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I am a research scholar who published a paper in an Elsevier journal recently. My advisor had almost no contribution in the paper, but since it is mandatory to put the advisor’s name in the paper, I had to put it. I was the first author and also the corresponding author.

Recently my advisor said he had got an article from the same journal related to my work and he wants me to review it as he does not have any knowledge in this field. Shall I review it for my advisor or politely refuse my advisor that I wont do it?

I don’t understand why the journal contacted him and not me to review that paper though I was the corresponding author? I feel very bad that even though it was my work the journals did not send me the paper for review. What do journals usually look for when they send a paper for review?

UPDATE:

I did talk to my advisor that I would review the paper if he could mention my name to the Editor so that I get enlisted as a reviewer in their database. But my advisor is not keen on saying that to the Editor. He is arguing that this is how things work in academia. He said that he also reviewed for his advisor but never asked anything in return like this. When I published the paper he gave me the same explanation that in academia advisors dont work. It is the duty of the scholars to do all the work and since he has read the draft once and I get my scholarship through him, he is entitled to get an authorship.

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    "What do journals usually look for when they send a paper for review?" Most journals, and especially most Elsevier journals, will be desperate to find someone who will agree to review. Editors may not spend more than a few seconds deciding who to invite. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 5 at 9:49
  • The only point directly concerned is why your advisor accepted the paper for review and you should ask him. It can be the right opportunity to stress out the sad situation (as described, at least). Something like "hey come on... Not only you do nothing and publish but now you want to do nothing and review :)))) – Alchimista Jan 6 at 8:40
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    Regarding your edit, I think you need to respectfully communicate to your advisor that you should receive the credit for your reviewing work. You can point out examples of other junior researchers listed as reviewers in journals (they're usually public), and emphasize that getting a career in academia is so competitive today that you absolutely need to get credit for your work. – lighthouse keeper Jan 6 at 12:29
  • "why your advisor accepted the paper for review and you should ask him": most likely because he thought that OP would not argue and do it, as he himself did when he was a student. In any case I would not push it too hard, it is not worth risking annoying him over such a relatively "trivial" issue. The benefits of being officially the reviewer are (afaik) quite minimal. – EigenDavid Jan 6 at 13:21
  • That is why. The benefit is minimal. Never ear before accepting papers that can't be reviewed. – Alchimista Jan 6 at 14:38
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One way to resolve this would be that your advisor refused to review the manuscript and suggests you as a possible reviewer. Then the editor can decide what to do. Do not overthink why your advisor was chosen first. He has been around for a longer time and is therefore more known to editors.

I would prefer this procedure to a simple 'yes' to the request (which would be the easy and probably common approach) because it makes contributions transparent. You made a good start with making yourself the corresponding author of your own paper, so it would be consistent if you sticked to this path.


Addition after comment: The answer above makes most sense if you already know how to handle a paper review resulting in a high quality report. Should you require some general support on this, asking your advisor to do the review together and communicate this accordingly to the editor is a possible and viable alternative.

  • Thank you very much+1 – Math_Freak Jan 5 at 3:52
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    It's even better if your advisor asks the editor to allow you to review the paper together. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 5 at 9:45
  • @Anonymous Physicist: True if you do not know how to review a manuscript already. I added this to the reply. – Snijderfrey Jan 5 at 17:30
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Normally the answer to such requests is yes. It is good experience. But the review may wind up being in the name of the advisor. He was contacted as a more senior academic, I think, and the editor didn't know of his lack of specific knowledge.

However, since the work is related to your own, it might be worth letting the editor know, directly or, preferably, through the advisor, that you have been asked to do this on his behalf. The editor can then act with full knowledge. The advisor would be wise, I think, to review anything you write and give you advice on it.

But journals look for both expertise (which you have) and to avoid conflicts of interest, which could possibly be an issue here. At a minimum, explore this with your advisor, pointing out the issues.

There is no reason to feel bad, especially if you are relatively unknown at this point in your career. The advisor may also have reviewed other things successfully for them in the past.

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    This is terrible advice. Most journals consider it serious misconduct for the assigned reviewer to show the paper to another person without the editor's permission. You are recommending the advisor commit misconduct and that the student inadvertently tell the editor about the misconduct. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 5 at 9:47
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    @AnonymousPhysicist, I think the practice of passing around such papers is pretty common. Maybe even ubiquitous in research seminars. But telling the editor that your advisor wants you to do this doesn't necessarily imply that you have seen the paper. But let me revise it a bit. – Buffy Jan 5 at 14:36
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    @AnonymousPhysicist: That may be field-dependent. In my field (logic, pure maths/theoretical CS), showing the manuscript discreetly to a close colleague for a review-related purpose like this is very common, and I’ve never heard anyone suggest they were unhappy with it. – PLL Jan 6 at 10:37
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    Although I agree on Buffy's and PLL's take, it is not because something is common in academia that it is not misconduct (e.g. the "free" authorship). Most of the time every thing goes well, but no-one would want to see its idea/results published before because your reviewer shared your paper too lightly. – EigenDavid Jan 6 at 13:29
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I would suggest to review the paper, it's a very good experience. Tell your supervisor to warn the journal editor that he refused to review the paper and you will do the work.

