Sunday, August 28, 2011

Having a creative outlet outside of academia

Yes, when I get stressed, I basically
turn into Tweak from Southpark.
One of the things I think is incredibly important for making it through grad school (and hopefully through the tenure track) is to have a creative outlet that doesn't involve academia.  These outlets let you get away (even temporarily) from thinking about classes, about the dissertation, about teaching, about publications, about the job market, and all of those other things that caused my eyelid to twitch from thinking about them too much. (Seriously, the eyelid twitch is God's way of saying "Look, you've got to calm down before I give you a stroke.")

When I was in grad school I had a number of different hobbies, some short-lived, some not, that let me escape from the grad school, homework (when I still had classes), research, and academia in general.  Due to my self-diagnosed hobby A.D.D., the assortment of things I used as creative outlets and general stress relievers was pretty varied. Here's a list of three things I did (and may still do from time to time), along with the reasons I found them to be enjoyable, and things to consider if you wanted to take any of these up in the future.

This is why I hate swimming.
Thanks Speilberg.
1. Kayaking
My wife and I took up kayaking after her parents took us kayaking a couple times during a summer visit. While I am not a strong swimmer, and generally am terrified of swimming in natural bodies of water (holla back if you saw Jaws as a six year old as well!), I found I actually enjoyed floating on top of the water, and being able to easily control where the kayak went.

The best part of kayaking, I think, is being forced to go out into nature and actually do something.  Kayaking gets you out of the house, let's you see and explore the natural surroundings in your area, and is very relaxing. Note that I am not talking about whitewater kayaking, which requires a helmet, fast moving water, an updated will, and the ability to not freak the f*ck out when you flip over and are strapped into your death trap of a boat. I don't think I would find that relaxing, and since I'm allergic to drowning, I don't think I'll be trying it anytime soon. Rather, I'm talking about kayaking on slow moving rivers and calm lakes.

Yeah... not this kind of kayaking...
The worst thing about kayaking is it's very weather dependent, and in the northeast that means about six months of the year it is too cold (or frozen) to go, and is also a no go when it's raining.  The startup costs are also one of the downsides, at least initially.

Kayaking has pretty high startup costs, especially if you want to buy your equipment and not rent it every time from someplace like L.L. Bean (which gets expensive quickly anyway).  A good entry level kayak will start at about $250, and you'll need a paddle ($50), a life vest ($25+), a carrier of some type for your vehicle ($50-$200), associated straps and ropes ($25), and things like dry bags ($10-$30) and other accessories.  It will probably cost at least $500 to get into kayaking (per person, if you go in as a couple like my wife and I did).  The nice thing is once you've bought your stuff, the actual kayaking trips will be virtually free, minus gas to drive places and maybe admission to state parks.

2. Iaido
My friend Matt convinced me during my first year in the Ph.D. program to join him for an iaido class. His sales pitch was basically "Do you like swords? You get to swing them around in Iaido."  Since I do, in fact, like swords, and wanted to swing them around without someone calling the po-po, I decided to give it a try.

Thanks to Iaido, I can theoretically
defend myself in this situation.
Very useful on the college campus.
Iaido means 'the art of the sword,' and involves learning the appropriate techniques for drawing a samurai sword (an iaito), making clear and precise cuts against imagined opponents, while portraying a level of zanshin (roughly a conciousness and energy), for certain scenarios (kata).  These scenarios stemmed from various attacks that a samurai may have encountered and had to defend against in his daily life in Japan during the Edo (and similar) period.  It does not involve attacking actual people.  For that, look into kendo, which uses body armor (bogu) and bamboo 'swords' (shinai).  Kendo also comes with a lot more bruises than Iaido, so keep that in mind.

Iaido is like this, but with
more 'wooshing' sounds
The best part of Iaido, in my opinion, is that it's very easy to let non-Iaido things slip out of your mind when you're doing the kata.  You have to have a LOT of focus to do the moves correctly, as it's not just where you swing the sword, but how you swing it, your stance, your 'energy,' etc.  It's also a decent low impact workout, and the people who do it are generally interesting people who are fun to hang out with.

The worst part is probably that it requires constant training if you want to be any good at it.  It's not really something you can pick up for the month, put down for six months, and pick back up for a month.  Like any martial art, to learn Iaido you likely need to find a school to join (run by a sensei), attend regularly, pay school dues, and practice outside of class.

