Polina Zelmanova was Reinvention’s Editor during the 2019-2020 academic year, after joining as an Assistant Editor. She is now back in the research world doing her PhD at the University of Warwick. She has agreed to talk to us about her experience editing Reinvention and how this has influenced her career and shaped her research.

Let’s start with the basics. Please tell us a bit more about you and your journey with Reinvention.

Hi! I’m Polina, I’m from Cyprus and I came to the UK for my studies. I started working for Reinvention during my first or second year because it felt like an exciting opportunity to, first of all, get involved in academia in a different way, but also because Reinvention has a really good reputation and is doing really amazing work in terms of publishing undergraduate research. It felt like a good platform to get involved with the different sides of academia: It's one thing, writing, and it's another thing actually presenting research to the world.

How do you think Reinvention influenced your journey from undergraduate to PhD?

When I first started university, I was, and still am, in the film and television department. I never thought that I would continue in academia, but here I am doing a PhD and planning to stay here for the rest of my life.

Therefore, I feel like Reinvention was a big part of that in terms of the kinds of communities that you can be part of. No matter what you are like or where you work, it's important to find people who are on the same wavelength as you and, maybe not necessarily show the exact same interest, but share a similar passion. I really found that in Reinvention. Even during my first year there when I was an Assistant Editor.

I felt like [working there] you are part of this exciting community who are doing things together, and there was obviously an international aspect because we were working with Monash [University]. So again, a lot of new perspectives that really shaped and influenced the way I think. And another great thing about the journal is the interdisciplinarity. Coming from an interdisciplinary subject, I had a lot to offer. Working with other people from scientific backgrounds and other kinds of humanities, [made me see that] it was interesting to see how other disciplines think. It really influenced how I started thinking about my own work differently.

"No matter what you are like or where you work, it's important to find people who are on the same wavelength as you and, maybe not necessarily show the exact same interest, but share a similar passion. I really found that in Reinvention."

How did you find out about Reinvention and how did you decide to apply to become an Assistant Editor?

I think I was just looking for jobs on campus and it came up. I thought: “I could submit an application and see how it goes”. It was just by chance. And obviously, as someone who had to work while they were at university, it's nice to suddenly find something that kind of utilizes your academics skills. It felt like I was doing something productive for my CV. It was definitely a really nice opportunity to get involved with as a student.

Why did you then decide to apply to become an Editor?

Being an Editor was another interesting experience. As an Assistant Editor, you are mainly helping out with reading and reviewing the papers, which was really good, but as an Editor, I was ready to take the next step into having more of an overseeing role. I really love working with people and it felt like I could do both things: continue with the academic side of things and engage with the other Editors in terms of how we reviewed papers.

Another aspect was the human side of it, which [involved taking care of] details like issues related to the job, or just helping people progress with their work. But also, hopefully trying to inspire them to bring in new ideas. We really tried to reinvent a lot of the journal. We were constantly thinking of new ideas like the book review section.

It was exciting to build this journal together and see how things run from a slightly different side because I was involved in the direct process of reviewing papers, and I was seeing behind the scenes and understanding how putting together all of these papers actually works: thinking about copy editing and all of these other people who are involved in the process. So, it was very interesting. And it actually runs, if not identically, then very similarly to how most other journals run beyond undergraduate level. It is a very useful experience to have. If I submit a paper now, I know exactly what's happening in the background. They might not be as nice as we were [laughs], but the process is the same.

As an Editor, what changes did you bring to the journal?

Firstly, the addition of book reviews. And while I was there, we were also trying to work on a special issue with a particular department. We also introduced exhibition reviews during my two issues which was a nice addition to the book reviews, and it helped us maintain a balance between sciences, humanities and the arts. It was a nice publishing opportunity for students who thrived in different academic writing formats beyond formal academic writing.

In issue 13.2 I also introduced a guest article – this was mainly because of the small number of papers we had for this issue (because of COVID delays) so we got creative and decided to bulk up our issue with another different format – and it looks like it stuck! This was also a very exciting part about being the Editor, finding creative and exciting solutions to the issues that came up, something I really enjoyed doing and which was very rewarding when it worked.

