A true story from a random Monday in April.
Earlier today I opened an email from a journal editor. No surprises – the email was a request to review a journal articles sometime in the next x weeks. I’m vaguely familiar with the journal. I’ve never published in it, but it’s got a decent reputation. The article is on a topic that I’ve published on previously, more than once. It’s not my greatest interest, but I’m certainly qualified to comment on this topic. How did I come to be identified as a reviewer? Perhaps it was via a scopus keyword search. Perhaps I am cited in the manuscript. Perhaps I am in the publisher’s larger database of eligible reviewers. Does it matter? In the end, it’s all the same: I was asked to review.
I dithered for a moment. Did I mention that I’m not tremendously interested in the topic, even if I’ve written on it before? Did I tell you how busy I am with other things? And how many reviews I’ve already done this year? How about the fact that I have pneumonia right now, and it’s the last week of classes, and I’m just generally sick and overwhelmed?
And then I clicked the button. Accept.
Accept? I accepted the review? Why did I do that? Do I regret doing it? Should I have taken more time to decide?
No. No more time was needed to deliberate. Best save that time to read and review the article. In the end, it won’t really take me that long. It never does.
The most important thing is that I said yes. I said yes to the review.
A few hours later, I drove to a lunch meeting. My first venture back to work since getting really sick. There’s nothing really notable about that, I suppose. I was slowly working through my mental fog at home, shut down the computer, grabbed my phone, and headed a mile or so down the road. When I parked, I stayed in the car for a moment and checked my email on my phone. Three new messages. One particularly lovely one had this subject line:
Rowena Reviewer has accepted your invitation to review manuscript XYZ123
Yes, it was a form letter … but I do love this particular form letter and the actions that trigger it.
I mentally composed a reply that will never be sent: Thank you, dear Rowena Reviewer! (You’re a Ravenclaw, right?). Thank you for accepting this invitation. You may not realize it, but you have made this journal editor so very happy. So much time and effort goes into finding reviewers, and so many people say no (they’re all too busy, presumably writing their own manuscripts which will then need to be reviewed) that it is an exhausting process. But you? You said yes!!! You said yes to the review!
In that moment, I envisioned the journal editor receiving the form letter that I triggered this morning. Did I bring him a similar moment of joy? I hope so.
And although they are presently unaware, two authors moved one step forward to receiving feedback on their manuscripts. They likely feel impatient about the process. They want to know the verdict as soon as possible. They don’t know what’s going on in the black box of the review process, a process that almost always takes twice as long (or longer) than perhaps it should. (Hint: the cause is usually people who don’t respond to requests to review, and those who decline requests to review and put the editor back at square one). But maybe a little bit of review pixie dust drifted down on their heads today, and perhaps when they receive their next request to review they’ll find it in their hearts to say yes, too.