Iaido has low initial startup costs, as you can practice in gym clothes (no shoes) and use a wooden sword called a bokken ($15?).  Many schools will let you practice with these for the first few classes until you decide that Iaido is something you want to continue to pursue.  When you get more into it, you can spring for the metal iaito sword ($100 - $1000+), and the samurai clothing (a gi and a hakama, $100+ for both).  The main expense from week to week will be the class fees, which could be free (unlikely), or could be  more than $50/week.  Finding an instructor may also be a challenge depending on where you live.

3. Home-Brewing Beer 
So let me say up front that I don't drink a lot of beer.  I drink beer, I just don't drink a lot of beer.  This, apparently, is not a good trait for being a home brewer, as you will quickly end up with hundreds of bottles (literally) of beer that you won't be able to possibly drink yourself, and with friends who are tired of drinking your homebrew beer.  That said, I attended a party where someone brought some homebrew beer, and I was intrigued.  It seemed like an interesting hobby where you could get creative and tweak recipes to brew what you liked.  When I got the opportunity some time later to purchase my own homebrew kit, I dove in.

It's best not to think
about what this looks
like and just appreciate
the finished product...
Homebrewing is a fairly simple process, but involves a lot of steps that are all equally important to getting a tasty (or at least drinkable) resulting beer.  The process starts by making what is essentially a hot soup of sugary liquid (whether extracting it from grain yourself, or buying pre-made sugar extract), bringing it to a boil with a lot of water, adding specialty grains to give flavor and color to the mixture, throwing in hops at certain times during the boil to give bitterness, taste, and aroma, cooling the mixture down, adding specialty yeast, and putting everything in a large glass bottle (carboy) or plastic bucket to sit for a few weeks while the yeast turns the sugary liquid (called wort) into beer.

The best part of homebrewing I think is the ability to customize your recipes to what suits your tastes.  For example, I'm a fan of big malty beers, so I tweak recipes for barleywines, porters, and stouts.  Other homebrewers love hops, and so they focus on brewing beers like IPAs.  Thus, you can make what you like, and in fairly large quantities, for about the same cost as buying beer in the store.  This gives you a creative outlet to make, tweak, and try out different recipes, and you have a tangible product at the end of it (albeit about a month later) that you can hold in your hand and say "I made this!"

The worst part of homebrewing, probably, is that you don't actually 'save' any money by homebrewing.  For instance, a good recipe for a high alcohol beer might cost upwards of $50 in ingredients, and produce about 4 cases (48 bottles) of beer, for a cost of a little over $1 per bottle.  That's not that much less than buying decent microbrew ($8/6 pack?) and is a lot more expensive than buying a 30 pack of cheaper beer.  Actually, if you want to brew a basic America Lager (think Budweiser or Coors), you're going to end up spending significantly more money than if you had simply bought the same type of beer in the store.  It also takes a lot of patience to brew the wort (5+ hours?), and then wait for the beer to ferment in the carboy or bucket (2-3+ weeks).  So if you're one of those 'immediate gratification' people... well.. you probably shouldn't be in a Ph.D. program for one, but you also will probably find it hard to homebrew, for two.

"After I had to mortgage my house to afford
all of my homebrew equipment, my wife left
me and took the kids.  BEST DAY EVER!"
Homebrewing has moderate startup costs, as you can get a startup 'kit' for around $100 (or more, depending on how fancy you want to make it).  The kit will come with a couple brewing buckets, hoses and other tools, and a basic ingredient kit (you supply a large pot).  You can also buy ingredient kits for a basic low alcohol beer for around $30-$40, more if you want something like a Barleywine, Stout, or Porter.  You can also customize your homebrew setup with larger brew pots, more carboys or buckets, higher quality tools, etc., so you can quickly drop a LOT of money into homebrewing if you're not careful.  If you stick with the basic setup, then you can figure somewhere between $30 and $60 per 5 gallon (~48 bottle) batch of beer.

"My 'hobby' is academic research... as well as
heart attacks... lots and lots of heart attacks."
In conlusion: There are plenty of other hobbies out there that range from costing almost nothing (e.g., hiking, volunteering, blogging), to being very expensive (e.g., collecting antiques, skydiving); that range from being relatively quick (swimming, working out) to relatively slow (knitting, reading).  The trick is to find something that interests you, fits in your budget (both in terms of time and money), and gives you a way to get away from academia, if only for a little while.  Having a non-academic-related hobby will help keep you sane, make you well-rounded, and give you perspective.  I highly recommend everyone taking up something of interest to them that is outside of the academic world.
Picture Credits: Tweak Jaws Kayaking Iaido_1 Iaido_2 Carboy Beer_Dad Professor_Heart_Attack

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watch out for the post defense blahs!

