Most scholars will – quite rightly – see an invitation to join a journal’s editorial board as a measure of the respect and recognition that their scholarship has gained among their colleagues.
They will tend to see serving on a board as a good opportunity to contribute to the evolution of what is likely an important publication outlet for them, their peers and their graduate students.
Also, editorial board membership is often regarded as the kind of service to the discipline that stands a colleague in good stead when applying for grants, promotion or other professional recognition.
These reasons might explain why it is so rare for junior and mid-career academics in particular to turn down offers to serve on editorial boards. (When one of us helped build the first editorial board at International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis, for example, each one of the 15 or so invitees agreed to serve.)
There are often good reasons to invite mid-career and junior scholars to join editorial or advisory boards, ranging from wanting to better represent the contemporary state of the discipline to wanting the fresh ideas that less senior scholars can bring to a journal.
Obligations of a board member
While some journals make the expectations of their board members clear from the outset, others seem to rely on an implicit common understanding of member duties that, in our experience, is far from universal.
The standard obligation acquired when one joins a board is to assist in the peer review process. Most board members recognize that they are likely to be called upon to review papers themselves, but there is little consensus on how often they should expect to be solicited.
Some board members we’ve worked with as editors never refused a request. Others helpfully provided us with multiple alternatives if they were unavailable. Most were willing to review one or two articles per academic year.
Board members also serve as a source of information, expertise, and intel for editors, who will seek advice on others who might be approached for reviewing duties.
It is also expected that board members will be advocates for their journals.
What exactly does advocacy entail?
In some cases, it could mean submitting your own scholarship for consideration, although some colleagues see publishing in a journal while serving on its board as a conflict. More commonly, it means encouraging colleagues, or their students, to submit papers that the board member thinks will make a contribution to the journal.
Some understand advocacy in more subtle terms: mentioning the journal in conversations, blogs or tweets. Some board members will add a reference to the journal in the signature block of their email address or a link to the journal on their webpage. Other boards will ask their members to identify upcoming conferences of interest.
Expectations from the editor
Ideally, a journal will have an explicit statement of expectations that the editors will send to those invited to join the board. But in case they don’t, here are a number of topics that readers might discuss with editors who have offered them a seat on their board before they agree to serve:
- Editorial boards typically offer prospective members a term of three to five years. If a reader is offered a term shorter than three or longer than five, it might be worth discussing the editors’ thinking behind that decision.
- Some editorial boards, particularly in the medical sciences, are quite powerful. They make policy, contribute to personnel decisions and assume part of the public personality of the journal they serve. Others, like most of those in the humanities and social sciences, serve more of an advisory function. Inquiring about the historical role of the board is therefore always a good idea.
- Some boards meet regularly, and in person. When they do, it is often at the larger academic conferences. Since board members tend to be chosen in part for their scholarly diversity, it is possible to be invited to a board outside of your field. In that case, knowing in advance whether you will be expected to attend a particular annual meeting, and whether the journal might be able to support your travel, would be helpful.
- It would be similarly helpful to discuss the number of requests to review that you might receive in a typical year and whether you were brought to the board because of, or in spite of, your presence on social media.
Adam Chapnick is a professor of defence studies at the Canadian Forces College. He edited International Journal from 2013 to 2015. Kim Richard Nossal is a professor in the department of political studies and the Centre for International and Defence Policy, Queen’s University. He served as editor of International Journal from 1992 to 1997, and has been a member of a number of journal editorial and advisory boards.