Over the years, many AOB reviewers have made outstanding contributions to the peer review process. They demonstrated professional effort and enthusiasm in their reviews and provided comments that genuinely help the authors to enhance their work.
Hereby, we would like to highlight some of our outstanding reviewers, with a brief interview of their thoughts and insights as a reviewer. Allow us to express our heartfelt gratitude for their tremendous effort and valuable contributions to the scientific process.
Nicholas Borcherding, Washington University, USA
Ankur Sharma, Curtin University, Australia
Eva-Maria Merz, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands
Meghan Delaney, George Washington University, USA
Dr. Nicholas Borcherding is a clinical pathology resident and member of the physician scientist training program in the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Washington University. He earned his MD and PhD from the University of Iowa in 2020 with a dissertation focused on data analytics and machine learning applications in tumor immunology. His main research interests include the use of single-cell technologies in the characterization of immune aberrancy in neoplastic and autoimmune processes. In addition, his research includes the development of software for single-cell sequencing and statistical frameworks to improve clinical assays.
On the importance of peer review, Dr. Borcherding says, “Beyond the need to ensure the integrity of a scholarly work, peer review is a vital mechanism to elevate the level of research. To me, peer review is a balance of these two concepts – evaluating the soundness of methodology and conclusions with making suggestions to try to improve the publication.”
To be good reviewers, Dr. Borcherding thinks that they need to have some level of detachment when reviewing a manuscript, “Reviewers should act as if they are referees when it comes to the science presented in an article. As reviewers are often selected by expertise, all too often they can bring preconceptions to the review process that can be detrimental. In addition, if I find an issue with a technique or a result, I try to write my critique rationally and do not attribute the issue to the authors themselves.”
Acting as a reviewer, in Dr. Borcherding’s opinion, is part of the responsibilities one assumes as a researcher, “I believe if you expect your own work to be reviewed, then you should be open to accepting review requests. That being said, I look at review invitations for the specificity of the manuscript and if it relates to my expertise. I try to be upfront with requests that are not in my area of research. In addition, I accept reviews and send out the comments the same day, so the obligations of acting as a reviewer do not weigh on my work week.”
From a reviewer’s perspective, Dr. Borcherding emphasizes the importance that authors follow reporting guidelines, “I support a greater effort to standardize reporting guidelines across publishers. I think these reporting guidelines assist in the evaluation of a manuscript’s integrity and increase the reproducibility of the results that are reported.”
Ankur Sharma is a Laboratory Head at Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and Women’s cancer senior fellow/Senior lecture at Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI), Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia. His laboratory focuses on the triquetra of early development, regeneration, and cancer. He is combining single-cell genomics, spatial transcriptomics, and machine learning approaches to understand the developmental/embryonic origins of cancers. Ankur obtained his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. In 2015, he joined the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and employed single-cell genomics to explore tumor evolution and ecosystem, focusing on tumor-immune interactions. In 2019, he secured the NMRC Young Investigator grant to work on the mechanism of immune escape in triple-negative breast cancers. In 2020, he was appointed as Research Scientist at Spatial and Single Cell Systems Domain at GIS, A*-star. His early work leads to the discovery of drug-induced infidelity in the stem-cell hierarchy in head and neck cancers. More recently, he discovered the phenomenon of oncofetal reprogramming in the tumor ecosystem (Cell 2020). He is also a member of the multidisciplinary Human Cell Atlas (HCA) liver team and among the first members of the 10x Genomics Clinical Translational Research Network (CTRN).
You may follow Dr. Sharma on Twitter @asharmaiisc.
Peer review, to Dr. Sharma, is the principle curator of scientific process. A good review can improve the quality and message of manuscript without suggesting laundry list of unnecessary experiments. Nevertheless, peer review is often anonymous and non-profitable. What actually motivates him to do so? Dr. Sharma says, “I love to read latest research and reviewing allows me get the early access to latest research in my field. Moreover, it allows me to help my peers in disseminating research to broader community in timely manner.”
Speaking of the importance of ethical statement for a research, Dr. Sharma says, “Since my works mainly deal with human research, ethical statements have utmost importance in research. We need to make sure all the research sent for peer review is done after due diligence and proper approval from institutional review boards (IRBs). Moreover, ethical approval is the custodian of human research as IRBs ensure research is conducted in most responsible and accountable manner by minimising risk to human and animal life and maximising the benefit for society.”
