is a 1:1 ratio between papers published per year and reviews accepted is entirely reasonable. –  aeismail Apr 29 at 7:40
A 1:1 ratio actually seems too low. If every paper needs 2-3 reviewers, and most papers need multiple review rounds, every academic actually needs to review a factor of probably 6 or 7 times as many papers as he publishes just to keep the wheels turning. –  xLeitix Apr 29 at 9:01
(and this is without even going into rejected papers, which is also a very significant factor) –  xLeitix Apr 29 at 9:02
If every paper needs 2-3 reviewers - but many papers also have several authors, so if all authors review it balances out :) –  ff524 Apr 29 at 9:21
@xLeitix: I was thinking more along the lines of what's reasonable for a graduate student. But this applies, as ff524 mentions, to all authors, not just the corresponding author. –  aeismail Apr 29 at 9:23

Your problem is that you get a review request every few months? As in, three or four a year? Seriously, dude, get over it. Writing a polite "Sorry, I'm too busy – why don't you ask Dr X and Prof Y?" a few times a year is hardly a significant drain on your time so just keep doing that.

You say that the issue is that you don't have time to do reviews now (your emphasis). This is a temporary situation so trying to set up a permanent "don't call me" isn't a good solution. It's also not a practical solution. If you're only getting a few requests per year, what's the probability that you'll ever, in your whole life, see two requests from the same journal editor or conference programme committee member. (OK, the events aren't independent but you see my point.)

Also, you should try to do some reviews; as has been pointed out in the other answers, reviewing as many papers as you submit is a reasonable rule of thumb. And if a paper comes along for which you're the "perfect" reviewer (for example, it extends your own work and makes detailed use of your technical material), you ought to at least try to make the time to review that.

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Yeah, it's really just temporary. I generally enjoy doing reviews, and the journal is very relevant to my field of work, but personally it's just too much to handle now. I understand your main point though. –  user13907 Apr 29 at 17:14

The answer already given all have very good points; I will just add my editors perspective. The system of peer review relies on everyone doing a share (I refrain from saying "their share"). People who agree to make reviews are often remembered by editors as "nice" and will receive additional offers. It is difficult to say how many no answers there is to a yes answer in general when it comes to agreeing to review but it sure is not balanced. Therefore, a no is not a great surprise. If the no is accompanied by a nice explanation and suggestions of other potential good reviewers then the no and the request is productive in the view of an editor. Many electronic systems usually have links to agree or decline reviews so it is only a matter of clicking once. With the decline you may receive a request for suggesting additional reviewers but even that can just be ignored.

If you think you are requested too often by a journal for which you do not want to do reviews or as you state, you do not have the time, a short note to the fact to the editor may be sufficient. But, remember that an editor handled quite a few papers and even more review requests so even that request may not be entirely heard. In addition, many automatic systems have data bases over reviewers so that one editor may find your name and use it although another editor was the one asking you earlier on. In ScholarOne Manuscripts, which is used by "my" journal, you as a reviewer can yourself assign periods for which you are unavailable. So depending on your situation, you may be able to at least partially fix the problem yourself.

In the end, declining a review is not a dramatic issue and should not take very long. If you are inclined to continue in academia, you will be asked to review again. How often will usually depend on the usefulness of your reviews so the fact that you are being asked repeatedly probably says your reviews were useful or your expertise is in demand.

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You can suggest names of potential reviewers to the journal editor, if you have not done so. He/she might not know who else are specialists in the area; hence you keep being invited. It also helps to be more precise in specifying the period window you won't be available for reviewing, because the editor does not know if you will be available the next time he/she invites you to do a review.

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