So this post is a little more serious than some of the previous ones.  Around 4 months ago, I defended my dissertation.  I wasn't really aware of what to expect immediately afterwards, and hopefully this post helps some people who are in a similar boat.

My actual dissertation defense was fairly easy, with no curve balls from the committee or moments of doubt once the defense started.  While I stayed fairly calm in the weeks leading up to the defense, the day before I was ABSOLUTELY. FREAKING. OUT.  I felt that I was going to forget some key piece of my dissertation (like one of my research questions or main findings), and/or that I would completely choke under the pressure.

Everyone I knew who had already gone through it (including my own dissertation committee members) said the defense would be fine, and would be more like a friendly chat about my research and future directions than an actual defense of the work I completed.  While I "heard" what they said, I wasn't able to really internalize it and overcome my self doubt.

I imagine I looked a little like this
during the defense.  I blame coffee.
In any event, I wasn't able to sleep much the night before the defense, and so I went into my defense running on about 2 hours of sleep and a pot of coffee.  Despite being tired to the point of almost falling over, the defense went fine, and I became a 'Dr.' (which, from what I've been told, is conferred upon successful defense, while the 'Ph.D.' usage comes after successful conferral of the degree itself.)

Immediately after the defense, I felt pretty damn good. I was finished, and even if I got hit by a car and killed walking back to the parking lot, I'd go out as a Doctor (sorta).  After going back to my (on-campus) office and receiving some congratulations from coworkers, and calling my wife and my mom, I went home early to crash.  I slept for about six hours, got up, and then felt... well... nothing much.  Maybe a little relieved, but otherwise just sort of empty.  I knew I was basically finished (barring some minor formatting things required by the University beancounters), and was already a 'doctor' in title, but I still just felt a little... blah... if that makes sense.  I had a 'so what' kind of feeling about the successful defense, the culmination of what I'd spent the last 5 years pursuing, and the last 2 years directly working on.

If you DO see a sad
little bubble following
your every move, you
should probably call
a real doctor...
Unfortunately, this 'blah' feeling stuck with me for probably a month or so.  I had occasional flashes of 'F*ck Yeah!' feelings that would last a few minutes or maybe an hour (like after walking across the stage at graduation), but nothing constant like I had imagined prior to the defense.  It wasn't full-blown depression by any means (at least, I didn't see a sad little floating bubble following me).  However, there definitely were occasional feelings of sadness at the 'race' of the dissertation being over, spiked with a little 'Oh Sh*t' feelings at what I needed to do next (i.e., get tenure... eventually...).

After a while, the 'blah' feelings subsided, and were replaced with other feelings and thoughts, like stressing about upcoming deadlines, travel plans, and work, my upcoming cross-country move, and day-to-day things like working on research projects. I began to get more and more excited about other things, too, like submitting (revised) pieces of my dissertation to journals for publishing, planning out my fall syllabus, looking into housing options where I would be moving to, etc.  The feelings that were at the forefront of my thoughts, namely my new status as a doctor, eventually became a feeling in the background of my thoughts, that I now forget about more often than not.  A somewhat similar experience happened after I finished my Master's degree, but it was on a much smaller scale compared to finishing my Ph.D.

I'm writing this blog post not as a review of what everyone always experiences after defending their dissertation, nor is it meant as a warning of impending post-dissertation depression.  I simply want to throw out the idea that you might feel a little 'blah,' a little sad, a little depressed, a little angry, a little scared, or feel nothing much in the days and weeks after you defend.  So, if you know this *might* happen, you can hopefully deal with it if it occurs, whether that's by surrounding yourself with friends and family, going on a relaxing trip, diving into your next project, rewarding yourself with a post-defense gift, or even talking with a professional if need be.

Now that it's been about 4 months since I defended, on a typical day I usually don't remember that I'm a Doctor/Ph.D. unless something or someone reminds me (like when someone refers to me as 'Doctor.')  While I'm very proud of my accomplishment, 'being a Doctor' doesn't define who I am as much as I thought it would. That might change the more time I spend in my new position as an assistant professor, but until that point, I feel I'm just someone that successfully survived the dissertation and made it through the post-defense blahs.

Picture Credits: Beaker Zoloft_Bubble

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How to drown out noises and concentrate

One of my previous posts noted that I like to use active noise cancellation headphones to help concentrate on writing tasks.What I didn't really emphasize is that even with the noise cancellation technology turned on, the headphones still don't always keep all of the various sounds out, especially if people are talking nearby.

