I have been asked by a well-established professor to review a regular paper submitted to IEEE Transactions, however, I am concerned as in the email, he titled me "Dr. Monkia" although I am still being a graduate student. Of course, I am interested in the paper's topic, but I don't consider myself an expert. He asked if I couldn't review, I can ask a qualified colleague to do so, or let him know immediately.

I had been asked many times to review for predatory conferences or journals, of course, I declined. As far as I know, IEEE transactions are reputed, however, this sounds a little bit weird.

The question: as a graduate student should I accept to review or decline in that case (given the fact I know the topic)?

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    I'd reject it just because of my experience with IEEE in the past. But you might be interested in looking at academia.stackexchange.com/q/90986/1622 and academia.stackexchange.com/q/16825/1622
    – Joe
    Dec 22 '18 at 15:58
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    Here's a more sinister view: graduate students tend to be 'easy' reviewers given their inexperienced with the process and area. An editor may intentionally send you the paper so that his/her friend's paper goes through more easily. However, this could backfire because some graduate students think this recognition gives them the power to reject a paper if they find any faults, which could be minor and fixable. Dec 22 '18 at 22:10
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    Full steam ahead! A) It is good for your own research to get exposure to recent somewhat related contributions of others, and reviewing is a good way of doing just that. B) It is a sign that the (associate) editor has noticed your work. Reviewing may become taxing, if that manuscript was written too hastily (or happens to use methods you are unfamiliar with). If it becomes too much of a chore, talk with the editor (or your advisor). The editor will appreciate that you get in touch with them as opposed to letting the manuscript collect dust on your desk. Dec 23 '18 at 8:36
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    @Joe IEEE has hundreds of different journals and conferences. So I don't see how you could have a general experience with "IEEE" - only one particular conference or some such, no?
    – Voo
    Dec 25 '18 at 0:21
  • @Voo : it was their paper submission system. Every way I had to generate a PDF they wouldn't accept (wrong PDF version, claimed I had bookmarks when I didn't, etc), until I ran out of times I was allowed to do it, and I had to use their system. I had used LibreOffice w/ their MS Word template, but somehow it screwed up the font on my tables). But I didn't realize that that wasn't the submission system. So I didn't get it submitted in time. As I had no paper, I tried changing registration from full to one-day ... but they wanted to charge me twice.
    – Joe
    Dec 30 '18 at 23:08

It is probably a good thing to do, just for the experience. It will also get you on the good side of the professor.

However, make sure, in accepting, that the professor and others know that you haven't finished your degree yet. That might cause them to withdraw the invitation, of course, but it should be made clear.

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    Of course, I will let him know, however, I don't know how they selected me in that case, is that randomly?
    – user39171
    Dec 22 '18 at 12:04
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    Reviewers aren't selected at random. It's possible that you were selected based on some paper you've written or presentation that you have given. One common strategy used by many editors is to ask the authors of papers that are cited in the submitted paper to review it. Dec 22 '18 at 16:58
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    It is also possible that your advisor or someone else you know recommended you to referee the paper. This is how I became a referee for most of the journals I have worked for. Dec 25 '18 at 17:45

Chances are the editor noticed you authored a paper on a similar topic and is inviting you based on that.

There's no harm doing this. You might feel you're not qualified, but you're being invited, therefore the editor thinks you're qualified. You shouldn't worry about writing a bad review either - full professors can write crappy reviews also, and if you read the paper in detail chances are you're already going to write a better-than-average review! If you're still concerned, you can always talk to your supervisor.

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    I am highly interested, as this is the first time to receive from IEEE Transaction. Do you think I should inform them that I didn't finish my degree?
    – user39171
    Dec 22 '18 at 12:22
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    You can if you want, but there's no need to.
    – Allure
    Dec 22 '18 at 12:33

The fact that they addressed you as "Dr." doesn't mean anything. In situations like a reviewer invitation, where the editor is sending an email to someone they don't know well, it's common that they will address the email with some generic title like "Dr." or "Professor" even though the title may not actually apply to the recipient. It's just too much trouble for them to look up each person's qualifications and tailor the message accordingly. So I wouldn't consider that by itself to be cause for concern.

The fact that you haven't finished your degree is not a factor, in and of itself, and I don't feel it's necessary to inform the editor of this.

However, like any other reviewer, you need to make an honest judgment as to whether you have the necessary expertise to review the paper. Keep in mind that as a reviewer, the research community is counting on you to decide if this paper belongs in the scientific record in this journal. Some questions to ask:

  • Have you published in this area yourself?

  • Are you familiar with other work in this area, so that you would likely know if there are significant related papers that the authors have not cited?

  • Do you have a good sense of what most researchers in this field know, so that you can judge whether the article contains enough background information (or too much)?

