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Editorial: The Lasting Impacts of Undergraduate-Authored Research Articles

Tim Ziegler, Monash University

 

For an undergraduate student, participation in a research project grants prestige, offers access to new skills and knowledge, and can be important to building a professional network. Intangible, 'vocational' benefits such as these are attained indirectly through the project's lifespan, and may also be considered as metrics of success (Thiry et al., 2011). The conferral of employment-related skills is an important component of the undergraduate curriculum, particularly in professional disciplines, where graduate schemes often focus on transferable 'soft' skills as much as technical ability. However, surveys of undergraduate students in STEM disciplines have shown that participation in a research project also strongly increases expectations of postgraduate study (Russell et al., 2007). To improve the chances of postgraduate success, a research project should train a student to be a researcher. Accordingly, metrics for a successful undergraduate research programme should match the criteria valued by postgraduate selection committees – not just graduate employers.

One of the key markers of academic success is the production of peer-reviewed publications; whether in edited books, journals or magazines, the maxim of 'publish or perish' still rules. The presentation at external conferences of academic posters or papers is similarly important, especially as a gateway to formal publication. However, these are not widely considered as important – or even reasonably achievable – outcomes of undergraduate research; rather, Thiry et al. (2011) describe STEM students' contact with professional academic practice only as an observational event (for example in staff meetings or informal lab chat). The authors also assert that the formation of a professional identity is uncommon for undergraduate student, regardless of discipline. There are certainly known factors that confound students' access to publishable research topics (Ziegler, 2014), but the increasing global reach of undergraduate-specific conferences and online journals is a strong incentive to incorporate publication as an output of the independent research project (Magolda, 2004).

To many undergraduate students, a successful publication might be the peak achievement from a research project – or, for that matter, from the undergraduate degree overall. Little systematic research has been done into the predictors of successful PhD applications, although Laurance et al. (2013) found that among doctoral students in the biological sciences, the number of 'early' publications (i.e. before the conferral of a doctorate) was an effective predictor of long-term academic success. Perhaps this investigation could be enhanced in the future by including tests for the effect of pre-doctoral publications on doctoral success. However, metric-based analyses of success have been criticised as a reductive method that does not sufficiently examine the merit of an article's content or contribution (Fischer et al., 2012). A successful article is not just published – it is used by peers and incorporated into community discussion. The post-publication fates of articles published in Reinvention can be described in four broad clusters: citation by academic and postgraduate authors for research articles; citation for undergraduate coursework; incorporation into taught modules as reference material, and incorporation as examples of model student work. These motivations were explored by inviting responses from those students and workers who have cited or otherwise used articles from Reinvention.

The key self-identified values for undergraduate students who chose to cite student-authored articles were topicality and reliability. The first is expected, as those students who make the citations will naturally share an affinity for the topic in their own work. In responses, reliability was framed within the marking rubric: to the citing students, publication in the journal was an indicator that the article (or its originating coursework) had achieved a good score from examiners, and was accordingly robust and informative. This is in contrast to how article quality might be judged by professional researchers: principally on the quality of research within, but also on prior knowledge of the authors, perceived quality of the publishing journal, and to a lesser extent, citation metrics (Bartels, 2003). It is unlikely that undergraduate researchers will have sufficient experience in their field to make use of these methods; citing peer-reviewed student-authored articles offers a more familiar framework for determining the trustworthiness of a source. Researchers and postgraduates, by comparison, have attained that familiarity with their topic of research.

For that group, an article that can fill a niche within their research is considered useful. The perceived ability of an article to a fill a research niche is one of the most important considerations for the Reinvention editorial team when screening articles. For citing authors who work in small or nascent fields, even undergraduate authors can make solid contributions to the foundations of theory – in particular, Duffy's (2011) article on class performativity in The Great Gatsby was cited as a vital source of theory for an under-researched subject. Separate from academic citations is the use of undergraduate research articles as a teaching tool in class curricula, where they may provide reference material for discussion or act as a model example of original student work.

For the latter reasons, it is crucial to ensure that undergraduate research is reviewed, published and disseminated. When used as a teaching tool, student-authored articles are authentic and aspirational texts to student readers. The provision of such articles also demonstrates that the academic writing mode is not an artificial construct; rather, there is a potential audience for student-authored work beyond coursework assessors (E. Wojcik-Leese, personal communication, 21 April 2015). Finally, author instructions and submission guidelines written accessibly for an undergraduate audience can be integrated into course designs not only as an aspect of assessment, but also to demonstrate professional expectations in academic writing.

The published output of undergraduate researchers crosses disciplinary, experiential and pedagogic boundaries. Reinvention disseminates this output as peer-reviewed articles, but external publication venues such as this journal should not afford complacency to the architects of undergraduate research in higher education. Incorporating symposia, peer review and formal publication into undergraduate research programmes will boost students' abilities to think, behave and produce like professional researchers.

The coming year will see the continuation of exciting, student-led projects in the Monash-Warwick Alliance. The International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR) will expand once more following its successes in 2013 and 2014; this year's event will see the beginning of a continuous 48-hour format from 28–30 September as students traverse institutional and national boundaries to present their research via high-quality videoconferencing links. Presenting at conferences such as ICUR is often a first step toward the publication of undergraduate research, and I encourage all interested students to consider a submission to an undergraduate conference in your local area.