This is what happens when I start listening to the
music playing through my headphones... it's not pretty

With some music playing through the headphones, it's much easier to drown everything out, but then I'm stuck listening to the music, which itself gets distracting since I start listening to the lyrics (I was never one of those people who could fall asleep with the TV on).  I then start tapping my fingers/feet to the music, and pretty soon I'm completely distracted.

Hanson actually created
what is widely considered
to be the first 'White Noise.'
One way around this is to play white noise through the headphones along with the noise cancelling turned on.  White noise can also be used to help fall asleep, meditate, etc.  Here's a very useful YouTube 'video' of 12 hours of just white noise:

However, listening to YouTube requires internet, and sometimes you won't have access to it (like when you're on a plane with your laptop).  If you're somewhat technologically savvy, you can use a special program (or if you're not, use this website) to capture that white noise YouTube video as a (very, very long) .mp3 sound file. Then you can cut it down to ~5 minutes using any sound editing program, and set it to loop on your desktop, laptop, or portable music player.  Voila!  A small, non-internet-based white noise audio file on an infinite loop.

Enjoy!  (And remember to turn off the noise cancelling option when you're done with it!  On a related note, the dollar store is great for finding cheap packs of AAA batteries that you will no doubt burn through fairly quickly with the headphones.)

Picture Credits: Headphones Hanson Jay_and_Silent_Bob

Monday, August 1, 2011

How to review a journal article

One of the things I've had to do recently is to write anonymous reviews for manuscripts that are submitted to journals. It was something that I never received any real training on, and I had to pick up from looking at the reviews of my own manuscripts I had received previously, chatting with colleagues, and simply thinking about the things I would want a reviewer to tell me.

Manuscript... REJECTED!
Ha ha ha! Huzzah for anonymity!
One of my friends who is still in grad school just received a request to review a manuscript for an article, and asked if I had any advice on how to do that. I figured this would be a great topic for a blog post. So without further ado, here is my (relatively new, fairly untested) advice about how to review a manuscript for a journal. Remember that this is what I find works for me as an anonymous review, and what I like to see in a review. Your mileage may vary.

1. Start by putting the manuscript into whatever format you typically read journal articles.
I find it much easier to critique an article for a manuscript when I approach it as if I was reading a regular article already published in a journal. When I read most of my regular journal articles, I download the PDF, print it out, and put it in my 3-ring binder of things I need to read. I can then take the binder to the couch, on the porch, on the bus, or wherever I decide to get some reading done, rather than being tethered to my computer.

Yes, I realize that my
reviewing method is indirectly
responsible for the death of
many trees.
This also makes it easier for me to read the manuscript and think about its contents, rather than being distracted by its odd format, as I would be if I tried reading it on the computer in the format originally sent to me by the editor (typically a MS Word or Adobe PDF). I can also make notes much easier on the printed out pages than I can using the MS Word or PDF electronic comments and markups, and it's easier for me to review my comments later on when I write the summary (more about this later in the post).

2. Relatedly, read the article as if it was already published.
Read the article as if it was coming out in the latest issue of the journal. Don't cut it any slack because it's in 'draft' form. As you read, make marks in the margins, on the text, or in a separate list about things you could add into your review.

For instance:

  • What do you agree with? What did the author do well?
  • What do you disagree with? Note that this is not whether you like or don't like the outcome of the results. Instead, do you disagree with things like:
    • The way the literature review was setup
    • The type of analytical model used
    • The statistics reported or not reported in the tables
    • The interpretation of results
    • The link to policy/practice 
  • Is the literature review fairly comprehensive and does it set up the analyses and discussion well? Or, instead, is it missing a key piece of the literature, key citations in the field, or does it read as a very lopsided argument, ignoring any prior literature that contradicts the theory/hypotheses being tested by the authors.
  • Related to the literature review, does it misinterpret results from prior studies? Does it say that study X found Y, when it really found Z?
  • Does the study have a 'consistent read,' or does it instead read like two (or more) people wrote different pieces independently and just stitched them together at the end?

Dear editor: Me strongly disagree
with reviewer two, who say me writing
read like two people be 'stitched together.'
Me feel much unhappy and me want to
squeeze reviewer two's neck until dead.
P.S. Fire bad.

3. Do you spot any errors?
Do you see anything that obviously needs to be fixed? Any typos, formatting errors, missing table labels, citations that you can't find in the references section, etc. Regarding the citations, you don't obviously have to check every one as that will be spotted in the proofing stage, but if a study sticks out in the text and you can't find the citation in the reference section, note that. If the reference section is obviously missing something important based on the journal's style (DOI's where required, first initial/names, etc.), note that.

