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I am an independent researcher in the field of data science, discrete mathematics and parallel computing. I looked up Elsevier and MDPI. They all ask for affiliations to allow me to peer-review. Is there a place I can peer-review articles without having to be affiliated to a university or research institute?

Edit: I am asking this because I am applying for green card under EB-1 category which has one of its requirement as peer-reviewing or judging someone's work. I have 3 publications in decently popular journals and about 45 citations in total for them. Alongside, I have written a chapter in a book, published abstracts and represented myself in 3 global conferences.

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    Did you correspond with an actual person or just a web form? Independent researcher should be fine if you have some history of publication and such.
    – Buffy
    Oct 14, 2022 at 23:14
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    Probably only after you publish a few papers in that journal will the editor consider you as a peer reviewer. Indeed, in my experience, the editor is likely to ask you whether you wish to do reviews even if you do not apply for it.
    – GEdgar
    Oct 15, 2022 at 0:57
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    This might be an XY problem. Why do you want to peer-review articles? This is not something professional researchers wish to do; it's more like a chore. Please edit your question to specify it. Oct 15, 2022 at 7:44
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    @FedericoPoloni Peer review gives you more insight into the research process, into recent work in your area, a certain influence on your field, and also an "excuse" to invest time to read something properly with attention to all details. As independent researcher free from administrative duties and maybe teaching the TO may have some more time for this than an affiliated researcher. I think you're over-generalising here. I have done much peer review and I have never regretted it. Oct 17, 2022 at 8:34
  • Not in your field, but SciPost accepts unsolicited reviews. scipost.org/?tab=reportsneeded They are little-known but publish main-stream physics papers. Jan 26, 2023 at 1:29

6 Answers 6

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If you are in the US, you know that you cannot volunteer for jury-duty even though most people hate the idea of having to do jury-duty. It is similar with reviewing. We assume it is better if people get drafted into reviewing.

How do Associate Editors (AE) select reviewers? Usually by looking a people who wrote papers in the field that are knowledgable about the paper. Some journals have editor assistance software that tries to find these people for the associate editors such as MDPI. Usually, an AE reads through the submitted paper and places special attention on the papers cited, as the authors of these papers should be knowledgable, especially if the papers have a good citation count themselves or a published in difficult to get in outlets. If it is a conference, they usually first form a program committee and then papers get reviewed by the committee. Members of the program committee can ask others to review. It's supposed to be highly co-operative. Journals keep tracks of reviewers and ask the AE to grade the reviews. Someone giving poor quality reviews is not likely to be invited again.

If you want to review, you are best of publishing papers in reasonable outlets in your field. It used to be that professors would give their Ph.D. students papers to review (for which they themselves were invited to review) and then discuss the paper with them and the student's review. This is now considered to be a breach of reviewer confidentially if it is done without the knowledge of the AE, but at least it taught students to write good reviews and in the process learn what a good paper is like. This also helped the students to write better papers themselves, of course under guidance and supervision. Being an independent researcher means of course that you are cut of from this type of training.

To get invited to review you first need to have some (good) publications under your belt. If people active in conference organization and journal editing know about you, they might ask you to get involved. It is the quality of your publications that ultimately qualify you as a reviewer. Once you are considered "reviewer material", if you accept the invitation to review, make sure that you submit a good review in a timely manner and communicate with the AE if there are any problems.

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  • I disagree wit not volunteering to peer review. When I was an early career professional, I was told by a mentor to volunteer with a journal to peer review with them more. (I had already published in the journal), Also, some journals do have volunteer pages, e.g., meridian.allenpress.com/fwspubs/pages/Volunteer-as-a-Reviewer Jan 26, 2023 at 1:13
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    Richard: You had already established yourself as a researcher, but the OP is an "independent" researcher, which I read to mean to "not established". In my time as an associate editor, I wanted to make sure that at least a reviewer is close to a Ph.D. and checking the credentials of a volunteer is usually beyond me. There are also now problems with people gaming the system such as rings of reviewers. For quality assurance purposes of the review process, it is very difficult to distinguish between a worker at the Swizz patent office and future star of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and a hobbyist. Jan 26, 2023 at 18:46
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As @Thomas Schwarz says, conventional peer reviewers are almost always invited by editors / associate editors based on their prior contributions to a field.

However, there is an alternative of sorts: Have your considered taking up post-publication review? There are sites like PubPeer that allow technical comments on articles that have already been published. PubPeer is useful in that it allows experts to flag potential issues or raise concerns that have been overlooked during the peer review process itself.

