As a PhD student nearing the end of their degree my Prof invited me to write a review with him. A decently well known journal had asked us to write a review on a topic that is only tangentially related to our labs area of study. My prof thought this was a great idea since it "guarantees a publication" for the lab and would help get me a first author publication, but I was extremely hesitant at first because I have 2 parallel experiments running and neither the prof nor I were experts in the field. At first I was super optimistic that we could write the review but the more I researched the more realized just how in over my head I was.

Thing is that my Prof. said other grad students in our lab also wrote reviews at similar stages in their PhD degree but looking at their reviews it was clear that the their topic was either something they were actually directly studying, or something that my Prof. was an expert in. Both of which is not true for the review I have to write.

With only a year left in my PhD, I am really worried if this review is a massive waste of time, since all my experiments will need to be put on hold while i read countless numbers of papers in a field that I'm not really an expert in. Should I tell my Prof. that this review is a bad idea and cancel it?

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    What field do you work in? The idea of a review article, and what's expected of one, can vary between fields. – Nate Eldredge Sep 6 '19 at 17:11
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    Yikes. Though the (enormous) work to do to do a (competent) review article would/could be useful, one would nevertheless not an expert... and would/could not offer expert opinions on anything. Um, well, if a topic is shallow-enough so that one can become an expert in a week or two... um... but, ... really? – paul garrett Sep 6 '19 at 23:10
  • Review articles are a common ploy to pad one's citation count. I discount them when rating job applicants (meaning yes a big waste of your time, and especially blatant if it isn't even your field, since none of your own research is in there) but I suppose others may not be so savvy about them so there might be a benefit. – A Simple Algorithm Sep 10 '19 at 4:59

Your prof is thinking long term. You are thinking short term. Both of those are appropriate. But don't think too short term. Within a year you will want your horizon to expand and both the good opinion of your advisor and a publication will help.

But, I didn't read you as implying that this must become the first priority over a period of time. I don't see why your experiments need to be put on hold while you read papers (probably fewer than countless).

But, if your advisor wants to do this as a joint project ("write a review with him"), then you should be able to manage it as long as it isn't all dumped on you. I suggest you set a schedule to work together on it and lay out a plan.

And maybe the new field will prove interesting and even valuable in your future.

Of all these things, I think the good opinion of your advisor is the most important to manage. If you can do that somehow other than agreeing, then there is little downside. But there might be upside to agreeing. Your call, of course.

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    I'll add in agreement to this answer: it really depends on OP's level of trust in the scholarly and wise judgement of their advisor. If they fundamentally trust their advisor, then go for it, following Buffy's advise here. But if there is a trust issue with the advisor, then OP needs to not commit themself beyond what they feel comfortable doing. – Tripartio Sep 7 '19 at 12:28

Your professor should be taking the lead and getting a decent team of reviewers as well as you. If this is not happening, then map out the work and the materials that would need to be covered. Ask whether there are anyone that your prof would like working on the various parts. You may need to suggest people or highlight authors in the those fields. Depending on politics and who your professor is familiar or like/trust, will determine the workload required. Learning how to co-ordinate a team of writers and delegating and holding people accountable is an important skill and this is a great opportunity for you.

if this review is a massive waste of time,

The review is not a waste of time and will unlikely not be. Invited reviews by a journal is a privilege and does not occur lightly. The field has been determined by the journal and their editors to be important even if you may not appreciate it now. Even if you don't perceive yourself or your professor as "experts in the field", the editorial team has deemed you both to be best placed to articulate the field at the moment. It could be that you both have been effective in communicating the complexities of other areas? Also realize, that your current frustrations may well be reflected by the field and outlining the difficulties will make it easier for every newcomer to the field. Reviews also have the unique opportunity to predict and map out the research landscape.

since all my experiments will need to be put on hold while i read countless numbers of papers in a field that I'm not really an expert in

Ideally, you should be able to concurrently run your experiments or extend your PhD so you can do both. Or reconfigure your PhD so you can graduate and continue with your experiments as a post-doc. It would be unlikely that you would be able to incorporate a broad review into your PhD though as you did not have the original idea etc.

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Discuss it with your professor. At some level one's supervisor is responsible for one's academic well-being during the PhD. He's supposed to guide you to what's best for you if you're not sure what that is.

It's certainly possible whether you should write this review varies depending on your motives. For example if what you want is to graduate as soon as possible and then move to an industry job, then having an extra first-author publication might not mean much. On the other hand, if you want to move to a new field that's related to this one, then you'll have to spend time reading about it eventually anyway, so you might as well do it now. On yet another hand, perhaps writing the review will contribute towards the things you need to complete before graduating.

Your professor will know more, so discuss it with him/her.

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A good scientist should always have more porjects to do than time to do them. As a soon to leave the nest scientist, you've learned to think about prioritizing your time. Please pass on this project. You have better things to do. It's a nice to have, but even for your advisor, it's just an extra feather...not something critical.

Just say you are too busy or not interested. Don't debate or give some long explanation. Just politely say no. He'll get over it fine. He has other projects also. Or can write it himself if he really cares to. (Sounds like no. Wants someone else to do most of the work.)

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