‘Think twice before seeking to insert a reference to your own paper’
Accepting the role of reviewer allows you to take part in the communal effort to ensure the validity of what is published, on topics you know and cherish. You help to maintain the standards of your favourite journals, where your own stuff is often published. You get to know about the latest findings before everybody else. And, as an early career researcher, you learn about how peer review works – which can be useful when you enter the game as a corresponding author.
Personally, I also enjoy reviewing because it forces me to spend some time on a paper instead of just screening it quickly and running to the next meeting or lecture. This sometimes gives me inspiration for my own scientific programme.
But there are also bad reasons to engage in peer review. These typically revolve around using the power it confers to gratify your ego and promote yourself. One example is to force the author to
include gratuitous citations to your own papers. It is not that requests to cite your own papers are always wrong. On the one hand, you have been selected as a reviewer because the editor thinks you are an expert on the topic. You know the literature very well, and you probably have published on the topic (that’s often how editors find you!). So you must fight your impostor syndrome and trust your judgement on whether the submitted paper builds on and cites the appropriate existing literature. If you believe that it doesn’t, you must say so.
However, think twice before seeking to insert a reference to your own paper. Keep in mind that authors don’t have the obligation to cite every paper in the field, nor the latest paper. Keep two questions in mind, and only ask for an additional citation if the answer to one of them is a loud yes.
Is the description of the state of the art in the introduction incomplete without this citation?
Would the citation enrich the discussion by confirming or contradicting some of the interpretations?
Above all, keep in mind that the mission you have accepted as a reviewer is to help ensure the quality of the scientific discussion. Nothing more (but nothing less!). While it may be upsetting to see a colleague ignore your work, it is also upsetting for colleagues to receive unjustified requests for extra citations, and good editors blacklist reviewers who do this. Better to ask yourself why the authors missed your paper. Perhaps you should publish in more relevant journals? Perhaps you should be more prominent at conferences or on social media?
On a more cheerful note, I want to share a personal anecdote. I was once asked to review a paper for one of the “shiniest” journals there is. It was on the same topic as my PhD, from which I had graduated a year before, but the authors did not cite any of our contributions on the topic. Self-esteem apart, I truly thought this was a problem.
After many hesitations, I decided to include a shy suggestion to cite one of our papers, camouflaged in the middle of my detailed, five-page report. One month later, I came across the four other anonymous reviewers’ reports. Three of them openly criticised the authors for having completely overlooked our body of work, and asked them to correct that.
That day, I felt proud and happy about my work as never before. Peer recognition is sweeter when it is not forced.