  • Have you read enough papers in this field to have a clear sense of what makes a paper good or bad? What sorts of results does the community find interesting? What are common errors? What level of detail is expected? Which parts of the paper will need the most careful attention, and which are uncontroversial?

  • Have you read enough papers from this particular journal or conference to have a sense of the "quality" that they demand, or that their readers expect? Even if the paper is technically accurate and well-written, would you be able to judge if their results are significant enough to be worthy of publication in this particular journal / conference?

The average grad student is less likely to be able to answer "yes" to these, but you know your own background best. If you are not sure, you may wish to consult with your advisor or some other experienced research mentor.

It's true, as some other answerers mentioned, that the editor evidently thinks that you have the necessary expertise, probably based on your previous publication record or recommendations from other reviewers. But you still have to make the decision yourself, as you know yourself better than anyone else does. I don't mean to reinforce impostor syndrome here, but you can't say "the editor thinks I am qualified, therefore I am." I have certainly received papers to review where I knew I didn't know enough to do a good job, even if the editor thought I did. The editor is relying on you to evaluate your own qualifications, and to decline if you don't feel you can do the job properly.

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    Typically the invitations are automated e-mails. If this is the first time to register for the specific Transactions, then it is quite possible that the AE added the contact details and selected Dr from the drop-down menu when registering the information. There is a very basic box that you can enter new reviewer information (If this was a personalised e-mail, then that is a different story). You can also accept and change your details to Mr. / Mrs if Dr. is not correct.
    – o4tlulz
    Dec 24 '18 at 2:04

If you think you can do a decent job, do it. Even if you aren't a super expert, if you are a careful reader and thinker and willing to exert the effort, you may do a decent review. Sure, there is some possibility you may be too easy or strict (more likely the latter) but even in that case, realize editors get varying quality of reviews all the time.

Bottom line: graduate students are in many instances THE working researchers in science. I wouldn't be intimidated with doing a review, writing a paper, etc. Sure, you are not a PI, but that is more about grants, budgets, hiring people, legal position, etc. But a review? Just rock it out.


The way often editors pick reviewers is by looking at the cited references in the paper and calling on an author to review. The editor would probably go with the corresponding author, but if the author declines to review, the editor may go down the list of coauthors, some of whom might be graduate students. The "Dr" in the invitation is part of the form letter. It assumes that the reviewer has a PhD, which is why, as others have suggested, you should contact the editor and explain the situation. Chances are the editor will apologize and withdraw the invitation.


I am not convinced this is a good thing to accept to do. The frequency of inexperienced / incompetent / overworked reviewers is too high already as it is in academia at this point. In worst case unsuitable reviewers can make other quite capable students drop out because they lose faith in peer review process of articles.

I've seen it happen.

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    And wouldn't having competent graduate students review papers reduce the number of overworked reviewers? If the OP doesn't think he's competent to review this paper, of course, he should immediately decline. But it seems like he thinks he is, and I suspect he is a much better judge of that than you are. He is quite possibly much better than the next reviewer the editor will send this paper to. Dec 24 '18 at 14:12
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    @PeterShor I don't think there is anything I can help you with on this issue of yours, but I can at least wish you a Merry Christmas! Dec 24 '18 at 16:05
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    Also, Monika is a germanoslavic female given name and not male. Dec 24 '18 at 16:41

Consult your advisor

Regardless of the specifics of your message - an offer to review a paper which you have not previously discussed and arranged with its originator is something to consider carefully. Perhaps the best person to give advice is not random academics on this site, but someone who knows your field, (likely) knows the person involved, knows the journal etc.

Of course - don't tell your advisor any details which should be kept confidential, like an author name, title of the paper etc.

In this specific case, consider rejecting.

he titled me "Dr. Monkia" although I am still being a graduate student.

Indeed, this is a warning light. It means the sender doesn't know who you are, but more significantly, did not bother to check whether your background is appropriate to write the review. If they had bother, they'd have figured out you're not a PhD yet.

He asked if I couldn't review, I can ask a qualified colleague to do so, or let him know immediately.

Did he now? That's cute. "Can you do my work for me? If you can't, won't you be so kind as to find some other sucker to do it and arrange for it to be done?"

This does not sound like something a serious editor would say. If I had no other information, I would probably reject merely because of this sentence.

Of course, I am interested in the paper's topic, but I don't consider myself an expert.

So, this is not a good enough reason to reject review requests. On every specific subjects of a paper, only a handful of people in the world are experts (well, depending on the discipline I guess; it's like that a lot in Computer Science); and often none of them is available to review the paper. So people with related expertise have to do it. This also has some positive aspects, such as assessing applicability and relevance beyond the clique of those few people.

Bottom line: Unless your advisor, or people very familiar with that Professor or journal say otherwise, I'd be hesitant to accept.