11

I'm a recently minted postdoc working in an applied computer science field. Occasionally I get requests to review an article, or even to serve as a technical program committee member in various workshops.

Should I basically accept all of these requests as long as the papers to be reviewed are related to my subfield? Or is the opportunity cost too high? Will this community service be positively viewed when I apply for academic positions?

I typically don't learn much from reading the papers under review, as the workshops I'm invited to serve are not that high quality overall, and many submissions are plain bad.

11

I judge my review opportunities based on the venue: if it is a known good venue, or if it is a little-known venue but there are good people organizing, then it is a good place to give service. You might end up with all bad papers (after all, in a selective conference most papers are rejected), but you'll still learn things about the process and the way that other people are thinking about the field, and you'll give service that will help a venue or people that you like (and it's not bad on your CV).

Don't waste your time on junk venues: if a venue is not serious, you are only degrading yourself by associating with it. Note, however, that "junk" is completely different than "low impact" or "high acceptance rate"---in many areas of computer science, a lot of the really interesting new work and research discussion originates in workshops or symposia that have very low impact and high acceptance rates (consider, for example, the AAAI Symposia). What is important is whether the people and organizations involved are credible and likely to attract interesting work.

10

In my experience, your "community service" of serving on program committees and providing reviews can reflect positively on your hiring case. This is in part because it demonstrates that you're willing to be a "good citizen" and do the service work that keeps an academic field strong. I'm in CS myself, and we can definitely use more high-quality reviews.

The primary reason, however, to get involved with reviewing and particularly program committee service is to become part of the community in your subfield. This is the "networking" advice that you've probably heard many times, but it's especially applicable here. Keeping in mind @jakebeal's advice above about choosing good investments for your time, these are some of the people who will review your papers and funding proposals. They can be good sources of advice, feedback, and future collaborations and reference letters.

Moreover, hiring committees want to see evidence that you will be successful as a junior faculty member. This kind of participation in your subfield's research community can provide strong evidence for your case (again, modulo the quality of venues and work involved).

5

Yes, you should accept at least some of these invitations (unless they are from junk journals or junk conferences, but the other answers have already emphasized that).

Basically, it is all about networking:

  • For well-known journals, conferences and workshops, this definitely becomes a strong point on your CV. It underlines your reputation within the community.

  • However, even for less prestigious venues, it can be a door opener if the organizer or some other members of the PC are established seniors of your field. If you do a good job in a couple of Workshop PCs, sooner or later your name will be dropped when someone assembles a PC for a more prestigious conference.

  • Physical PC meetings are the best possible networking opportunity. Most conferences in CS (at least the better ones) insist on a physical PC meeting – an excellent opportunity to access the "gurus" from your field! On such a meeting, the atmosphere is a lot more personal than on any conference. By good reviews and a coherent line of argument in the discussion you have furthermore the chance to distinguish yourself as a real expert in the field.

  • Besides that, you learn a lot about how a PC works! You will experience how thin the line could be between "weak accept" and "weak reject". How much it depends on group dynamics and "the one reviewer" that stands up for some paper (or against it). How... Long story short: It helps you to write "better" papers (i.e., papers that have a higher chance to survive this process!)

  • If allowed (and in many cases it is) this is also a good opportunity to train your students. Let them review a paper as well. Of course, in the end it has to be your review and you have to be confident in it. But reading and discussing a paper from the viewpoint of a reviewer strengthens their (and also yours) writing abilities.

So even if you do not necessarily "learn something new" from the papers, you will definitely learn a lot about the hidden rules of the publication process itself.

3

While it is good to be selective in what you want to review, it is generally a good idea to be "available" to review papers from a wider range of topics. This means that you will have to occasionally say yes to requests. I think this will only enrich your CV and you will be looked in a better light among your peers. After all someone must have peer reviewed your past work. I see it as a chance to give it back to the community.

3

There may be a short-term benefit if you list "Reviews for X" on the CV, or the journal publishes a thanking-by-name for the year's reviewers. Otherwise, the outside world would have no idea whether you are a diligent reviewer or otherwise. Another medium-term consequence of diligently reviewing, especially if your reviews are high quality, is that editors may get to know that you are a good reviewer. This can lead to invitations to serve on editorial boards and perhaps the ultimate horror, being invited to take on an editing position. IMO, if your concern is getting a permanent job, the value for that goal of reviewing is pretty low: it's more useful for tenure and promotion, especially promotion to full when service counts more.

Taking a more long-range perspective, reviewing is in your self-interest for two reasons. First, you can influence the shape of your field by imparting your knowledge to other authors via the reviewing process (thus making the world more friendly to your viewpoint). Second, if you encourage and support the existing system of volunteer scholarly reviewers by reviewing, then (by "cultural osmosis") your own submissions stand a greater chance of being reviewed appropriately. That is, if almost everybody says "No way" to review requests, then there will only be a few reviewers and the reviewing system will collapse, which would not be good for your own publishing plans.

But of course, avoid junk journals and don't automatically accept all such invitations, not at this stage of your career.

2

I am not on a hiring committee, especially in your field, so I can't necessarily speak to how it will effect your job prospects, but some things about reviewing papers that have benefitted me:

  • Interaction with journal editors. I went back and forth with an editor in a journal I was reviewing for that's important in my field, not to argue but to clarify what I was looking for in a review. That editor now knows me - not well, but certainly more than if I was simply contacting them out of the blue.
  • A look at "things to come". Reviews let you see a little bit ahead in terms of what the field is doing, and are useful prompts to keep up with things that are probably topic-relevant to you.
  • The chance to make the literature better. This one is, to me, fairly important.
  • On more than one occasion, I have been able to point out work by someone I know (and once myself) as possibly relevant to the authors.

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