I'm a PhD student in CS and have been receiving quite a few sub-reviewing requests recently.

Each review takes me more than a day (and often, 2-3 days), and I have reviewed 11 papers on the last year alone.

I never declined a review request, but this seems to take far more time than the reviewing load of the other students in my department.

How much time should I be spending on reviews (e.g., 5% of the time?), and how inappropriate is it to declined such a request if the load exceeds the bandwidth that I should allocate for reviewing?

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    What do you mean by "sub-reviewing"? Is this reviewing work that you are being passed on by your PhD supervisor? If so, are you receiving proper credit for this work with the journals, that you can put on your CV? Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 12:21
  • Reviewing a single article a month seems reasonable to me. You don't have to spend all 2-3 days at one go; give it gaps.
    – Coder
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 12:29
  • @BenedictEastaugh, I receive requests not just from my supervisor or others in my department. I don't receive any credit for the work. I just get to have my name on the conference's sub-reviewers list on the proceedings.
    – user88446
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 12:32
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    @BenedictEastaugh It's a bizarre term used by computer science conferences, where submissions are peer-reviewed. Members of the programme committee are assigned some fraction of the submitted papers. They ask other people to review them, just like journal editors do, but, for some reason, those people are called "sub-reviewers", even though there are no "reviewers". (PC members also review papers but they already have a job title.) Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 13:16

2 Answers 2


Ask your advisor – it's literally their job to give you advice! In particular, they know your situation much better than we do, so they can give much better advice about how much time you should be spending on reviews.

A general rule of thumb is that you should review at least as many papers as you submit.* You're doing plenty more than that, I assume, so it's absolutely reasonable to decline review requests if they're taking up too much of your time: for example if they're taking up too much of your research time or leaving you with too little free time to relax. And, of course, this will vary through time. You might decline a review request that comes in when you're really busy with your own research (maybe a deadline's coming up or you're visiting some other researcher) even though you'd have accepted it if it came a few weeks earlier or later.

Remember, though, that reviewing papers has benefits to you. It keeps you in tune with developments in your field and exposes you to new ideas. Writing good reviews also makes more senior people in your field (the people you write reviews for) more aware of your talents.

* This will vary from field to field and depend on how many authors and how many reviewers a paper typically has. In my area of computer science, 2–4 authors and 2–4 reviews is about normal, so a one-to-one ratio is reasonable.

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    I always thought the ruled of thumb is to review 3 times more than you submit (since there are ~3 reviewers for each manuscript).
    – Bitwise
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 14:40
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    @Bitwise - I'm not sure that this rule makes sense. You'd also (usually) have more than one author on a paper.
    – user88446
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 15:03
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    @Bitwise Good point. As user8846 says, it depends on the ratio of co-authors to reviewers. The asker is in roughly the same field as me, so my claim is probably about right for them, but I've added a footnote to clarify for other fields. Thanks! Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 15:35
  • @user88446 I agree, but also not all authors may be senior enough to review manuscripts... of course this is field dependent as mentioned.
    – Bitwise
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 20:17
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    @DavidRicherby E.g. in my field PhD students usually don't get manuscripts to review, which are usually sent to much more senior people. Commented Mar 5, 2018 at 5:33

As a graduate student, you should not be expected to review so many papers, particularly because the benefit that will accrue from doing reviews is not large enough to compensate for the amount of time spent doing so.

There is also a significant secondary issue at work here—many faculty members take credit for participating as members of a technical or programming committee in their evaluations. If they're farming out a large percentage of their reviews to sub-reviewers, then they're potentially benefitting off of your work more than they should.

As mentioned above, you should set a percentage of your time that you want to spend on all service activities. It's worth noting that most faculty that aren't in administrative positions have service commitments equal to about 10 percent of their time. A grad student should reasonably have less than that.

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