A peer review training and mentoring program

PREreview Open Reviewers is a mentoring program that empowers early-career researchers (ECRs) to contribute to scholarly peer review, centering around issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Goals of the program

  1. Train ECRs on how to write constructive manuscript reviews, how to recognize and combat biases, and understand systems of oppression as they manifest within the peer review process.
  2. Pair ECRs with more experienced reviewers and journal editors who provide mentorship and constructive feedback to writing manuscript reviews.
  3. Help ECRs access a support network of peers and editors.
  4. Help bring more racial diversity to the peer reviewer pool—in the pilot we reserved 50% of the mentee slots to applicants who self-identified as underrepresented racial minorities as defined by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
  5. Work together with the mentors to build a database of trained reviewers that journal editors can easily access when selecting reviewers.

Structure of the program

The program is designed to support ECRs through a path of guided learning to build their profile as socially-conscious, constructive peer reviewers, and equip them with the skills to become mentors themselves. This framework is designed after the Mozilla Open Leaders' program and has the potential to impact hundreds of researchers over a relatively short amount of time.

We define four "Stages of Engagement", the first two of which are mentees, and the last two of which are mentors. The program can be entered by an individual at any stage depending on their experience with writing manuscript reviews (Figure 1).

Figure 1. PREreview Open Reviewers Stages of Engagement

To allow for different levels and paces of engagement, the program has a 14-week cohort-based component involving stage 1 and 4 participants, and an 8-month self-guided component involving stage 2 and 3 participants (Figure 2).

Stage 1 Review Trainees (RTs): These are researchers with little-to-no experience in peer review who want to learn more about peer review and its process in the live, cohort-based component of the program (see below). Upon completion, RTs will have published 2 preprint reviews on PREreview.org to start their open peer review profiles, and will be ready, should they want to, to join stage 2.

Stage 2 Advanced Review Trainees (ARTs): These are researchers who have completed 2-5 manuscript reviews in traditional journal peer-review settings or through open, community review of preprints (e.g., researchers who have completed stage 1), and want to learn more about peer review and its process in the self-guided component of the program (see below). Upon completion, ARTs will have published an additional 4 preprint reviews on PREreview.org to build on their open peer review profiles. With a total of 6 highly scored manuscript reviews, ARTs will be added to a Trained Reviewer list for editorial prospecting and will qualify to join stage 3.

Stage 3 Advanced Reviewer (ARs): These are researchers who have completed at least 6 manuscript reviews in traditional journal peer-review settings or through open, community review of preprints (e.g., researchers who have completed stage 2), and want to learn more about elements of implicit bias, how systems of oppression manifest in peer review, and build their mentoring skills by supporting ARTs in the self-guided component of the program. Upon completion, will be added to a Trained Reviewer list for editorial prospecting (if they haven't already via stage 2), and will qualify to join stage 4.

Stage 4 Review Mentors (RMs): These are experienced reviewers who have either completed the training in stage 3 or enter the program with extensive experience in peer review (e.g., journal editors). They are researchers who want to learn more about elements of implicit bias, how systems of oppression manifest in peer review, and are willing to mentor RTs in the cohort-based component of the program.

Figure 2. The cohort-based component pairs stage 1 Review Trainees with stage 4 Review Mentors. The self-guided component pairs stage 2 Advanced Review Trainees with stage 3 Advanced Reviewer Mentors.

Cohort-based component

During the 14-week cohort-based component of the program, RTs engage in community calls, peer-to-peer support chats, and one-to-one RTs/RMs calls. The curriculum focuses on the critical evaluation of emerging scientific literature, strategies to write constructive reviews, understanding how systems of oppression manifest within the scientific enterprise, and helping mentees recognize and challenge their own internal biases that may influence their ability to remain objective when reviewing (Figure 3). In addition, we provide opportunities for peer-to-peer support, and mentorship and leadership training for those who wish to be mentors in future cohorts, an effort that will help make the program grow in its impact and reach.

