Reviewing Papers from Your Past- Is It Legal?

Dear Dora: Reviewing papers from your pastDear Dora,

Recently my PI asked me to review a paper from my graduate lab- is that allowed?

-EM, postdoc


Dear EM,

It sounds like you have an ethical dilemma since you know the authors, which could potentially create a conflict of interest.

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) published a paper called “Ethics of Peer Review: A Guide for Manuscript Reviewers” which can be found at:

On page 3 it says:

“The reviewer must be objective and must not have conflicts of interest that might compromise the objectivity or perceived value of the review.”

It is reasonable to tell your PI that you cannot give an objective evaluation of a paper written by your former PI. If you feel bad giving back the paper to your PI, let him/her know that you would be happy to review another paper in the future where you are able to make an objective assessment of the scientific work.


Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to [email protected] and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!


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2 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. Chris B

    wrote on April 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    "Recently my PI asked me to review a paper from my graduate lab- is that allowed?"

    I think something needs clarifying with this question. If the PI is asking you to review a manuscript prior to its being submitted for publication, then this is perfectly ethical, and actually you are doing your former PI a favor by helping them to critically review a manuscript. To be overly gauche about it, they'll owe you one.

    If, however, by this query you mean that this manuscript has been submitted, and has come to your current PI from a journal editor for peer review, then you really shouldn't be looking at it. As much I endorse the idea of graduate/postdoc training including experience of the peer review process, it shouldn't be of a publication from your former lab.


  2. Who Opened the Thiols? Oh- That's Your Breath?!

    wrote on April 22, 2011 at 5:09 am

    […] Reviewing Papers from Your Past: Is It Legal? […]

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