Image Credit: Margot Richard on Unsplash
Image Credit: Margot Richard on Unsplash

Since 2000, MIT Press’ Global Environmental Politics journal has been publishing novel research examining the relationships between worldwide political forces and environmental change. In the early days of the journal, GEP’s founding editorial team managed its peer review process via a combination of email and spreadsheets. However, as the publication grew, they realized they needed dedicated software for submission tracking and manuscript management.

In 2013, the journal’s Managing Editor, Susan Altman, began working with Scholastica’s peer review system, which was selected by MIT Press because it offered a centralized place for tracking submissions and communicating with editors, authors, and reviewers. In the interview below, Altman reflects on GEP’s experience moving to Scholastica for peer review management, the editorial team’s experience working with Scholastica over the past decade, and the journal’s evolution up to this point.

Q&A with Susan Altman

Can you share a bit of background about GEP for those unfamiliar with the journal?

SA: In terms of the journal’s aims and scope, GEP is a triangulation of global issues, environmental issues, and politics. The articles we seek are quite specific to the intersection of those three areas but with an eye to different points of view and ways of analyzing information. GEP is well respected in its area, and I think a lot of the credit for that goes to the fact that we have a content management system that works.

The journal changes its senior editorial team every five years. I came in around the end of 2011 with the start of the third team. We’re now beginning the term of the fifth team of editors, who make the content decisions after considerable group deliberation. GEP’s editors really put the “team” in team management!

How did you find Scholastica, and what made you know it was time for a peer review management system?

SA: In the early days of the journal, all our information was in spreadsheets and Word documents. So when I joined, I had to use Excel to manage everything, with templates for decision letters that I would cut and paste into emails. It was quite time-consuming, and I was always in danger of making mistakes because it was hard to keep track of things filed in different places without an overarching system. We had grown a lot, and I think we’d phased out of being able to do things manually, so we knew it was time for a change. After one transitional software system and some further experience and research, we were able to move to Scholastica.

What has been the impact of moving GEP to Scholastica’s peer review system since 2010?

SA: Every year since moving to Scholastica the journal’s management has become more professional, I would say. From the beginning, Scholastica has been very helpful in terms of interacting with authors, reviewers, and editors more easily and keeping track of communication, as well as keeping all information about a manuscript accessible in one central location that is available to all the editors, reviewers, and authors, with appropriate firewalls in place. I usually see responses to things in my email first, as does everyone who has access to the system, and with Scholastica we can reply directly from email, which is generally more convenient for people, while knowing it will all be reflected in the system.

Whenever we invite a new reviewer or editor to contribute to GEP, their privacy is protected, and the system is generally very intuitive to newcomers. The majority of feedback we get from our editors and reviewers is that using Scholastica has been easy for them as well. So I’ve been happy overall.

How has using Scholastica impacted GEP’s peer review workflow and time to publication?

SA: I like that Scholastica enables editors, authors, and reviewers to easily do things when convenient for them, since they are all over the world. And I like the flexibility of the system and that everything is all in one place. I think that helps to keep things flowing.

The manuscripts table is probably the thing I use the most. The sortability of the summary table is excellent. And I often go to the Editors page to find out who has the most articles under review, so I know I’m not overloading the same people every time we get submissions. Being able to put as many documents as needed in the “Files” section of each manuscript work area and to keep the process double-blinded (to both reviewers and authors) is also helpful. And the Reviewers table makes it easy to tag and sort reviewers. When I’m looking for reviewers, it’s helpful that I can quickly see each one’s last assignment date, along with their average time to complete a review.

Scholastica is also very helpful in terms of automating reminders to reviewers. Since academics have so many projects and deadlines, most of them find such reminders to be helpful and non-intrusive. The system is also flexible in terms of supporting different due dates for reviews and revisions. If we need a particular review in 14 days instead of our usual 28, the system allows me to specify that date.

What areas of journal development is your editorial team focusing on, and what do you like most about working with GEP?

SA: Our editors have been making a strong push to increase diversity in both the topics we cover and authors we publish articles from. Special issues continue to be a good way for us to cover very specific areas. For example, we will publish an issue later this year focused exclusively on politics and policies for supply side climate change initiatives.

As far as authors, historically the disciplines we deal with have tended to be dominated by academics from the Global North. So the editors are working to encourage submissions and publish articles with more diverse perspectives.

Personally, I love that every day at GEP is different and that I get to interact with incredibly intelligent people from all over the world who are very generous with their time and expertise. It’s rewarding for me to have the opportunity to support important research, and having such good tools helps a lot.

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