Podcast: Re-imagining peer review by empowering early career researchers: Interview with Sin Wang Chong

Re-imagining peer review by empowering early career researchers: Interview with Sin Wang Chong

If you were asked to list the most important attributes one needs to have as a peer reviewer, what would they be? Very likely, you’ll talk about subject matter expertise, critical-thinking skills, and the ability to provide a sound, objective assessment on the quality of research presented in a manuscript. Which are all, no doubt, imperative.

But most of us rarely think of peer review as performing an important social function, as well as an intellectual one—of supporting fellow researchers in your field and building collegial relationships through peer review feedback.

In this interview series, I speak with Professor Sin Wang Chong, who has done extensive work exploring the value of feedback literacy in scholarly peer review. This year’s Peer Review Week focuses on the theme Peer Review and the Future of Publishing, and so, I ask Sin Wang how this particular social value of peer review can be strengthened and what direction he believes peer review should take in the future.

In the first segment, Sin Wang describes what feedback literacy is and why it’s important in peer review and scholarly publishing.

In the second segment, we discuss how researchers from all linguistic backgrounds can learn to provide constructive feedback (even though English is the primary language used for global scholarly communication) and the potential ways AI can help peer reviewers improve their feedback quality ethically.

In this third segment, Sin Wang talks about the importance of shaping the future of peer review based on the principles of inclusivity and empowerment, in particular, empowerment of early career researchers.

About Sin Wang Chong: Sin Wang is Director of Impact and Innovation at the International Education Institute, University of St Andrews, and Head of Evidence Synthesis at the National Institute of Teaching in England. Concurrently, he is a visiting and adjunct professor at a number of universities in Asia, England, and the United States. 

He is Chair of the Scottish Association for Teaching English as a Foreign Language (SATEFL) and serves on the Council of the British Educational Research Association and the Executive Committee of the British Association for Applied Linguistics.

Sin Wang’s research interests are in evidence synthesis, educational assessment, language education, and higher education. He is Associate Editor of two SSCI-indexed journals: Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching and Higher Education Research & Development. He is co-founder and co-director (with Shannon Mason) of Scholarly Peers, a platform to support doctoral students and early career researchers to navigate journal peer review.


[Audio transcript]


And here’s my final question. Since this year, Peer Review Week is focusing on the future direction of both peer review and scholarly publishing, if we were to re-imagine the peer review process, what according to you, should be the key criteria to consider? And which peer review models and approaches do you believe can help in strengthening the reliability and trust in the system?

Sin Wang

I think it’s important to promote and to design or re-imagine, as the word of the theme is, a model of peer review that capitalizes inclusivity, empowerment, and sustainability.

It may not be as flashy and shiny as AI or technology. I’m sure a lot of people will be talking about that, but I think we can’t afford a peer review system that is partially broken, one that is characterized by burnout of colleagues, exploitation, and unfair treatment.

To operationalize that idea, I think one area we can work on a lot is to support early career researchers, to support the next generation of researchers to get them involved in the peer review process. For example, for universities, think about a supervisor’s role, how they introduce peer review to their students, how they maybe coauthor publications with students, go through the peer review process with them, or sometimes supervisors are invited as peer reviewers.

They may opt for kind of co-reviewing with their students, of course, with the editor’s approval. I also think about what doctoral programs or researcher-development programs at universities can do. For example, it’s very common for universities, at least in the UK, to offer academic writing workshops, research writing workshops, or retreats. But it’s very rare for us to offer workshops on peer review.

It seems like we have all accepted the fact that it’s something that we learn hands-on. You will know it when you need it, but is that really the case? That’s a question.

And another thing I think universities can do is some universities have their own in-house journals and of course they are not those kind of big high impact factor journals, but they are for developmental purposes.

And for example, at the University of St Andrews at the International Education Institute, we’re now developing our own journal so that our students or doctoral students can have a chance to, you know, kind of take on different roles as editors, associate editors, peer reviewers, and we can mimic the models of professional journals.

For example, we can run special issues on our own and students can submit proposals. You know, we can give them firsthand experiences, but in a very supportive and guided environment. The second suggestion for journals and publishers to kind of support ECRs is to have student positions on editorial boards and not just put their names on the boards, but also provide mentoring opportunities. And I know some journals do that.

So it’s a very, very good practice and also invite ECRs as reviewers, regular reviewers, or being a member of the collaborative peer review process. I know there are some journals that adopt a collaborative peer review process where they work as a group to review a manuscript. Of course, it’s very time-consuming, but we have to think of some ways to ensure ECRs are a part of the peer review system so that not only can they help out a little bit in terms of workload because nowadays I think mostly senior academics and more experienced academics, you know, are invited to review.

I also think it’s very important to increase the visibility of the expertise and experience of early career researchers, because nowadays, ECRs are rarely invited to peer review because they may have published one article or they may never publish, so their records are not shown on the systems of most kind of submission platforms.

So, what I have done is built a repository and it’s a living repository where I invite ECRs to add their own information, their own peer review experience, their research interests, their publication track record. And I make that repository open access to journal editors, to publishers so that the editors can have a choice if they want to look for people, that’s a resource they can refer to. That’s part of empowerment and inclusivity that I talked about.

Finally, I think it has to do with the kind of open science kind of spirit. So, in open science, open scholarship, I’m sure some colleagues will know, there are open science badges for journals that practice open science. I think it’s also good to create badges or recognitions for journals that involve and mentor ECRs in the peer review process.

So these are some of my suggestions. They’re very vague, but I do think it’s important for us to think about how we support the next generation of researchers. You know, we’re so easily distracted by technologies and AI, and I think they’re very important topics. But at the same time, people are at the core of peer review and the next generation is what sustains and moves that forward.

So I hope these suggestions are helpful.


They are! Thank you so much, Sin Wang. I think feedback literacy as an angle to consider when improving the quality and experience of feedback is quite unique. And you’ve provided a lot of useful tips on how to, sort of, cultivate these skills and the kind of competencies and the attitude toward peer review that we know we would all like early career researchers to have.

So, yes, this has been a wonderful conversation. And thank you so much, again, for joining us.

Sin Wang

Thank you very much.

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