Article In Brief
Experienced editorial board members say such service to a professional journal cannot only help advance individuals' careers in neurology but also makes them better researchers and authors. They provide tips on how to get invited to a board and insights on the typical responsibilities and requirements.
More than 100 neurology-specific journals are currently published—some covering all aspects of the field, others focusing on a narrow niche. And serving on the editorial board of one of these journals can be good for a neurologist's career in at least two ways.
First, contributing to the profession often is an important criteria when a neurologist is being evaluated for promotion. “Service to a journal would be one of the types of services to professional organizations that is quite valued,” said S. Andrew Josephson, MD, FAAN, professor of neurology and chair of the neurology department at University of California, San Francisco.
Beyond that, editorial board members help choose which articles to publish, and that is a good way to hone their skills as a scientific scholar. “You become a better author and a better researcher because you get a sense of the complexities that go into making decisions about what does and does not get published in a journal,” said Dr. Josephson, who is the editor in chief of JAMA Neurology.
Speaking to Neurology Today, Dr. Josephson and other neurologists who serve on editorial boards shared advice on how elicit an invitation to join and the responsibilities that come with the job.
What Editorial Board Service Entails
A few times each week, Grace Savage-Edwards, MD, FAAN, a neurologist in private practice in Huntsville, AL, logs on to the website for Neurology: Clinical Practice to see the manuscripts the editorial staff members have sent her.
She is one of four associate editors on the journal's staff, which also includes editor Luca Bartolini, MD, director of the pediatric epilepsy program at LifeSpan health system in Rhode Island; deputy editor Kathryn Kvam, MD, chief of the neurohospitalist division at Stanford Medicine; and two section editors.
Dr. Savage-Edwards reads and reviews articles about topics in her areas of expertise—running a private practice, headache medicine, and neuromuscular disease—before deciding whether the papers should be “rapidly rejected” or distributed for peer review.
Most articles hit the “rapidly rejected” pile for one of two reasons: They don't meet the journal's quality standards, or, despite being high-quality, they are not a good fit for Neurology: Clinical Practice's editorial mission. A rapid rejection lets the authors pursue publication in other journals.
Dr. Savage-Edwards distributes the articles she deems appropriate for Neurology: Clinical Practice for peer review. She typically solicits three reviews, looking first to the approximately 40 members of the journal's editorial board reflecting a wide range of expertise.
“We have a statistician on the board in case I need someone to look at the statistics in the paper,” she said. “We have an expert in diversity, equity, and inclusion [DEI], so if I'm concerned about whether certain language in the manuscript may not be culturally appropriate, I send it to our DEI person. If I want the opinion of a nurse practitioner, I can send it to the person on our board.”
The peer reviewers return the manuscript to her with their analysis and, using their feedback, Dr. Savage-Edwards decides whether to recommend the article for publication.
That general process is typical for most but not all editorial board members, said Roger Barker, MBBS, MRCP, PhD, co-chief editor of the Journal of Neurology. Some journals have dozens of editorial board members; some have just a few. Some expect board members to be highly engaged; others, not so much. At one point, Dr. Barker, professor of clinical neuroscience at the University of Cambridge in the UK, served on several editorial boards, many of which never asked him to do anything.
Indeed, that was often the case for Journal of Neurology before he and his co-chairs took the helm more than a decade ago. “Nowadays, we're much more proactive, so we would expect the editorial board in our journal to take on responsibility,” he said.
His editorial board, comprised of about two dozen individuals, has a virtual meeting twice a year to keep its members engaged. Board members are expected to review articles and recommend other reviewers. They are encouraged to do reviews with younger neurologists so they can gain experience with the journal. They are asked to suggest topics for the journal's Neurological Update section on emerging issues in subfields of neurology and to promote the journal to other neurologists when they have the opportunity to do so.
At JAMA Neurology, Dr. Josephson expects each of the 13 editorial board members to peer review an average of two articles a month. Beyond that, he wants their input and feedback. “We have editorial board meetings where we discuss all aspects of the journal and get the editorial board's advice,” he said. “And oftentimes, we will poll the editorial board electronically for their opinion on a specific issue or policy that the journal is considering.”
Benefits of Board Service
“Editorial board service has certainly helped my career,” said Roy Strowd III, MD, FAAN, editor of Neurology: Education since its launch in 2022. “It is a great way to connect with colleagues in the field who are also on the editorial board. It has sparked collaborations and networking. And editorial board service is also looked at by promotion and tenure committees to demonstrate regional and national reputation.”
Journal editors are typically paid for their work, but the many neurologists who serve on editorial boards or conduct peer reviews of journal articles are doing unpaid work in their free time. It's worthwhile, said Dr. Strowd, associate professor of neurology and hematology and oncology and interim vice dean for medical education at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
He encourages neurologists to serve as peer reviewers or editorial board members to hone both their technical skills and their professional expertise. “Instead of carving out time for one more thing to do, I suggest they pick the journals that they typically read and offer to peer review,” said Dr. Strowd, associate professor of neurology and hematology and oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “You're not just contributing to science; this makes you a better author and a better scientist or educator.”