Eva-Maria Merz is a social scientist with a background in family studies and demography. She is head of the research line Donor Behaviour at Sanquin and Associate Professor at the Sociology department of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She combines her theoretical and methodological expertise within the topic of donor behaviour, i.e., donating substances of human origin, in order to study donor life courses and influence of personal and social network characteristics across different (cultural) contexts. Her research benefits from her theoretical expertise in social science theories and fruitful collaborations within the Dutch Blood Bank, and international scientific organizations, e.g., the Biomedical Excellence of Safer Transfusion (BEST) Collaborative, and the International Society of Blood Transfusion (ISBT). During the last two years, she has acquired several important research grants to consolidate her work. A European Research Council (ERC) starting grant will enable her to address the scientifically and societally pressing topic—donor behaviour—by integrating current theoretical frameworks of prosociality from psychology, economics and genetics within a life course model from sociology. With the aid of a Sanquin research grant, she is involved in establishing a donor cohort biobank, to examine biological determinants of donor behaviour and further strengthen her multidisciplinary approach. You may follow Dr. Merz on Orcid, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Here you may also visit her lab website and institutional website.
AOB: What role does peer review play in science?
Dr. Merz: The peer review process should assess and evaluate the quality of research and help authors to improve this quality, both of their current study and ultimately their science. Ideally, peer review is a process where authors and peer reviewer engage in a serious and fruitful academic discussion. The reviewer gives critical but constructive feedback and tries to suggest ways of improving and refining the quality of the science reported in the manuscript. Authors engage with this critique, try to address the raised issues and improve their study and manuscript. In the context of open science, reviewers add to assessing, evaluating and controlling research results, leading to responsible and impactful science. Reviewers have a responsibility towards the authors in particular and to science in general to supporting research integrity, transparency and openness. They should be committed to and aware of their role in improving research by strengthening research assessment.
AOB: What are the qualities a reviewer should possess?
Dr. Merz: In my opinion, a reviewer should be knowledgeable of the area of research for which she is reviewing. A reviewer is critical yet constructive, encouraging and helpful by explaining their perspective and assessment of the review and putting it into the context of their own background and knowledge. Reviewer critique is especially valuable when it contains concrete suggestions and advice for improving possible major and minor flaws in a study and the manuscript. Therefore, reviewers should be able to distinguish among major and minor points and describe and discuss them as such. The language and tone of a reviewer should be honest and factual but polite. Importantly also, a reviewer should be aware of possible disciplinary and cultural differences and take these into account when reviewing.
AOB: What motivates you to do peer review?
Dr. Merz: Several aspects play a role in my motivation to review: I am curious about new insights and I want to learn from others, I want to contribute to science and to improving its quality, and I see peer review as a common effort in the scientific community where you provide and receive honest, serious and constructive critique. Improving the quality and transparency of science is of utmost importance in order to create impact and meaningful implications of scientific studies. Open science is a key goal in sustainable research and requires collaboration and exchange within the scientific community. Dedicated and responsible peer review is one way to contribute to open and meaningful science by helping peers to improve their work and vice versa being helped by peers to assess and improve your own work. Providing and receiving honest and valuable reviews not only increases the quality of research and science, but also mutual trust and commitment.
AOB: From a reviewer’s perspective, how important is Conflict of Interest disclosure?
Dr. Merz: In the context of open science and transparency, full disclosure of possible conflicts of interest is certainly warranted. Information about such conflicts allows better review, assessment and judgement of research results for editors, reviewers and readers.
Meghan Delaney is the Chief of the Division of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and the Director of Transfusion Medicine at Children’s National Hospital. She is also Professor of Pathology and Pediatrics at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, USA. Dr. Delaney serves as a member of the Board of Directors for AABB, a Scientific Member of the BEST Collaborative and a member of the American Board of Pathology Test Development and Advisory Committee. Dr. Delaney’s scholarly focus is in clinical pathology, laboratory management, transfusion medicine, pediatric transfusion medicine and immunohematology. In global health, Delaney focuses on improving access to safe blood transfusion in developing nations. She serves as the Chair of NIH’s BLOODSAFE Program that aims to improve access to safe blood in Sub Saharan Africa. She is also Associate Editor of Transfusion Medicine, the journal of the British Blood Transfusion Society. For more information, please visit Dr. Delaney’s profile here.
In Dr. Delaney’s opinion, peer review provides a multi-faceted chance to screen out articles that are not ready for publication and to improve those that are ready for publication. As part of the creative process, reviewers get to impart their experience and perspective to make worthy articles more understandable and impactful.
To Dr. Delaney, a constructive review provides comments that stimulate the authors to push past their comfort zone and consider perspectives they may not have. Sometimes constructive reviews lead to additional analyses which supports the scientific findings. Thankfully, a destructive review occurs much less frequently. In these reviews, reviewers typically apply their own personal framework onto the authors, which can result in unhelpful comments.
Despite the fact that peer reviewing is not profitable, Dr. Delaney is keen on doing so, “I enjoy reviewing papers because I like to use the opportunity to teach others in the same way my mentors taught me. As a reviewer, for a moment, you can help someone else improve their work. Not only do I enjoy reviewing papers, as an Associate Editor of a journal, I get to work with both authors and reviewers through the process. Scientific writing is a skill that takes practice. Trial and error is part of the process.”