Reviewer Spotlight: Dr. Umberto Olcese

The quality of eNeuro depends on the effort that is generously contributed by our reviewers, who lend their expertise and time helping to ensure we publish great science. This Reviewer Recognition series introduces the research of selected reviewers, as well as their strategies for approaching peer review of a paper. Dr. Umberto Olcese is currently Associate Professor in the Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. His research is focused on studying the neuron-level mechanisms of perception.

"I think it is important to leave yourself out of the review process. This means not thinking what I would have done had I been a co-author of the manuscript, and also leave aside, at least initially, what I think about the impact that a manuscript will have. "


Umberto Olcese, PhD
Photo credit: Sander Nieuwenhuys

Tell us about your work. 

My lab is currently focused on studying the neuron-level mechanisms of perception. To do this, we employ tools such as multi-area silicon probe recordings and optogenetics, coupled with behavioral assays and advanced analysis of neuronal activity. One of my major efforts at the moment is in developing experimental paradigms to test the predictions of the major theories of consciousness for what pertains to which neural mechanisms actually underlie perception. Related to this, my lab is also busy in developing and applying novel neurotechnologies to study sensory processing and perception in conditions in which these phenomena are disrupted, for instance in some types of stroke, and develop new strategies to address these problems.

Any exciting recent findings?

My lab has recently been busy in investigating which neuron-level correlates of sensory processing are actually causally related to perceptual decision making. For example, we found that the temporal extension of the involvement of the primary visual cortex in visual perception may be extended by non-visual factors: when we are faced with behaviorally-relevant auditory stimuli, the time in which the visual cortex is required to detect a visual stimulus gets longer. Another recent result pertains to the posterior parietal cortex. We found that this area encodes all information required to detect and respond to changes in auditory and visual stimuli but is not causally required to do this task. This, I believe, strongly questions to what extent a neural correlate can be interpreted to play a mechanistic role for a given cognitive function. Overall, these recent results shed new light on the mechanisms of perceptual decision making.

How did you become interested in this line of research?

My background is in biomedical engineering, but the more I learned about the brain the more I became fascinated by its inner mechanisms. I thus decided to move to neuroscience, first as a computational neuroscientist, and then more and more as an experimentalist. By combining experiments with analytical and technological approaches, I hope I can contribute to solving what is arguably one of the most complex research questions, i.e. how the brain can generate consciousness. I also had the opportunity to have some great mentors and collaborators (among which I would like to mention Giulio Tononi, Paolo Medini and Cyriel Pennartz), which enabled me to pursue my research interests.

What do you do when not in the lab?

When not in the lab (or in front of a screen - thanks, COVID), I spend time with my family. When possible, I also like to ride my bike, possibly in the countryside, to get some respite from the city. I also like to read and learn new things from other disciplines: history, philosophy, news, or even just random facts. I think that any new piece of information enriches us and can spark new ideas, on top of being often interesting, of course.

What advice would you share with new reviewers?

I think it is important to be as impartial as possible. For instance, try not to consider who the authors of a manuscript are (in case the names are provided), in order not to be biased by this information. Also, I think you need to picture yourself as an author of the manuscript you’re revising: how would you react to the comments you’ve written? It’s often easy to ask the authors for changes to a study, but it is important to consider whether these changes are really necessary to address existing shortcomings.

How do you approach a review?

I usually first read a whole manuscript, let it settle in my mind for a couple days, and then resume working on it. I try to avoid that my first impressions or biases guide my review, and prevent me from giving impartial comments. It’s also of course important to be up to date with the most recent literature, in order to be able to judge an article fairly.

What have you learned over the years that has made you an effective reviewer?

I think it is important to leave yourself out of the review process. This means not thinking what I would have done had I been a co-author of the manuscript, and also leave aside, at least initially, what I think about the impact that a manuscript will have. First of all, I aim to focus on the methodological approach: are all details provided by the authors? Have all controls been done, and are all methods appropriate and correctly done? Do the conclusions logically follow from the results? Once these aspects are settled, one can consider the impact of the manuscript to the field. This latter point, furthermore, is becoming more and more an editorial concern, and sometimes does not need to be evaluated at all, since it is up to the readers to assess whether a study is relevant and innovative.

What is your experience as a reviewer with eNeuro's consultation review process

I really enjoy eNeuro’s consultation review process. First of all, it makes reviewing much more personal. In most journals, one writes a review, sends it and that’s all. In eNeuro there’s an opportunity to exchange ideas and improve a revision. In fact, I think that authors get much better advice thanks to this process. It also makes an author’s life easier, since the process mostly ensures that reviewers won’t provide contrasting comments. Finally, this is a good networking and learning opportunity, as one gets the chance to scientifically interact with new researchers. This can promote new collaborations, and certainly makes you a better scientist.

Umberto Olcese, PhD

University of Amsterdam


Learn more:

eNeuro offers authors the choice to receive double-blind review.  Additionally, the Reviewing Editor and two reviewers will consult to reach a consensus on the decision and to draft a synthesis of the reviewers' comments explaining the decision. These review syntheses are published alongside each accepted paper.  Learn more about eNeuro's Review Process.

Category: Reviewer Recognition
Tags: Peer Review