I am a post-doc and I get regular requests to referee papers, largely because of a review paper I published as a grad student.

I am yet to turn down a review request--It is rewarding, an opportunity to immerse oneself in another topic, and it feels good to give back to the community.

Unfortunately, I am peri-employed, and the rational decision maker with non-infinite time resources is regrettably obliged to consider her CV.

At what point will listing another journal (or another instance of refereeing for a given journal) on your CV generate negligible returns for an early-career researcher?

At what point does the rational actor say no?

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    What does peri-employed mean? My dictionary only has “around, about” for the peri- prefix. Does it mean you're about to get a job? Or you've just left one? – F'x Apr 5 '13 at 7:37
  • By peri-employed I do mean around and about employed; moving from one short-term contract to another. Indeed, I am now in such a contract that will soon end, and I have so far nothing to replace it. – user6670 Apr 5 '13 at 13:54
  • It is probably peri-employment in another sense too. About to achieve something better. We hope. – user6670 Apr 5 '13 at 14:11
  • when you get a job.... – nathan hayfield Apr 5 '13 at 15:51

One simple criterion is that if you have refereed more papers than the number of referee reports you have received for your papers, perhaps even divided by the number of coauthors you have for each paper, then you are ahead of the game and shouldn't feel guilty about turning requests down. Ultimately, if your career goes really well you should expect to do substantially more than your share of reviewing, but you aren't obligated to do this while still a postdoc.

Even if you haven't reached this point, it's reasonable to put your career development first for now. Strategically, you should referee a paper if reading it will be valuable for your research, if you can impress an influential editor, or if it's for a particularly prestigious journal (so it will stand out on your CV in the list of journals you have reviewed for). Beyond that, you can do what you reasonably have time for, but you should feel free to decline review requests when you are busy with other things. If you feel guilty about this, you can make up for it by reviewing more papers than you would otherwise like someday when you have a stable job.

At what point will listing another journal (or another instance of refereeing for a given journal) on your CV generate negligible returns for an early-career researcher?

I'd say the returns become negligible pretty quickly. Adding a really fancy journal can look impressive, but even doubling the number of run of the mill journals will make only a small difference. (People want to see that your reputation leads to review requests, but don't care much beyond that.)

To the extent refereeing helps your career, it's more likely to be because you impressed the editor than because a hiring committee liked the line on your CV. However, writing papers and giving talks will reach a much broader audience than refereeing can, so extra refereeing is not an efficient career boost.


In my field (mathematics) it is not usual for CVs to mention referee assignments, and I don't believe they are considered at all in hiring decisions, so the direct returns are negligible at any level (not counting the indirect benefit that you may learn something from reading the paper carefully).

Keep in mind that every referee is busy and has other things to do that would be more directly rewarding, but they do it anyway. However, if your situation means it would be a drastically larger burden for you than for an average researcher, then by all means decline with a clear conscience.


Apart from the plus minus statistics of "you do for other what they do for you" I think there are two points yu could ask yourself:

  1. Reviewing keeps you in touch with the field. Do you think it helps you stay in touch with developments until you find a position (assuming that is what you want?

  2. Reviewing keeps you on the radar within the field. By reviewing you will "advertise" your expertise which may not hurt in the future. So do you wish to be seen as an active player aiming for a position?

Clearly none of these are make-or-break for the future but it involves assessing your own interests for the future. If you clearly think you will look for employment outside of academia and association with research, then you simply pick and chose your reviews based on interest.


Assuming unemployed means you are looking for an academic job and not moving to a new field, the answer is NEVER. Since you are unemployed, your chances to network are greatly reduced. I would suggest taking every review possible and consider adding my name to reviews.

I would actually suggest contacting editors to request that they consider you to review articles in the future.

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    Strongly disagree. Refereeing is not the most significant bit to focus on. Publish, publish, publish. – JeffE Apr 5 '13 at 11:42
  • @JeffE But in the state of unemployment, publishing in certain fields is very challenging (like synthetic chemistry or molecular biology). – Ben Norris Apr 5 '13 at 11:52
  • @JeffE it is not the refereeing that I am focusing on, it is the networking. Getting a job (especially a post doc) is not just about publications and grants, it is about networking. – StrongBad Apr 5 '13 at 12:04
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    Fair point, but refereeing seems like an awfully indirect way to network. Why not just, you know, talk to people? – JeffE Apr 5 '13 at 13:54
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    Writing reviews is anonymous. How does it help with networking? Very few people will know that you wrote the review! – Dave Clarke Apr 5 '13 at 14:12

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