Beyond that, service to a neurology journal provides an insider's peek into the emerging concerns, trends, and controversies within the field. “To be a true expert, you have to know what conversations are happening, and being a peer reviewer or an editorial board member helps you to get a good handle on the conversation,” he said.
Dr. Savage Edwards said every manuscript she reads is worthwhile in some way. “Even if I rapidly reject a paper, I still learn from it,” she said.
Landing on an Editorial Board
Lealani Mae Acosta, MD, FAAN, associate professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, was a fellow in 2013 when she first published a piece of creative writing in the Reflections: Neurology and the Humanities section of Neurology.
“I've always been interested in poetry and prose throughout the course of my life, but it wasn't until my fellowship that I realized medicine could be a venue for my creative writing,” she said.
Since then, nearly a dozen of her pieces have been published. Along the way, Dr. Acosta developed a working relationship with the section's leaders. She was recruited to review submissions for the section and, later, to be on an advisory committee to prepare for a relaunch of the section, now known as Humanities in Neurology.
“Then I was honored to be asked to be on the editorial board,” she said. “And I just kept plugging away and trying to do good work.” Dr. Acosta now serves as editor of the humanities section.
Neurology was also the starting point for Dr. Strowd's academic publishing career. When he was a resident, a mentor encouraged him to apply for a spot on the journal's resident and fellow editorial board. After a three-year term, he was asked to be deputy section editor and, subsequently, section editor, responsible for education articles for the journal. That work prepared him for his current role as editor of Neurology: Education.
At most journals, the top editors choose members of the editorial board, typically for a specific term. For the Journal of Neurology, the top priority is making sure that at least one board member covers the different areas of neurologic expertise. “For us, that means covering most of the major systems,” Dr. Barker said. “Secondly, we make sure there's an even distribution of gender across the editorial board and geographical diversity as well.”
When a vacancy on the board needs to be filled, Dr. Barker and his co-chief editors typically ask the departing board member to suggest a replacement or recruit a new person from his or her own professional network. They want board members who are sufficiently established in their careers to have expertise and credibility but not so overcommitted that they don't have time for service.
They are often approached by younger faculty members who would like to be on the editorial board. “it's quite hard for them to join because, if they're not particularly well known to us, it's difficult to know how much responsibility to give them,” he said.
Neurologists who wish to serve on the editorial board of a major journal might consider starting at a smaller subspecialty journal, Dr. Josephson said. “Some people do that just to see what it's like to be on an editorial board,” he said. “They can get great experience, which might set them up for service at a larger journal in the future.”
Getting Started as a Peer Reviewer
The route to being invited to join an editorial board is to be a great peer reviewer for that journal, Dr. Strowd said: “Just raise your hand by sending an email indicating your interest in peer reviewing and a description of your expertise. Editors are always looking for good peer reviewers.”
A good review provides a thorough critique of an article so the journal editors can make an informed decision about whether the paper should be published. It is also an opportunity to suggest revisions that might help improve the article. Reliability and timeliness are important.
“Good reviewers are their own worst enemy because if you do quick reviews and you do them well, you're going to get more requests to review,” Dr. Barker said. “Conversely, if you're absolutely hopeless and never respond to the email and never do anything that you say you'll do, you soon get dropped.”
Offering to do reviews on any topic is not a good idea. “It's really important to pick the journals and the areas that you are interested in so the review can be high quality,” Dr. Strowd said.
Dr. Strowd believes a high-quality review requires four things: content expertise; critical appraisal skills; knowledge of scholarly communication (how to speak to authors and editors and an appreciation for what happens behind the scenes); and journalology, the science of scholarly publication. Those skills, not necessarily part of medical education, are often developed through mentorship, he said.
To that end, the Resident & Fellow section of Neurology runs a mentored peer review program that matches senior leaders in the field with more novice researchers to co-review journal submissions. Dr. Strowd serves on the editorial board of Neuro-Oncology, which is creating a similar effort to train peer reviewers.
Some online programs provide peer-review training. Dr. Strowd encourages young neurologists to ask their mentor to co-review a manuscript. “That's a great way for a mentee to get plugged into a journal,” he said.
Dr. Barker seconds that opinion, pointing out that journal editors need good peer reviewers but do not have time to nurture them. Frequently, when he receives an email from a neurologist offering to review papers, he has no manuscripts on hand that match their expertise—and when such a manuscript does appear, he cannot remember the person who contacted him months earlier.
He expands the pool of reviewers by asking his current reviewers to recommend others. So he encourages neurologists to identify people in their professional network who review manuscripts for journals and ask them to co-review some papers. “Make yourself known in your department that you are keen to do that,” Dr. Barker said. “Then when your colleague gets a paper from me, they might think, ‘I don't have time to do it, but I have someone good to recommend.’”