4. Are there any citations that seem fishy? 
Why yes I did attend the
1932 presentation I cited
in my manuscript
One of my pet peeves when reviewing manuscripts is when the authors cite a conference presentation that's more than a few years old. First, I think "Were they actually THERE, or are they just citing the abstract they found online?" I then think "If this presentation was so important, why hasn't it been turned into a paper yet?" Either way, if you're citing a presentation that's more than, say, 3 years old, you probably should either find the resulting paper or find a different source, in my opinion.

If you see 12 different citations for
studies by Manatee and colleagues,
you're probably reviewing a paper
by Manatee and colleagues...
Do the authors cite websites that aren't scholarly (e.g., Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, Blog Posts, etc.), but cite them as if they are scholarly sources of information? Do you notice any 'unpublished' citations (if so, they probably shouldn't be citing them unless those manuscripts are actually 'in press').

If the discussion and
conclusion sections sound
like these guys wrote them,
they probably don't deserve
a revise and resubmit..
5. Do you feel the article ties the lit review/analyses/etc. all together into a coherent final discussion and conclusions? 
When you finish the manuscript, does it make you go "Ah ha! That's the point!" or does it make you shrug your shoulders and go "So what? Who cares?" If the authors don't do a good job setting up the front end of the article, then they're probably going to run into a problem at the back end when trying to tie everything together into a coherent point. If you can see a glimmer of hope in the article, and the authors simply didn't do a great job at getting across the 'so what' about the article, then you should note that in requesting a rewrite of the discussion/conclusions. Relatedly, does the author miss a big piece of the results? Do they downplay an important finding that should be highlighted? Note these in the review, explaining exactly what you think the author missed or should otherwise correct, and why they should do this.

6. Overall, does it seem like the manuscript is a good match for the journal you're reviewing for? 
For instance, if the journal is focused on linking research to practice and policy (e.g., Justice Quarterly, Criminology and Public Policy), does the manuscript talk about implications for policy and practice? If it doesn't, and the main takeaway doesn't seems to have a clear implication for policy and practice (even after a revision), then perhaps the authors should instead submit to a less policy-focused journal (which obviously means they shouldn't get an R&R at the current journal...). The same goes for journals focused on quantitative research methods (Journal of Quantitative Criminology), theoretical aspects (Theoretical Criminology), Policing, or other specializations. If the manuscript is simply not a good fit for the journal, then you should note what journal might be a better fit.

Interesting conclusion,
Dr. Crazy-Sweater...
Revise and Resubmit.

7. Is the paper written in a neutral way, or does it come across as an advocacy piece?
If the paper is meant to be a scholarly research manuscript, it probably shouldn't read like an advocacy piece. For example, if the manuscript examines the relationship between religiosity and crime/deviance, it shouldn't read like something that could have been written by either the Vatican or the Freedom from Religion Foundation. If it does, then it probably needs to be scaled back in terms of tone so as to come across as more neutral. Note that this doesn't apply to all scholarly articles, as some forums (like the response essays in Criminology and Public Policy) are geared more for discussing certain viewpoints or implications related to the findings of the research manuscript.

Unless this guy wrote
the paper, there are
probably at least some
limitations to mention.
8. Does the author note the important limitations of the study?
All studies should mention important limitations. For example, if the study is about a single county, the generalizability of the study should be one of its limitations. If the manuscript doesn't mention this limitation, then it should. Related to this, does the study stretch the limits of generalizability? Does the one-county-one-state study try to pass off results as valid across the entire US or even the entire state? If so, something's wrong that needs more fixing than just adding something in the limitations section.

9. Time to make the master list.
Once you have all of the things noted on the manuscript (or otherwise written down) that you think are either 'wrong' with the article or need some type of revision, and at least a few things that are well done, you are almost ready to write your actual review.

I like to go back through the manuscript and make a final list of everything I didn't like, want changed, or liked, and order it by page in the manuscript. I like this method, because it lets the author more easily address comments and change requests, as they'll be able to quickly find what the review is talking about in each point.

While Smith and Fluffy (2011)
raise interesting points, I believe
they should give less emphasis
to the government mind-ray
theory in their manuscript.

If there are a number of things that all fall under the same category (e.g., a phrase you think should be changed throughout the manuscript, a misinterpretation of results, a typo that keeps popping up, etc.), then simply note the first occurrence of it on your list and indicate that this is a problem in other places as well.