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Others have given good advice regarding how you should respond to the review. But to add a little regarding your concerns:

I don’t understand why the journal contacted him and not me to review that paper though I was the corresponding author? I feel very bad that even though it was my work the journals did not send me the paper for review. What do journals usually look for when they send a paper for review?

You really don’t need to feel bad: it doesn’t imply anything about how they rate your contribution to your paper. At least in fields I know (in pure math & theoretical CS), editors usually invite potential referees based on what they know by about them overall, not based on any particular piece of previous work, and not based on expertise alone.

The main factors are typically more like: the editor is confident that your advisor has a good chance of having the expertise to do the review himself, or in case he doesn’t, being able to recommend someone who does; also, that he has the experience to judge whether he’s got the right expertise, and (ideally) the reliability to respond promptly. On the one hand, your advisor is obviously more likely to have accrued the experience-based parts of this, and for the editor to know that he has. (I.e. not that the editor thinks you don’t have the experience, just that they don’t know whether you have it.) On the other hand, the editor may well simply have thought of your advisor first, and not considered you at all, by chance and/or because they’re more familiar with your advisor’s work/reputation. Assigning referees isn’t the sort of crucial task where you exhaustively list all possibilities and carefully pick the best; you just look for someone suitably qualified for the review.

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Having published a few things with Elsevier journals I can tell you that you often need to suggest reviewers. Your supervisor is the big cheese, so he gets put on that list.

Don't be upset about the authorship, some journals make you describe contributions to stop this, but it is very common practice, and there are comics about how much work different contributors did, depending on order and field.

I'm guessing your very much at the beginning of your career, so I would advise you to not take the order of authorship too seriously, just as the review request. Once you get a name in the field you will be contacted, should you stay in academia. Then you'll also long back for the days you weren't contacted.

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TL;DR: Doing the review for your supervisor is as mandatory as making him an author of your paper. For the editor, it practically matters only that your supervisor commands the expertise required for the review.

This is kind of circular, but let’s start here:

My advisor had almost no contribution in the paper, but since it is mandatory to put the advisor’s name in the paper, I had to put it.

While I cannot say whether your advisor deserved authorship of your specific paper, it is not globally mandatory to make your advisor an author of your paper¹. Unfortunately, this is often ignored due to the power advisors have over their advisees, making it mandatory locally (i.e., for advisees of a specific advisor).

Now, the fact that you consider it mandatory strongly suggests that it is as mandatory for you to review papers for your advisor and get no credit for it. Only somebody very familiar with your advisor can tell you more on this.


¹ In fact, making somebody an author just because they are officially your advisor goes against academic authorship ethics.

I don’t understand why the journal contacted him and not me to review that paper though I was the corresponding author?

The editor probably asked your advisor to review on basis of the following:

  • He has expertise in the respective subfield as evidenced by being the last (senior) author on a paper in that subfield.²

  • He has seniority in academia and thus is an experienced peer-reviewer (possibly evidenced by previous peer reviews for the same journal/publisher), a skilled scientific writer, has a broad knowledge of literature, and can judge the impact of research.

While I wrote the above as facts, the editor can most often only assume these things – they were obviously wrong about the first point in your case. However, they have to make such assumptions if they want to find any reviewers at all.³

Assuming that this is your first peer review, what should ideally happen in this situation is that you perform the review with your supervisor (or some other experienced peer reviewer) guiding you through the process. There are several mechanisms to register your part in this such as your supervisor officially taking you on board as a reviewer (e.g., APS journals allow this) or your supervisor redirecting the review to you (rejecting and suggesting you as an alternative reviewer).

And now we are closing the loop: Often this is done unofficially and advisees just perform “mandatory” reviews for their advisor – without getting what little recognition there is for peer-reviewing (and possibly compromising the strict confidentiality of the review). Editors are aware of all this and may belong to the advisor-takes-it-all school of advising themselves. And if your advisor does not belong to that school, he can still officially redirect the review to you. From this point of view, the editor needs not even care whether your advisor actually has the expertise listed above; your advisor only needs to command⁴ this expertise – which he evidently does.

There is another practical aspect to this: Most advisees who published a paper a few years ago have now left academia. While this does not disqualify them to review, they may not care anymore. Advisors on the other hand tend to stay and know the people who can perform the review instead. For example, if your work has been taken over by another advisee who has not published yet, your advisor may perform the review together with your successor.

On the other hand, this way of handling things is detrimental to grooming new reviewers (and knowing that you did).


² The interpretation and importance of corresponding authorship varies across fields, countries, funding agencies, etc. Depending on what applies to the journal’s field, the editor may not even have noticed.
³ Things may be a bit more complicated, as the editor may personally know your advisor, the authors of the paper may have suggested your advisor as a reviewer for the same reasons, etc.
⁴ Along the classic saying: “An undergraduate student knows things; a graduate student knows where something is written; a professor knows somebody who knows.

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