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I am a first year PhD student, and my adviser from undergrad asked me if I would like to review a paper for a conference. I was quite taken aback, as I have no publications, and feel somewhat unqualified. Granted, the topic of the paper is on something I have studied with this adviser in the past.

  1. Is this something I can put on my CV? Given the anonymity of the reviewing process, will there even be a record of me having done this?
  2. Isn't it strange for an unpublished student to review a paper?
  3. What could I possibly gain from this? I suppose reading a paper critically is good experience, but I am already anxious about not having any publications yet, and it feels strange to be a reviewer without having any publications myself. I suppose this would put me in my old adviser's good graces, as I am interested in working with him again.
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  1. Yes. I don't know for conference paper, but with journal, they usually end the year with a thank you to all reviewers. This "thank you" is available online and is a proof you indeed reviewed. But I doubt that anyone will ever verify this.
  2. I think it might be unusual, but it is a good thing. First, it means your undergraduate advisor think that you can do it (abilities but also he/she thinks you know this subject). Second, lots of people are talking about reviewer overload. Using qualified PhD student can reduce that overload.
  3. Experience, increased self-confidence and yes, recognition from you ex-advisor...

I suggest you consult this great article to help you start:

Seals, D. R., & Tanaka, H. (2000). Manuscript peer review: A helpful checklist for students and novice referees. Adv Physiol Educ, 22, 52-58.

In my experience, doing my first review, I was a bit stressed but mostly excited. I wanted so much to do everything well. Thus, the authors got an honest and very complete review. If you try to be as thorough as you would like your own work to be revise, all should go well. Good luck.

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    Just to clarify: It is perfectly fine to list "I have acted as a referee for this conference" on a CV, one would not mention "I have acted as a referee for this paper". – Arno Feb 26 '16 at 23:28
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    In regards to 2, I don't think this is even unusual, as long the advisor reads and discusses the student's response. If not it, it's highly unethical. – Cliff AB Feb 27 '16 at 5:13
  • @CliffAB I agree with the possibility of doing a "supervised" first review, but highly unethical seems a bit strong... – Emilie Feb 29 '16 at 13:53
  • @Emilie: I don't think this is too strong. The journal contacts the researcher because they are an established expert in the field, and they are asking them to make a decision regarding a very large amount on behalf of the author. If the author's work is then judged by someone who is unqualified (which I would say most graduate students are not yet qualified, certainly not at the level of the advisor), this is extremely unfair to the author. – Cliff AB Feb 29 '16 at 23:22
  • I would consider it unethical for the adviser to pass along an unread review as if it were his own. But in some conferences, that review would go to the program committee clearly marked as the work of the subreviewer, and in that case I see no ethical problem. – Andreas Blass Jan 26 '17 at 22:35

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