Another thing that happened during the time that I was an Editor was COVID. Because the journal works virtually anyway, and most of our meetings were held virtually, things kind of kept on running as normal, but the stress that people were on slowed things down and it became about being able to adapt to that slower pace. It was something that we just had to do because ultimately people's mental health was the most important thing. We were just trying to stay on top of things and, because we publish at specific times of the year, we had to stick to those deadlines. But at the same time, [we had to be] flexible and think about issues like [what happens] if this paper doesn't end up being published because it's not on time.

If you have read our latest issue or looked through our social media, do you see a big difference now?

I think it's nice to see that there's consistency. For journals, consistency is very important because you need to maintain the high standard of publishing. Generally, your Ethos needs to be persistent. But I think what's really exciting is that it feels like in every issue that comes out, you can see that the authors are engaging with very current topics. And the fact that this keeps on coming through is important because as a journal you need to stay current.

On top of that, it is just really nice to see the expansion of the journal receiving these different perspectives. And although it is [essentially an] academic [journal] it's nice to have all of these different formats like reviews, guest articles, etc., because it shows a breadth of approaches to academia. It's something that you see happening in regular channels as well.

"It feels like in every issue that comes out, you can see that the authors are engaging with very current topics."

Going back to your current experience as a PhD student, has Reinvention influenced your research process? Or maybe your decision to continue your research journey?

Yeah, I think it has definitely influenced my decision to stay in research. [The journal] made me appreciate research on a different level, but also [it has showed me] the different aspects of research because a lot of the time, even as an academic you can, [do different things like] get involved with editing journals, starting your own journal or being a peer reviewer. So having that experience and really understanding those roles widened the scope for me of what academia can be. So, you know, it's not just about teaching. It's not just about research. It's also about these impact-related activities that are really exciting.

At the same time, something that I have taken from Reinvention is the way that we critique other people’s work. It comes into my teaching experiences, although I haven't taught formally yet, but I've done some tutoring for undergraduates. When I approach marking an essay, it feels very similar. For example, being generous and trying to find good things as well as being able to be very specifically critical. [At Reinvention] we would never reject an author for a vague reason, we would always try to be quite specific. Or if we rejected an author but asked them to resubmit, we would need to be quite specific in terms of the things we want them to do.

Lastly, the experience also impacted the way that I look at my own work. The issue of accessibility, for example. I feel like accessibility is a key concept at Reinvention, as well as being able to write for an interdisciplinary audience, because the journal itself is interdisciplinary. Therefore, making sure that what you are saying doesn't just make sense for people within your field, but hopefully that it also makes sense outside it. I think this is very important and it is something that I only really started thinking about while I was working at the journal. But I've definitely kept that with me.

"It's not just about teaching. It's not just about research. It's also about these impact-related activities that are really exciting."

Any tips for students starting their research career and wanting to publish their work?

I think a key piece of advice would be to just do it. A lot of the time [when it comes to] publishing, even for PhDs or for academics, there is a lot of anxiety attached to sending someone your work who doesn't really know you and might not appreciate your work as much as you think they should. But it's always worth taking a chance because you never know.

The great thing about Reinvention is that, anytime we saw that there was a valid argument [in the paper], although maybe it wasn't entirely up to our standards, we would always encourage the author to resubmit and make specific changes. I think the journal creates a very open and inviting environment for early-stage authors. Which is something that might not happen elsewhere, so it is really nice to take advantage of this opportunity. And then if you do get accepted and go through the peer review process, again, even if ultimately your paper gets rejected, it's such an informative experience. Obviously, it is also great to add [this experience] to your CV.

To finish, a lot of the time when you are at university, it almost feels like, oh, you are just doing something to “get a grade”. But platforms like Reinvention really help to show that this little bit of research that you did can make an impact on some level. Being able to take it out into the world is scary, but also it is really rewarding if it does happen. Yeah, so just apply, but also follow the guidelines [laughs].

Interested in publishing your research with Reinvention as well? Find out more at Reinvention: an International Journal of Undergraduate Research (reinventionjournal.org) or get in touch via reinventionjournal@warwick.ac.uk