NZJE Reviewer Mentoring Scheme

Fostering the next generation of reviewers in New Zealand ecology

 Recently, the New Zealand Journal of Ecology announced a trial of a mentoring scheme for new reviewers (Curran et al. 2013), based on others suggested elsewhere (MFR 2008, Donaldson et al. 2010; Zimmerman et al. 2011). This webpage reiterates the plans for that scheme and provides more details on its implementation. 



Why establish a mentoring scheme for new reviewers?

Peer review is the main quality control process in science. Most would agree that the subjection of scientific discoveries to the scrutiny of expert scientists results in higher quality and more reliable scientific outcomes. Recently, several opinion pieces have drawn attention to a crisis in the peer-review system in ecology (Hochberg et al. 2009; McPeek et al. 2009; Donaldson et al. 2010). One of the main problems is the trouble editors have in finding suitable reviewers to assess manuscripts. This causes delays in the time taken for a decision on a given manuscript and forces editors to fall back on an often time-limited coterie of regular reviewers, which results in reviewer fatigue and further exacerbates the problem (Hochberg et al. 2009).

At the same time that this reviewing crisis has unfolded there have been increases in the number of students undertaking postgraduate research degrees. For instance, in New Zealand, PhD enrolments jumped from 4263 in 2003 to 7916 in 2010 (Massaro et al. 2012). However, a large proportion of these students will never have reviewed a paper for a scientific journal (Zimmerman et al. 2011). This represents a huge, untapped resource that could help alleviate the shortage of reviewers, but these early-career researchers must first be trained and mentored in peer review.

Traditionally, students would only be asked to review a paper if offered to do so by their supervisor or if they had already published in the peer-reviewed literature (Zimmerman et al. 2011). There have been various calls to better involve early-career reviewers (Hochberg et al. 2009; Donaldson et al. 2010; Lepczyk & Donnelly 2011; Zimmerman et al. 2011) and some journals, such as Marine and Freshwater Research (MFR 2008), have already implemented such schemes.

There are many benefits to having early-career researchers review papers (MFR 2008; Donaldson et al. 2010). First, reviewing a paper hones critical thinking skills and improves one’s own science and scientific writing. Second, reviewing makes an important contribution to the scientific process and participation in this is likely to increase the confidence of early-career scientists. Third, it provides valuable insight into how the publication process works in science. Fourth, reviewing helps scientists keep in touch with cutting-edge science in their field. Fifth, some reviewers have gone on to collaborate with the authors of a manuscript that they reviewed. Finally, and importantly, given the reviewing crisis in ecology, it will quickly build the pool of available reviewers and help ease the stress on an overworked peer-review system. Of course, the best way for students to improve as scientists is to submit and publish their own work in peer-reviewed journals. In fact, doing so in parallel with acting as a reviewer is important to ensure students provide a realistic critique of the work of others, rather than judging against some idealised standard (Walbot 2009).

What is the mentoring scheme for new reviewers?

Early-career ecologists will be paired with an established scientist (for example, but not necessarily, their supervisor) to provide reviewing teams for manuscripts submitted to the New Zealand Journal of Ecology (NZJE). The early-career researcher and their mentor would each review the paper separately, discuss it and then submit a joint review. That way the student begins to build experience, but the quality of the review is ensured by the mentor. When the early-career ecologist and the mentor feel the new reviewer is ready, the student can then begin to review papers on his/her own.

We are calling for expressions of interest from such reviewing teams. These will then be entered into a database and considered by the NZJE Editorial Board when reviewers are being approached to assess a manuscript.

How are the reviewing teams assembled?

There are several ways in which these reviewing teams can be assembled. Ideally, early-career researchers will seek out their own mentor. However, if a mentor is not available (e.g. a supervisor cannot do it, or their field of expertise is not matched to that of the inexperienced reviewer), then an early-career researcher can apply without a mentor and we will find one for you. In such cases, we would require confirmation from your supervisor that you are suitable to begin reviewing under a mentor.

We would also very much like to hear from experienced scientists, for instance from government agencies, industry or Crown Research Institutes, who would be keen to mentor inexperienced reviewers but do not have the same access to students as university academics.

