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Career Advice

Graduate journals are more than just a first shot at publishing

Writing articles helps improve your writing style, teaches how to become an effective peer reviewer and builds leadership skills.

BY JULIE HAGAN | MAR 19 2014

In recent years, a number of graduate journals have popped up, giving doctoral students their first taste of publishing a scientific article. But these journals offer more than a first publishing experience; they provide an opportunity to develop several of the skills required for a career in academia, such as improving your writing style, becoming an effective peer reviewer and building leadership skills. They are also a way of contributing to the scientific community, broadening your network and fostering collaboration.

Here are examples of the value that publishing in a graduate journal can bring to a doctoral student’s academic career.

Improving your writing style

Reading other people’s work –as an editor or a reviewer – is an ideal exercise to improve your own writing style. In doing so, you learn to identify and avoid common errors that you may be making yourself. Of course, authors who submit texts also benefit from feedback from peer reviewers. For David Hofmann, co-founder and editor of the Canadian Graduate Journal of Sociology and Criminology (CGJSC), it’s about offering doctoral students an “opportunity to learn in an environment conducive to constructive criticism.” But that doesn’t prevent the journal from maintaining high standards. In fact, only 15 percent of the articles submitted are accepted for publication without revisions. In all cases, reviewers are asked to “provide as many comments as possible to establish a learning curve to enable the authors to progress,” notes Noorin Manji, another co-founder and editor of the CGJSC.

Becoming an effective peer reviewer

Graduate journals represent an opportunity for doctoral students to learn the ins and outs of peer reviewing a scientific article. The challenge lies in finding the right balance between offering a graduate student a first reviewing experience and ensuring the stringency of the process. Reviewers are given detailed instructions, and editors are available to answer questions throughout the review process. As L’intErDiSciplinaire founding member Jean François Fortier says, having access to several reviewers with different areas of expertise can help make up for the possible shortcomings of less experienced authors.

Building leadership skills

Students involved in coordinating a graduate journal assume leadership roles and acquire management and organizational skills. For one of the founding members of the McGill Sociological Review (MSR), her involvement with a journal tipped the scales in her favour when it came to winning a scholarship. MSR senior coordinator Angela Kalyta says practical skills are an asset, whether you are preparing for an academic career or not.

Broadening your network

According to Dr. Manji, getting a graduate journal off the ground “is as much about networking as it is about publishing.” With authors and reviewers coming from various universities and faculties, across Canada and abroad, the CGJSC and the MSR foster working relationships among students who otherwise would never have met. And, as Ms. Kalyta explains, “it is crucial that we establish contact with mentors in our field of expertise; our contacts with other doctoral students can also help us in our career.”

Tim Ireland, liaison librarian at the University of Waterloo, says the impact of graduate journals “is felt throughout the entire academic community.” At the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, he says there was a “buzz” around the CGJSC editorial board’s presentation on creating a peer-reviewed, open-access journal. Graduate journals are generally viewed as an added value for students and for the university, and they often receive university support with financial, human and technical resources.

Encouraging idea sharing

Graduate journals empower students to innovate by sharing ideas. The MSR and the CGJSC want to break down the barriers between Canada’s Francophone and Anglophone doctoral students, and Ms. Kalyta says there is much to be gained by pooling traditions involving a variety of theoretical, methodological and normative approaches. Sometimes the journal’s goal is more localized; for example, the aim of L’intErDiSciplinaire is to spark a dialogue between the faculties of social sciences and natural sciences at Université Laval.

Student initiatives are flourishing, and there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. Graduate journals are a way of contributing to university life “that looks good on your CV, and allows you to develop skills and build up your network,” Ms. Kalyta notes.

Julie Hagan is a doctoral student in department of sociology at Université Laval and is assistant editor of both the Canadian Graduate Journal of Sociology and Criminology and the McGill Sociological Review.

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