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The easiest way to get articles to review is to sign up as a reviewer for the journals you're interested in. It's certainly a lot easier to email the journal office than it is to publish tens of articles in the field to establish that you're an expert. Unless (possibly even if) those are top-tier journals, odds are they'll be happy to register you as a reviewer. Doesn't mean you'll get something to review, but your name will in the database, and you will show up whenever they conduct searches for reviewers by research interests (so be sure to keep those updated).

I don't know about MDPI (I've never used Susy, plus MDPI's reviewer selection policy is apparently very strict), but I'm confident that you don't need an affiliation to review for any journal that uses Editorial Manager, which most Elsevier journals use.

Another alternative is to use freestyle, non-journal related platforms like Researchgate to do peer review. It won't be the formal kind that decides if papers are accepted, but it'll still be peer review.

Edit: I've used Susy now, and you can indeed be registered without an affiliation. However, it's a non-negotiable MDPI policy that reviewers must have PhDs, or MDs if you work in medicine. If you can prove that you have a PhD (e.g. you have a personal website with your educational history) then MDPI will probably be happy to register you. You can reach the journal office at [email protected]; you can also send me your details and I'll register you myself.

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  • thank you for your answer. Your field must be different than mine because I know people with the MS who work for my Federal Agency as research scientists and they get invited to review for MDPI (granted, these people also publish in MDPI journals) Jan 26, 2023 at 1:15
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    @RichardErickson it's a hard requirement across all MDPI journals actually - mdpi.com/reviewers#_bookmark2 says reviewers must hold a PhD or MD (for medical journals). So it should not happen. I can see it happening if the editor is not paying attention, however. It's probably more likely if your colleagues published in an MDPI journal, since that presumably requires creating a Susy profile, and when someone is already in the database, it's easier to not pay attention.
    – Allure
    Jan 26, 2023 at 1:23
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    "MDPI's reviewer selection policy is apparently very strict" They keep asking me to review articles that have nothing to do with my PhD. Jan 26, 2023 at 1:31
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    "should be checking your most recent research interests" They are not. I can tell because every time I say "no" it shows me my list of research interests that they didn't read. I am about a millimeter away from denylisting MDPI. Jan 26, 2023 at 1:36
  • Bleagh, shouldn't have responded to the above comment. Deleted my comment and won't be responding further.
    – Allure
    Jan 26, 2023 at 1:38
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Depends on the venue but there are generally 3 ways to become a reviewer:

  1. Get invited (either by the editorial board/area chairs/etc. or by another reviewer).
  2. Apply.
  3. Submit a paper to the venue (some venues automatically invite submission authors as reviewers).

But please don't review for pay-walled journals or for outrageously for-profit businesses such as Elsevier: they suck up research budgets, slow down research, and prevent taxpayers from accessing the research they help fund.

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  • Yet other publishers like Springer have arcane and out of date submission management software, in which they have not invested in years. While I do NOT wish to defend Elsevier’s profits, there is a real cost to the publishing business, and the business needs investment to keep up with the technology. Oct 16, 2022 at 22:01
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    @ZeroTheHero plenty of free/cheap solutions: openreview.net, Microsoft CMT, etc. Oct 16, 2022 at 22:04
  • right but for better or worse many of those venues do not offer the visibility and recognition of upper tiered journals, and so have limited practical values for grants or promotion. (Please do not think I am defending some publishers; just pointing out there is a cost to publishing.) Oct 16, 2022 at 22:12
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    @ZeroTheHero Agreed. That's up to the researchers to stop shooting themselves in the foot and start respecting their funders. Step 1: stop reviewing for the parasites :) Oct 16, 2022 at 22:34
  • see theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/… Oct 16, 2022 at 23:02
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There are a number of aspects. For conferences etc. it is generally about being known. Publishing more than once (esp. as non-PhD student) works well. For journals register an account (as if you wanted to submit a paper). Be careful though, you need to do more: you want to be found by the AE. Make sure to fill in the the questions about research areas and keywords (and tick yes on your availability to review). Also make sure that you provide your orcid, and that you have filled your orcid account with as much information as possible (editorial manager provides direct links from the reviewer selection to their orcid).

Then don't aim for the top journals, but be realistic (doing the top journals cannot hurt, but be careful). You can also try to identify a the associate editors that fit your field best and send them an email (it is often hard to find responsive, diligent reviewers).

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Every time I peer review for a well-known journal, they ask me to suggest other peer reviewers. If you can convince some people who get a lot of review requests to suggest you, soon you will have many articles to review.

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