Image Credit: Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
Image Credit: Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

As undergraduates, college students learn how to use scholarly journals in their research, but few have the opportunity to experience peer review and journal publishing first-hand. Olga Pilkington, Assistant Professor of English and Assistant Director of Undergraduate Research at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, is working to change that. In the fall of 2019, she spearheaded the launch of Curiosity: Interdisciplinary Journal of Research and Innovation, Dixie State’s first student-run peer-reviewed publication. Curiosity is a fully open access journal staffed by student editors with faculty supervision that serves as a venue for student and faculty works across academic disciplines. The journal publishes articles on a rolling basis and compiles them into annual issues.

Curiosity published its inaugural issue in May of 2020 using Scholastica’s production service and open access publishing platform to give students experience working with professional journal publishing solutions. Pilkington, who serves as the journal’s faculty supervisor and editor in chief, was inspired to start the journal to facilitate hands-on learning for students as editors, reviewers, and submitting authors. She also sees Curiosity as an opportunity to build bridges between students and faculty through mentorship and collaborative publication.

“The impetus for a student-run academic journal came from my personal desire as an Assistant Director of Undergraduate Research to offer students and faculty an outlet for publishing their research in-house,” said Pilkington. “Dixie State University emphasizes active learning, and founding an academic journal managed by students is the kind of hands-on opportunity that fits with our efforts to offer meaningful education. The administration and my colleagues across campus have shown great support and the experience of working with student editors has been positive and extremely rewarding.”

Building a student editorial team

To kick off Curiosity, Pilkington worked with her university English department to create a student-edited publication course. Students who join the course take a deep dive into the world of academic journals and are onboarded as Curiosity editors. “I first introduce them to the basics of academic publishing using Scholastic’s open resources, such as Academic Journal Management Best Practices: Tales from the Trenches, The Journal Editor’s Definitive Guide to Digital Publishing, and various Scholastica blog posts. For teaching the peer-review process and journal management best practices, I rely on two sources of information: Scholastica’s open titles and my personal experience with being an author, a reviewer, and an editor,” said Pilkington. “Then they learn the ins and outs of the Scholastica platform, and finally are assigned as editors to various articles that are submitted to the journal. Most of the students are part of our Technical and Professional Writing program, so they come well-versed in general editing.”

Pilkington said she’s found that students receive the most value from the course after reviewing the preliminary materials when they move on to managing the peer review and publishing process for Curiosity. “The best learning in this area comes when students actually engage in securing peer reviewers, communicating with them and with the authors, and trying for themselves to come up with in-house guidelines and rules. I am confident that every student who wants to enter academia should have an understanding of academic publishing — and what better way to be initiated into this exciting realm than by practicing being an editor?”

Providing hands-on publishing experience

Curiosity journal website hosted on Scholastica

To provide students with a truly hands-on experience, Pilkington said she tells her class from the outset of the course that they are not students anymore but editorial staff, and she treats them accordingly. “Students quickly realize that they have the responsibility to do well in this environment, not only for the sake of their grade but also for the sake of the university’s reputation,” said Pilkington. “As a team, we report directly to the Provost, who funds the journal, so the editorial staff is invested in being responsible. Moreover, students who sign up for this course are genuinely interested in learning what it is like to work for a professional journal — many of them are considering careers in publishing or the academy and want to know what it takes to publish academic research.”

Students have also exhibited enthusiasm for the journal as authors, and have been able to develop their academic writing skills through Curiosity’s submission and revise and resubmit process. “Student authors are usually very excited to be considered, as for many of them this is their first foray into academic publishing. They are responsive and quite willing to make the changes suggested by peer reviewers. I have not experienced any problems with missed deadlines,” said Pilkington.

When it came to publishing Curiosity’s first rolling articles and annual issue, Pilkington said the student editors were able to easily manage the process themselves using Scholastica. Curiosity uses Scholastica’s production service for PDF, HTML, and full-text XML article production and Scholastica’s open access publishing platform for journal hosting, website design, and discovery support. “The journal workflow was very smooth and timely because of the ease of use that the web platform offers. Students had no trouble learning how to update the website, submit articles for typesetting, and publish them,” said Pilkington. “All the features of the web platform are useful and helpful in creating a beautiful, functional, and professional online presence for Curiosity.”

Pilkington said the experience of serving as Curiosity editors is helping students better understand how academic research is published and setting them up for further success in academia should they choose a scholarly career path. “I firmly believe that the experience Curiosity provides is valuable not only to those who want to be professional editors but also to those students who will go into research or teaching.”

Fostering collaborative open access research

Since she began tossing around ideas for Curiosity, Pilkington said she knew she wanted it to be an open-access interdisciplinary journal to facilitate the widest readership possible and varied submissions. “Dixie State University is on track to becoming an open university, so having an open-access academic journal fits with our mission,” she said. “Our scope is intentionally broad to offer access to publication for as many research projects as possible. We see ourselves as a venue that welcomes exploratory research — a place where new and non-mainstream ideas are welcome.”

As for collaborations between students and faculty, Pilkington said the journal is already encouraging more hands-on research mentorship and becoming a home for a wide-range of joint projects. “The journal follows the university’s goal of inspiring innovation by being a dissemination channel for our undergraduate, graduate, and faculty researchers. We are a safe place to have that first publication and an excellent way to share a new concept with colleagues and get feedback to improve without being evaluated by a broader peer community just yet.”

Pilkington said she anticipates that the number of student and faculty collaborations will increase as the journal becomes more widely known within the academic community. “The journal has been a fantastic opportunity to showcase the results of many research mentoring efforts that take place on campus. Curiosity offers increased visibility to faculty’s efforts, and a publication with us is a tangible measure of success for both a student and their faculty mentor.”

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