I am a PhD student halfway through my journey. After I published a few papers, I am getting review requests from some medium rank conference and journal editors. While certainly it is an honour for me, doing good review takes some time since I am not an expert of my broad field with everything at my finger tip. Does review experience add something to my CV particularly if I want an academic career? I am really sorry if the question sounds too shallow or cynical but I want to know whether I can cite the review experience to prove my worth as a researcher to a prospective hiring committee.
An important part of an academic career/CV is service. Reviewing, editing, hosting conferences, ... falls under this category. So yes, it is important.
You seem to consider it to be a potential waste of your precious time. This is false. Depending on your field, reviewers have earlier access to new work than others which is always beneficial.
As Marc Claesen says, it does give you earliest access to new work, and it is a chance to give back to the academic community, and boost your CV at the same time.
But the usual caveats apply:
This would be a significant chunk of time, so discuss it with your supervisors / advisors before agreeing to take it on, and listen to their advice.
If you do it, do it in moderation: don't let it displace your core work, which is getting the PhD finished.
Do it only if and while it contributes to your PhD: it can do this by honing your research skills, and/or by increasing the body of relevant literature that you're familiar with.
Doing reviews is both a necessary contribution to the publication system and a merit carrying with it several positive aspects. As a scientist you are expected to contribute and, thus, you have to start at some point. To start reviewing lower profile publications is a good thing and you should of course think about whether you can contribute good insights or not. There is nothing wrong with declining a review stating you feel it is outside your expertise. That said you may provide a different angle on a problem and your name has hopefully been chosen because you have become known for good work.
In the beginning reviews probably take a very long time to complete as with everything new. But, as you read other peoples work you have an opportunity to look at how others write and express science (not necessarily in a good way). This can help you develop your own skills. I also find that reviewing papers give me an opportunity to read about new science and think more deeply about a specific problem than what I usually have time to do with a published paper. Thus, I would stress the learning opportunities in the review task as important. That it takes time is a given, a review that does not take time is either sloppy review work or because of a really terrible paper to review.
There are several reasons, as a PhD student, that you should consider spending time reviewing papers, even if you view it as an unrelated demand on your time:
- It helps you know, and shape, your field. When you graduate, you will supposedly be an expert in your field. Being able to critically engage with the research being done in it, not only as a reader but as a reviewer, is an aspect of that.
- It gives you a glimpse into the other side of peer review. It's easier to engage with reviewer comments, in my experience, if you've been on the other side of the process as well.
- As some people have mentioned, service is an important aspect of your CV, and having done reviews not only checks that box, but adds a list of journals who consider your expertise important enough to have you act as a reviewer.
Reviewing papers won't be the reason someone hires you, but it is a component of your professional development.
I referee papers if one of the following conditions holds:
- It's something I know well and can quickly evaluate the paper
- It's something I want to know more about, and will learn something by doing the review
- I owe the editor or author a favor
It is good experience for graduate students to do this, but it should not distract you from your own scholarship and coursework. So yes, by the time you complete your degree, it would be good to have done this a couple of times.
Doing reviews at your stage for sure helps you a) to better understand the review process, b) see how other researchers deal with your comments in the revision letter and c) it identifies you potentially already as a scientist in a certain field.
Besides that, as a Ph.D. student you should rather write papers, instead of reviewing them. Also, they eat up quite some time if you do it right. Hence, my advise would be not to spent too much time on reviews, let it be only two or three maximum. Save your time for better, you will need it.