In addition, we strongly encourage enquiries from more experienced early-career researchers, such as late-stage PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, who have published their own papers, but might not be widely known to the New Zealand ecological community. Such researchers would be very welcome to review for NZJE and would obviously not need a mentor.

Of course, having your name in this database does not mean you are obliged to accept a request to review a given manuscript. Dependent on your field of expertise and the manuscripts submitted to the journal, it may also take some time before a suitable manuscript will be sent to you for review.

Sign up as a team or individually!

To sign up as a team, or individual mentor or (in)experienced reviewer, please fill out the form in the following file (NZJE_MentorReviewingScheme_Signup.xlsx), save it to your computer and send it as an attachment to

If you have trouble with accessing the above file and/or the formatting of the form, please try filling out the form in the older *.xls file format (NZJE_MentorReviewingScheme_Signup.xls) instead.

We strongly encourage MSc and Honours students to sign up for the reviewer mentoring scheme with their own mentor, because it is likely that these students will need extra support with regards to the publishing process and writing reviews. A local mentor known by the student is very helpful in these cases. MSc and Honours students are able to apply if they are in their thesis year and if the application is supported by their supervisor, who ideally would sign up as their mentor. MSc and Hons students can also sign up to the mentoring scheme without their own mentor provided this application is supported by their supervisor and an appropriate mentor can be found by the scheme organisers.

How do I learn to write a good review?

In addition to getting tips off their mentor on how to conduct a good peer-review, interested early career ecologists should refer to other resources on peer-reviewing (e.g. McPeek et al. 2009; Lepczyk & Donnelly 2011; Nicholas & Gordon 2011, and see links below). Another way all reviewers can improve their reviewing skills is to see how others evaluated the same manuscript. The NZJE is now encouraging editors to provide reviewers with the editorial decision on a manuscript and the comments to the author provided by all reviewers (reviewer anonymity will be upheld where requested). This will allow reviewers for the NZJE to evaluate their own review against other assessments of the same manuscript.

We look forward to receiving expressions of interest and to fostering the next generation of reviewers in New Zealand ecology!

Contact details

If you have any questions regarding this scheme, please don’t hesitate to contact us on

References and Links

Note: some links will require an institutional subscription to the relevant journal

Curran TJ, Cieraad E, Monks JM 2013. Fostering the next generation of reviewers in New Zealand ecology. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 37:161

Donaldson MR, Hasler CT, Hanson KC, Clark TD, Hinch SG, Cooke SJ 2010. Injecting youth into peer- review to ensure its sustainability: a case study of ecology journals. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 3: 1–7.

Hochberg ME, Chase JM, Gotelli NJ, Hastings A, Naeem S 2009. The tragedy of the reviewer commons. Ecology Letters 12: 2–4.

Lepczyk CA, Donnelly RE 2011. A beginner’s guide to reviewing manuscripts in ecology and conservation. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution 4: 25–31.

Massaro M, Yogeeswaran K, Black A 2012. Trapped in the postdoctoral void: Lack of postdoctoral opportunities in New Zealand forces emerging researchers to exit science or seek employment overseas. New Zealand Science Review 69: 30–39.

McPeek MA, DeAngelis DL, Shaw RG, Moore AJ, Rausher MD, Strong DR, Ellison AM, Barrett L, Rieseberg L, Breed MD, Sullivan J, Osenberg CW, Holyoak M, Elgar MA 2009. The golden rule of reviewing. The American Naturalist 173: E155–E158.

MFR (2008) Marine and Freshwater Research early career referee mentoring. (accessed 15 February 2013).

Nicholas KA, Gordon WS 2011. A quick guide to writing a solid peer review. Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 92: 233–234.

Walbot V 2009. Are we training pit bulls to review our manuscripts? Journal of Biology 8: 24.

Zimmerman N, Salguero-Gomez R, Ramos J 2011. The next generation of peer reviewing. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9: 199.

Some links with additional resources

A guide for early-career researchers to the peer review system:

Learning the ropes of peer reviewing, Elizabeth Pain 2008, Science Careers. This webpage has many links to additional information.

Most journals have information available for peer-reviewers. They include specific guidelines for different types of articles, as well as general information. For example, Science's guidelines and additional resources are available at