The papers in the current issue reflect multidisciplinarity and a robust application of theory, with key themes of social currency, progressive ethics and the use of historical frameworks to evaluate current events. 'Social Norms and Equity Investment Behaviour During the Financial Crisis' by Megan Brown (University of Warwick, UK) is an excellent example of these factors: Brown describes how investors' and market analysts' behaviour depends, in part, on the perceived strength of a firm's ethics. In this analysis, a powerful quantitative dataset is applied to testing the impact of social influence, alongside an investment's simple financial incentive, when predicting stakeholder behaviour. William Webb (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) contributes to this issue with 'Moral Panic and Neknominations in Britain'. Webb's research explores the sociological character of 'neknominations', the brief viral online drinking game. Moreover, the article provides a critical appraisal of public and media reactions, and provides the crucial intellectual foundation for further analysis of this and similar phenomena. Insights into the perception of youth continue in the article from Melanie Ashe (Monash University, Australia), 'Teen-party-machines: Representing and consuming teenage rebellion in the "Skins party" trailer'. By focusing on the breakthrough British television series' approach to marketing in trailers and advertising, Ashe examines the production and exploitation of 'teenager' cultural capital.

The article 'Internet Access Through American Sign Language: A Pilot Study of Innovative Web Designs', by Erika Murray and her collaborator Dr Jody Cripps (Towson University, USA), presents the outcomes of a pilot study with wide-ranging social, cultural and policy potential. With the proliferation of multimedia content on the internet, people with diminished sensory capacity are increasingly excluded from the web. Using a mixed research design, the authors present options for redesigning online content to make it deaf-accessible, and determine from surveys of deaf adults which methods offer the most potential. Oliver Hirst (University of Warwick, UK) has produced an incisive and timely discussion, 'The "Apollonian Dream": Objectivity, Pluralism, and Vision in the History of Cartography'. In this article, Hirst argues modern mapping technologies such as geographic information systems (GIS) should be analysed similarly to historical maps, as texts that can be 'read' to understand the author's or authors' disposition.

Reinvention's tradition of paired student-staff books reviews continues in Volume 8, Issue 1. Joshua Hardy (Monash University) and Dr Phillip Young (University of Warwick) assess Andrew Blann's Data Handling and Analysis (Oxford University Press, 2015), a comprehensive review of the quantitative techniques used by biomedical scientists, and biologists more broadly. This book would be greatly instructive to students and early career researchers, from final-year undergraduates to postdoctoral workers. Alongside are reviews of Susan Greenfield's Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains (Random House, 2015). Hasan Suida (University of Warwick) and Dr Nicholas Price (Monash University) offer their opinion on Greenfield's assessment of the 'digital native', and the impact of ubiquitous technology on our physiological, social, and cultural character.

I will conclude by acknowledging the efforts and involvement of our Assistant Editor Solene van der Wielen and Book Reviews Editor Hayley Simon, who will both graduate from the University of Warwick this year. They have been indispensable, with a persistent work ethic and an enormous intellectual contribution to the journal. We wish Solene and Hayley the very best with their future endeavours.


References

Bartels, N. (2003), 'How teachers and researchers read academic articles', Teaching and Teacher Education, 19 (7), 737–53

Duffy, M. (2011), '"An unbroken series of successful gestures": Performance of Class in The Great Gatsby', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, BCUR 2011 Special Issue, available at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/reinvention/issues/bcur2011specialissue/duffy, accessed 19 April 2015

Fischer, J., E. G. Ritchie and J. Hanspach (2012), 'Academia's obsession with quantity', Trends in ecology & evolution, 27 (9), 473–74

Laurance, W. F., D. C. Useche, S. G. Laurance and C. J. Bradshaw (2013), 'Predicting publication success for biologists', BioScience, 63 (10), 817–23

Magolda, M. B. B. (2004), 'Self-authorship as the common goal of 21st-century education', in Magolda, M. B. B. and P. M. King (eds) Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship, Virginia, USA: Stylus, pp. 1–35

Russell, S. H., M.P. Hancock and J. McCullough (2007), 'Benefits of undergraduate research experiences', Science, 316 (5824), 548–49

Thiry, H., S. L. Laursen and A. B. Hunter (2011), 'What experiences help students become scientists?: A comparative study of research and other sources of personal and professional gains for STEM undergraduates', The Journal of Higher Education, 82 (4)­, pp. 357–88

Ziegler, T. (2014), 'A Global View of Undergraduate Research Reflected in Reinvention', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, 7 (2), available at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/reinvention/issues/volume7issue2/editorial/, accessed 19 April 2015

 

 

To cite this paper please use the following details: Ziegler, T. (2015), 'The Lasting Impacts of Undergraduate-Authored Research Articles', Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 8, Issue 1, http://www.warwick.ac.uk/reinventionjournal/issues/volume8issue1/editorial/ Date accessed [insert date]. If you cite this article or use it in any teaching or other related activities please let us know by e-mailing us at Reinventionjournal at warwick dot ac dot uk.