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I know peer-reviewing research papers is a lot of work, but it is something that as a scientist in academia you must do. However, you are not required to become an editor of a journal. It seems to be tons of work, and I am trying to understand what people gain from it and whether it is worth the effort.

I mean, I can understand how being an editor for Science or Cell would be helpful in terms of prestige, connections, and exposure to top science, but what about for lesser known journals? And how is that integrated with research and other duties?

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As you alluded to in your question, there are several things to be gained by being a journal editor:

  • Greater familiarity with ongoing research in your field
  • Credit for "service" within your department institution
  • Greater visibility within your research community
  • In some cases, monetary compensation (some editor positions are paid, some are unpaid)

Being a journal editor can be a very time-consuming job, and it's certainly not for everyone. However, it can also be an interesting and rewarding experience, even if it's not a journal at the level of Science or Cell. (Then again, many of the journals at the level of Science have in-house professional editors, rather than part-time staff from academia!)

Editing a minor journal can also offset other forms of outreach service, particularly if you are still developing a tenure dossier. In those situations you may find editing more (or less) rewarding than the duties you would take on (or be assigned) otherwise. (You should check with your department chair, however, that such service would be considered acceptable before committing to a position!)

Whether or not the connections are worth it at a particular level of journal is not something we can directly answer. You should consider the time commitments relative to other priorities that you might have, and make a decision accordingly.

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Aeismail have listed several gains as reasons for becoming a journal editor. I think there are also several personal reasons which likely vary between persons. For me, I found that my experience as guest editor for several issues of journals was extremely rewarding. I found I was involved in handling new science at a detailed level unmatched by other venues. I also found myself getting new contacts in the form of authors and reviewers. All along the lines of Aeismail's answer. I strongly recommend trying to get involved in guest editing a single issue if the possibility arises. This might give you an insight into what is involved and how you might like it.

Before continuing, I should perhaps point out that editorships comes in several flavours (with varying names). Editors that are responsible for journals are often called Chief Editors, whereas a staff of other editors may handle reviews and not be involved in making the final decisions for publications and the journal itself. This will vary from journal to journal. The point of saying it is because getting involved as an editor can happen at different levels with differing tasks to perform.

When the opportunity came around for me to shoulder a journal as Editor-in-Chief, I did not need much convincing, but the reasons were more personal than anything else. One could say it is a position of power (to ultimately decide the fate of manuscripts), but I rather think of it in terms of responsibility. I saw it as a challenge to improve the journal and its standing, and to get a chance to implement several ideas I had developed over the years. Assembling a team around me and the second co-chief editor of the journal was also awarding and interesting. So more than anything else, the rewards now come as I can see the Citation Index rising and (hopefully) the standard of the journal improving.

In my case I (really "we" since we are two) get reimbursed for the editorship corresponding to one half day per week. The job is literally 365 days a year, and so far I have not seen this as a problem. The compensation is by no means corresponding to the time I spend on the task but more of a symbolic sum for the responsibility involved. Money is certainly not a reason for me.

To sign up as chief editor likely means signing up for a longer period, at least 3-5 years, to be able to fully embrace the flow of articles and handle all problems that may occur. This is particularly true if you wish to see any results of your work while you are still associated with the journal; it takes time to influence the reputation of a journal in a positive direction. I am not planning to stay forever, so somewhere between 5 and 10 years is likely a maximum. To sign up as review editor (or whatever it may be called) may not require such a long period since the task is more hands on.

So, as you can see I think becoming an editor is not something you just choose, you need to see if you personally get something out of the job that makes it worth your while. For me, just money or personal credit would not be enough, the challenge and sense of contribution associated with leading and improving a journal is.

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    I am curious: How does one improve a journal? – Anonymous Apr 22 '13 at 1:07
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    @Anonymous Several ways, improve the way and time MS are handled from submit to accept/reject, raise Impact Factor, simplify handling and review processes (relative to how they were done). It all depends on the individual journal and what needs or can be changed to improve efficiency, quality etc. – Peter Jansson Apr 22 '13 at 6:59
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I agree with previous posts that being an editor has several benefits, fame, service, and recognition, to name a few.

I know a division in a society has a division journal. The Editor-in-Chief is paid over $65000 per year and several associate editors are paid ~$3000 each per year. These EIC and AEs are usually scholars/professors who have a full-time job in their own universities. They have different responsibilities. (These numbers are clearly specified in their bylaws).

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