After finishing my PhD in mathematics not long ago, I decided to move away from academia and pursue a career in the commercial sector. I'm currently not affiliated with a university. In the long run, I might return to working at a university some day.

Recently, I recieved an invitation to become a reviewer for Mathematical Reviews. I'm flattered, but also hesitant as I can't fathom how much extra work this will be and if there's a benefit for me, besides learning more interesting things in my original academic field of expertise (which I've moved away from a bit).

  1. How much work is it to review 1 paper per months, roughly speaking?

  2. Would you see being a reviewer as an interesting CV item outside of academia?

  3. Doing the reviews is usually not paid, correct?

This question is similar to Should I agree to review papers as a postdoc?, which didn't give me quite satisfactory answers since I'm not in academia anymore. It is also similar to Personal advantages of being a referee once you quit science? but that one is not about math reviews, which are different from refereeing a paper for a journal.

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    Have you seen Personal advantages of being a referee once you quit science?? I believe this addresses your titular question.
    – ff524
    Jun 17, 2014 at 17:01
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    For those not in math, Math Reviews is very different than refereeing a paper for a journal. You're not asked for a detailed opinion on its correctness and significance, just a summary of its contents. It's a sort of extended third-party abstract. It's published with your name on it, and shows up when people search for the paper on MathSciNet (probably the most comprehensive database of math papers). Also, unless this changed recently, for each review you get "AMS Points" entitling you to a few dollars in credit towards buying stuff from AMS. Jun 17, 2014 at 17:26
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    This will ultimately be volunteer work, and it is unlikely to benefit you outside of academia. My suggestion is that you work closely to the reward structure of your current work and your career trajectory.
    – Brian P
    Jun 17, 2014 at 17:37
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    If you think there's a chance you might want to move back into academia at some point, this might be a reasonable way of maintaining some contact with developments in the field, and keeps your profile alive. However, I doubt it will have wider benefits.
    – avid
    Jun 17, 2014 at 19:00
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    For those who want to see an example, here is a sample MR review. (You need a subscription but most universities have one, so from a university IP address the link will probably just work.) That review is longer than most, because the paper in question is very high-profile, but it gives you a sense of what we're talking about. Ordinary reviews probably average a paragraph or two. Jun 17, 2014 at 19:45

2 Answers 2


I'm a reviewer for Mathematical Reviews (now best known by its association with MathSciNet). My experience has been:

  • I usually spend about 1-2 hours to read a paper and write the review.

    I don't necessarily look to completely digest all the details of the paper, but I at least try to understand what the results are, why they are interesting, how they relate to previous work, and a general idea of the proof techniques.

    Note that, unlike the pre-publication peer review process, you're not expected to check the correctness of the proof, nor to make a judgment on the paper's novelty or significance.

  • They want you to submit your review within about 6 weeks of being invited.

  • You can set your "queue size", i.e. the maximum number of papers you want to have at any one time, to whatever you want. When you submit a review, you can expect to receive another invitation within a few days.

  • You can always decline a review invitation if you are temporarily too busy, or if the paper doesn't interest you or fit your expertise, and they will just send it to someone else.

  • You can specify your areas of interest (by MSC code) and they send you papers that appear to match your interests. If your interests shift, or if you start getting a lot of papers that mystify you, you can make changes.

  • It's a very minor CV item even within academia, and probably even less outside.

  • You do get a little bit of extra visibility, since reviews are posted with your name, and seen by anyone who looks up the paper on MathSciNet.

  • You do get paid, sort of. You receive 12 AMS Points for each review you submit. Each AMS Point is worth $1 (USD) in credit toward purchases from the AMS (books, journal subscriptions, membership fees, etc). So it maybe adds up to a couple of free books per year.

  • Also, if you review a book for them, you get to keep it.

  1. One paper per month seems like a high load, but I'm not as connected to the journal reviewing scene as I once was.
  2. I don't think much of anyone outside of academia, national laboratories (NASA, Dept. of Energy, etc), and some commerical R&D labs (Microsoft, IBM, etc.) will care if you are a reviewer.
  3. And, yes, reviewing is typically done for no pay. Though, I would say that at least for active academics, you "pay" for reviews on your own submissions by doing reviews on others.

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