10. Time to summarize everything.
After you have your final list with all of the things you're going to note to the authors, you now should write a few paragraphs (maybe a page or so) about your overall impressions of the article. A lot of the reviews I've seen begin with a short (2-3 sentence) summary of the article: what was the research question, theory, findings, and conclusions? If you choose to do this, great, but the 'meat' of the review comes after this.

While perhaps a correct
review, try for something
a little more scholarly.
When you write up the summary of what you think of the article, you should remember to emphasize what was really well done, and not just focus on what the major problems/fixes. Remember the complement sandwich! If something needs a little more research, feel free to suggest citations to use, but if you keep suggesting the author incorporate citations by "[Your Name] and Colleagues," you're unlikely to remain an anonymous reviewer for long.

The summary, in my opinion, should read as if you read a friend's dissertation and are giving the most important feedback up front to them. Don't mention every minor typo on your list (the list will speak for itself later), but if there are a bunch of typos throughout, mention that the author needs to do some major proofreading in the next draft.

You don't want to come across
as "the special reviewer"
Make sure that your summary comes across fairly neutral in tone, especially if your comments are geared towards the negative. You don't want to blow the author out of the water with nastiness, nor do you want to be kissing their ass. Praise the manuscript where you feel it's appropriate, and take the author to task for things that are egregious errors, but make it a fairly evenhanded summary.

The final paragraph of summary (before you provide the list of changes/notes/etc.) should indicate whether you feel the article is good enough to publish (pending a minor R&R of course), or if you instead feel that it's not an appropriate manuscript for the journal. If you think it's not a good fit for this journal, but a perfect match for another one, then say so.

11. Making anonymous comments to the editor.
You will also probably have a chance to write directly to the editor about the manuscript. Your comments in this special section will remain anonymous to the author of the manuscript. You should end up with perhaps a couple paragraphs of private comments to the editor that state what you really feel about the article, but don't feel comfortable saying to the authors. For example, if the article reads like an undergraduate student wrote the article, gave it to a professor to quickly read through and sprinkle in citations to his own work, and then shipped it off to the journal, egregious spelling mistakes and all, then say so. If the study is one of the best you've ever read on the topic, and that you think the study should be published with very few corrections, then say so. If you can't be honest when writing directly to the editor, when the author won't see your comments, then you probably need to reconsider reviewing the manuscript.

This is what happens when
you don't proofread things...
12. Proofread your damn review!
One last thing you should do is to proofread your entire review. You should be reading it both for grammar/spelling mistakes (especially if you call out the author for making spelling errors in their manuscript), and also to ensure you don't come across as either a complete jerk or as a clueless reviewer. You can say a manuscript shouldn't be accepted and still give the author some good feedback and a gentle letdown. Alternatively, you can say the manuscript should be published and is a great example of scholarly work, while still providing insightful feedback to incorporate before the final acceptance. If you read your own review and think "I wish I could get reviews (negative or positive) that read like this!" then you've done a good job.

Addendum: My friend has this bit of advice to add (Thanks Dr. Liz!): 
No matter how terrible the paper you review, tone down negative criticism. Avoid inflammatory language or personal attacks. Don't use exclamation points. Also, reviewing papers is an amazing learning experience about a) what journals ask reviewers to comment on and what kind of scale - from reject to accept - they use and b) what a good paper "needs" (this can help your own writing).

You mean I can review things
for you, for free, and not receive
any credit other than a line on my
C.V. that won't really help me get
a job or tenure? Hell yes I'd be
Postscript: How to become a reviewer for a journal
When I first started my PhD program, I wasn't really sure how people became eligible to review for journals. Sometimes, once you have an article accepted by a journal, you might automatically be added to their 'list' of potential reviewers. However, if you want to review for a journal you haven't been accepted at before, you can simply send the journal editor a short email explaining your interest in reviewing for them, and what your area(s) or expertise are. They will likely be happy to have you volunteer, and you might receive something to review within a few weeks (although don't hold your breath, it all depends on what is submitted to the journal.)

Final Note: A good link from a major journal publisher explaining what they are looking for in a journal review can be found here.

Do you have any other tips for reviewing manuscripts?  If so, add them below in the comments or send me a message!
Photo Credits: Bag_Head Clearing Frankenstein Old_Man Thoughtful_Manatee Dumb_and_Dumber Protester Mr._Perfect Tinfoil Proofreading You_Suck Owls Phone_Guy (Yes, I'm addicted to this photo...)