I'm currently a senior undergraduate student that has a couple publications where I've been 3rd author on conference papers. I've been conducting research in the field for around 3 years.

I got a call for reviewers from a conference that I've submitted and been accepted to before. I am unsure on whether or not I should answer the call as I don't know how much experience I should have before I can review papers.

I know it would be good experience for me to get and something I am looking forward to doing in the future. However, I don't want to take this on without knowing what is expected of me.

Some questions:

  1. How do journals verify your expertise for review?
  2. Can I work with someone else to conduct the review (advisor)?
  3. Are reviewers usually faculty?
    1. Should I tell the conference leaders that I am an undergraduate and ask if I can still review papers?

Thanks and let me know if you need any extra info!

  • 3
    If it came from a conference you already presented I would suggest speaking about it with your advisor. My first assumption when reading the title was that you are talking about the "spam mails" everyone with a university mail address gets. I would definitely ignore the latter.
    – asquared
    Jan 19, 2018 at 12:44

3 Answers 3


My default advice in your situation is no, don't offer to review.

Aside from your technical expertise, an important qualification for a reviewer is that they have worked in their subfield for long enough to have a broad view of existing work and the state of the art. When reviewing a paper, you want to be able to think about how it fits in with what's already been done, and how important an advance it represents. You'd want to be aware of important related work, and looking up the paper's references is not enough, because the authors themselves may not know about all the important related work.

In general, I wouldn't expect that an undergraduate would have that level of experience, and thus they wouldn't be qualified as a reviewer.

If you really feel like you do have that level of experience, then I would suggest that you next talk with your advisor and/or your coauthors, and ask for their honest opinion. A more common way to get started would be to ask if you can help with reviews that have been assigned to them. (They may need to ask the editor's permission for this.) That way, you get to see what's involved, but the final responsibility for the review would stay with your advisor.

As to your specific questions:

  1. Editors evaluate reviewers mainly by looking at their previous publications, and deciding whether they demonstrate sufficient technical knowledge and experience in the field. However, there's also an "honor system" component: when a reviewer is invited, they're implicitly expected to honestly evaluate whether they have the qualifications to review the paper properly, and decline the invitation if they don't.

  2. When a reviewer is sent a paper, they are expected to keep it confidential and not share it with anyone. (Some people feel that there is implicit permission to share it with the reviewer's graduate students, if the reviewer feels they are trustworthy, but that would not apply to you.) So if you are a reviewer, you should not work with anyone else, unless you ask the editor for permission to work with that specific person, and the editor agrees.

  3. Yes, in most academic fields, the majority of reviewers are faculty. Postdocs are usually also considered qualified, and in some cases graduate students might be. In some fields you might also get a significant number of researchers from outside academia, but they would typically have a similar educational and publication record as faculty.

  4. Yes, I think that if you do decide to review, you ought to disclose to the editors that you are an undergraduate. I think it's important information that the editor needs to know in order to evaluate your qualifications, especially since they probably don't get very many such offers from undergrads and wouldn't by default think of that possibility.


Normally a PhD (in my experience) will conduct their first peer-reviews with their supervisor or another academic. An undergraduate may (rarely) have the technical expertise, but reviewing is also a skill (that doesn't take long to pick up, but requires a bit of guidance). Poor reviews can waste time of committee members or, worse, harm scientific and academic output, and even harm your own reputation. On the other hand, if you contact a member of staff that would be an opportunity to learn how to do it properly and maintain or even advance your reputation at a very early stage in your career.


When you submit a paper to a conference, you normally get signed up to also review other papers. When you are first author, you are normally obliged to do so, irrespective of your 'level'. Always best to clarify with the conference. At the PhD level, it is done, at the undergrad level, not so sure.

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