Figure 3. Cohort-based component's curriculum overview

Self-guided component

During the 8-month self-guided component of the program (Figure 4), ARTs have access to training materials developed for the cohort-based component in the form of recorded videos, documents, and other resources that they can consume at their own pace. ARTs are paired with ARs and meet for 30-60 minute calls once a month. With the support and guidance of their mentors ARs, ARTs complete and publish 4 preprint reviews on PREreview.org. Prior to their first one-to-one call, ARs watch our recorded Mentor Thought Exercise video to encourage the development of a supportive, nurturing, and safe space for ARTs to develop their peer reviewing skills.

Figure 4. Self-guided component's curriculum overview

A note about the pilot

The PREreview Open Reviewers pilot launched in October 2020 with the cohort-based component of the program. Applications to join stage 1, 2, 3 were open for 2 weeks in September 2020 and shared with a limited number of people in our network. We received a total of 51 ECRs applications! For our pilot, we selected 10 applicants to enter stage 1, 8 applicants to enter stage 2 and 3, and identified 9 journal editors to enter stage 4. We hope to expand the number of ECRs in future cohorts as a number of non-selected applicants expressed a high desire to participate, demonstrating the need for such a program within the scientific community. Half of the selected applicants self-identified as underrepresented minorities (see below for what we mean by that). Stage 4 RMs are experienced journal editors who support our mission and are volunteering their time to train stage 1 RTs. Read more about our pilot participants here.

Our long-term goal with this program is to help address underrepresentation in peer review. Due to time zone and staff constraints, our pilot program mainly accommodates U.S. and European applicants and uses the National Science Foundation’s definition of underrepresented racial minorities in science, which includes Black/African Americans, LatinX, Indigenous/First Peoples/American Indians & Alaskan Natives. Thus, the designation of underrepresented minorities is defined using U.S. statistics rather than global statistics.  

While we recognized this as a limitation towards our mission of empowering all voices who are underrepresented in scholarship, we believed that to be effective we needed to be specific about our inclusion goal for this first version of the program. Our goal for the future of this program is to scale our impact to include more research communities by openly sharing all our resources and know-how, and offering our support to organizations world-wide to adapt the materials and format to the needs of their communities empowering them to create their own version of the program.

As researchers who have trained in North America and have degrees in the life sciences, we also recognize our inherent cultural and scientific bias in how we developed this program. As our program continues to grow, especially as we expand it globally through partnerships with like-minded organizations that share our values, we will adapt our curriculum and training to address these biases. We understand and are committed to the necessity of continual reassessment in order to avoid recapitulating systems of oppression within our own programming.


To learn more about this program, give us constructive feedback, share ideas on how to improve it moving forward, please don't hesitate to contact us at mentoring@prereview.org.


We thank the Mozilla Foundation for sponsoring the PREreview Open Reviewers pilot. We also thank the Mozilla Open Leaders community, in particular Abigail Cabunoc-Mayes and Chad Sansing for pioneering a completely online and interactive program that empowered people to be leaders in their communities from all over the world, and that provided us with the skills and inspiration to build our own peer review mentoring program.

We also thank eLife for sponsoring the PREreview Open Reviewers pilot by directly supporting our Program Manager, Dr. Antoinette Foster. Read more about their support here.

We thank Drs. Emmy Tsang, Yo Yehudi, and Julia Lawndes for advising us on how to frame and organize a spin-off of the Mozilla Open Leaders, adapting it to our needs and those of the communities we want to serve.

We thank Dr. Andre Walcott for designing and co-facilitating the Mentor Thought Exercise.

We thank Maria Guerreiro, Journal Development Editor at eLife, for helping us connect with the eLife Editors who serve as stage 4 RMs in our pilot.

We thank Dr. Veronique Kiermer, Chief Scientific Officer at PLOS and member of the PREreview Steering Committee, for her advice and help connecting our team with PLOS Editors.

We thank Lindsay Morton, Senior Manager Contributor Outreach at PLOS, and Dan Morgan, Director of Communications & Community Relations at PLOS, for being our first guest speakers and sharing their knowledge with our RTs on how to be effective and constructive reviewers.