Academics are always being encouraged to publish, but increasingly students too are finding that there are benefits to sharing their work with one another and a wider audience. RUSTLE has been talking to faculty and students about three different routes to publication.
Paul Omar (Law) saw his students producing a lot of written work, most of which was returned by tutors to be filed away and never looked at again. So he thought he would try to get some of it published: ‘With doctorates and the REF there is always this publishing imperative, so why not apply it across the board and say to students: Let’s have a competition, let’s see if your work is good enough to publish’. To be in with a chance, students have to produce work that gets a first class mark, that it is topical, commenting on current events or responding to developments in the literature or case law and that is written in a style that is accessible. Although Paul says that ‘at the end of the year I might be in a position to only help about half a dozen people to get into print, there’s no reason why others might not be able to get published and I can suggest some possible journals’.
Publishing their work can give students a real advantage when it comes to the next step in their career: ‘Quite often in the early years of practice you want something to differentiate you from your peers and for practitioners increasingly publication is one way of building a reputation.
To have published a piece of research which is on a topical issue, is something that students tell us interviewers comment on. They see it as a positive advantage and it is nice to be able to offer them this opportunity.’
In Law, finding somewhere to publish is not too problematic because as Paul explains: ‘A lot of the topical recent response stuff fits very well in the professional journals. These are mixed journals that deliberately attract articles from practitioners and academics. They are highly regarded and in some areas of law these are the first journals you would go to to get a sense of what was out there in the field of practice that you can then think about and respond to. These are journals in which I would also publish’. They are also journals that students look to, and Paul has noticed how often, unprompted, undergraduates find articles that were written by their peers particularly useful, perhaps because they are written in the way that a good essay should be.
Paul’s students have also had success in refereed journals such as Conveyancing and Property Lawyer, the Journal of Business Law and International Insolvency Review. These articles tend to come from students who write substantial masters dissertations then go on to a doctorate, who Paul advises to use part of the first year of their PhD to turn their dissertation into a published piece as ‘excellent preparation for the PhD …because the more writing practice doctoral researchers can get at that stage, the better it is for them’.
Paul sees this publishing project as building on ideas of reflective practice and continuing professional development (CPD) because study and career should be a continuum: ‘You don’t close off an academic experience and open up a practice experience. The skills should transfer. The experience of the law, the experience of researching, the experience of writing very crisp concise summations of the law and responding to the ambiguities of the law, those are things that are equally valid for academic or practice life’.
Student publishing can be a great way to develop important employability and transferable skills and Joanna Kellond, a member of the Excursions editorial board, explained how the journal set up by postgraduate students a few years ago not only provides the chance to be published but also offers students the opportunity to get involved with running a journal.
Excursions has grown from its roots in the School of English to work more closely with the Doctoral School and ‘encourage interdisciplinarity within the university’. Entirely student-run, the open-access journal offers the doctoral researchers and early career researchers who submit articles the opportunity to get their work peer-reviewed. Joanna explains that the reviewers ‘put a lot of work into the review – the person submitting could expect to have quite a lot of attention from two people in their field, the chance to work on revisions and then possibly go through that process again. The editorial team is happy to do that 2 or 3 times if the article feels worthwhile and the person submitting gains a lot from that process which is the same as for high-status academic journals where everyone wants to get published. Excursions offers the experience of dealing with that in a less frightening way.’
The reviewers and editors also benefit from their involvement with training in peer reviewing and copy-editing which prepares people to work on the journal, but also helps to develop skills for reviewing and editing their own writing. Reviewers also ‘get to look at other people’s work and think about it very critically. Helping the writer to improve their work you have to think about argument and referencing and how it could be improved – these are all the things that you need to do in your own work, but a lot of the time you don’t think about your own research in that way because it is difficult to step outside of it and be critical about it.’ Working as part of the editorial team also helps people to develop collaborative skills and gain experience of communications work – which is all good for their CVs.
Interdisciplinarity is the key ethos behind Excursions and it aims to encourage different departments within the university to talk to each other. The make-up of the editorial board, with members from three different schools, and the carefully chosen calls for papers help realise this aim. The next issue, being launched at an event on 16th May, is on the theme of ‘States of Emergence, States of Emergency’ and attracted contributions from literary studies, cultural studies, environmental history and international relations. The team is very conscious of the challenges in bringing in contributions from the hard sciences where essays are not such a common form, but hope that the current call, on the theme of Science/Fiction, which invites contributors to think about tensions and productive spaces between sciences and the social sciences, arts and humanities might encourage more scientists. They are also trying to expand the editorial board and the launch event will be a good time for people to talk to the team and find out how they can get involved.
Just as Excursions represents the interdisciplinary doctoral researcher community at Sussex, so another online student publication, Chalk, brings together undergraduates with shared interests in the arts and creativity. The journal is quite new, having grown out of the Arts Society in Autumn 2011 as a project to bring people together as a community, but also, as the journal’s founder Edwin Coomasaru explained, ‘to expand and extend our role outside of a usual student society to engage with the wider world’. This does seem to be happening as Chalk is now being read in 34 countries, thanks to the power of the internet.
Still in the early stages of its development, Chalk does call for submissions, but also finds contributors by ‘tracking down people who are particularly brilliant or interesting in seminars and classes’ looking for ‘the best, most interesting and exciting pieces that engage in debate or dialogue or suggest new ways of looking at old topics’. As it grows, Edwin hopes that the journal will be able to publish work from the wider Arts Society membership which includes science students who have an interest in arts and creativity.
The wordpress blogging platform that is used (the same one used for RUSTLE) means that the team are able to publish essays, criticism, artists’ work and reviews quickly and efficiently, and because no hard copies are being printed there are no expenses. Already though, students whose articles are published are gaining exposure and their articles are being read all over the world which Edwin sees as ‘really good for them and their careers… Chalk enables us to practice something we would like to go on and do, and a potential employer can see it’. But Chalk also contributes to students’ learning at university as it creates an intellectual community within which they can ‘look at each other’s essays – the best essays – and learn from them’. As Edwin says: ‘as a material, whether on a blackboard or a canvas, chalk has both an expressive and pedagogical function. So learning from each other, teaching each other and learning about the world are built into the journal’s name’.
These three examples of Sussex students’ publishing activities demonstrate rather different ways of getting students’ work into print – or onto the internet, but however it is done it is clear that all sorts of content which is being produced as part of taught courses or doctoral research, can be disseminated in ways that benefit students’ present learning and future employability.