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The very first thought that comes to mind is that reviewing a paper is like giving back to the academic community. After all, one's own work is published after the efforts of some anonymous reviewer.

But what are the primary incentives that motivate so many researchers to voluntarily serve as reviewers? Does it make a researcher more established/reputed? How does it differ in the case of PhD students as opposed to faculty members?

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This varies quite a bit by stage of career. For a senior academic it may just be seen as service to the community that provided service to him/her along the way.

For a mid level academic or even a student, however, the opportunity to get the earliest view of new research may be compelling. It can be a source of "hot" new areas that they can explore in their own research.

And for a beginner, seeing a lot of academic writing in your field might help you develop a compatible style that will be viewed favorably in your own writing.

The actual incentives are small, of course. Your name may get mentioned for some sorts of reviews, such as reviewing after publication for something like Computing Reviews

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The primary advantage of peer reviewing is that you are ahead of the researchers in your field by a margin of several months. Second advantage of getting a bad paper for review is that you get an idea "what to avoid" in your own future work. Most people do not realize this because it is not a paid service, nor there is any public acknowledgement on the paper. Several journal editors have mentioned to me that they have difficulty inviting reviewers. I asked an editor of a pretty good review-type journal and he mentioned that at times he has to write to 10-12 people and only a few respond. It is a also common complaint among editors that people from certain countries don't commonly accept peer review requests because the academic promotion is based on paper publications rather than article reviewing.

In short, we should accept review requests, if we feel we are qualified to do so, as a service to the community as well for your own education.

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    The aspect of being ahead is rather field-dependent. In my field, most would post a preprint around the same time as the journal submission. – Anyon Jul 20 at 15:50
  • Yes, pretty common is mathematics and physics as well, but this pre-print phenomenon is quite recent. – M. Farooq Jul 20 at 15:52
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Something that may be more anecdotal, and relevant only to some: in the United States, reviewing for established venues or journals can bolster* your application for a green card, citizenship, or some visa statuses. In particular, it is something to mention on your CV/in your application.

*Maybe not a lot, and I don't have first-hand experience; but I have been told so by several people applying for such statuses.

  • I've heard the same from an immigration lawyer specializing in such applications for scientists. However, I've also heard that USCIS recently (last year or so) started giving less weight to reviews at least in green card applications "because everyone reviews papers". To bolster your chances now, you need to review an unusual amount of papers, or, ideally, receive personalized invitations to review appealing to your specific expertise, i.e. not just form letters. – Anyon Jul 22 at 12:12

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