Why Referee?


The Operations Research Review Committee: David Burman, Hamilton Emmons, Arthur Geoffrion (Chair), John Muckstadt, Stephen Pollock, Richard Rosenthal

OR/MS Today, December 1991; reprinted in electronic form with permission

Referees play an important role in determining the fate of MS/OR. How could this be? Consider that the quality of refereeing determines the quality of the refereed journals, which in turn play a crucial role in: 1) disseminating advances, 2) providing a de facto definition of the field to current and prospective MS/OR professionals, to professionals in neighboring fields, and to consumers, and 3) determining promotions and other career rewards in most academic institutions (and some others as well).

Such an awesome responsibility must be shared by the full spectrum of our community. Junior academics tend to dominate the ranks of referees for most journals, although many editors would prefer a more balanced mix that includes more practitioners and senior leaders. There are many reasons for accepting invitations to referee. Perhaps the most obvious and compelling one is the call of professional responsibility. After all, what could be more important than helping to determine the fate of the profession?

Less well known is that refereeing benefits the referee as well as the profession. Here are five reasons to referee:

1. Refereeing helps you keep up with the latest results and applications in your field.

2. Repeated superior performance as a referee is likely to boost your career, especially at the early and middle stages. The editors for whom you write excellent reports, and those up the line all the way to the editor in chief, will come to think of you as an excellent individual. They will therefore be inclined to think of you when it comes time to fill editorial positions at all levels, to select invited speakers and panelists at meetings, to invite participation in ORSA and TIMS affairs, and so on. Most organizations take editorial service and active participation in professional societies as positive evidence at promotion time. Indeed, their lack is often taken as negative evidence. This is not mere speculation. We have seen many cases where letters of recommendation refer specifically to performance -- or lack of it -- as a referee in order to back up a positive or negative recommendation.

3. Having to read others' work critically helps you to develop the self-critical faculties needed to improve your own work. This is very important in the early and middle stages of a career, when expository skills and work style are being developed. The actual writing of a referee report is in itself a valuable learning experience. For students (under the supervision of a faculty member, of course), such an experience is especially valuable because it requires them to confront important issues in research and in philosophy of science as applied to MS/OR.

4. Refereeing provides an opportunity for you to influence the development of the field. You do this not only by helping to decide what will be published and what will not, but also by what you say to authors. You can be sure that authors will pay close attention to your arguments on specific substantive points, and to your comments on pertinent but overlooked or underappreciated work by others.

5. Finally, as an author yourself, you naturally wish to receive prompt and competent (if not inspired) referee reports on all of your manuscripts. You should therefore be willing to produce them for others, an act which helps to create a climate in which others are encouraged to produce them for you.

For all of these reasons, it is in your self-interest to referee regularly and well.

Every member of any scientific or scholarly society that publishes journals should be willing to serve as a referee. Mid-career researchers and practitioners are irreplaceable critics by virtue of their current professional involvements.

Senior academics, practitioners, managers, and those in retirement often furnish some of the most conscientious and sage critiques. Society members of all backgrounds are needed to represent the interests of the serious reader, and need not hesitate to apply their own standards in conjunction with those provided by the editors.

Have you had fewer opportunities than you would like? The traditional way to garner refereeing invitations is to be known for quality work in your specialty. Alternatively, you may simply contact the editorial staff of your favorite journal.

By letting the editors know of your interest, and the areas in which you are qualified to review, you will greatly increase your chances to render win-win service: service that is of crucial value to the profession and which yields substantial personal rewards.

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