How to Get Published as an Undergrad
In college, you will have a number of opportunities to deepen your learning beyond the classroom. What separates college from high school is not only the chance to try new majors and go deeper in your specific academic field, but also the remarkable facilities, resources, and institutional support for your intellectual success.
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Additionally, colleges and universities offer a variety of tools and resources to their students not only to enhance their learning but to also increase the institution’s reputation on the global stage.
An elite school wants a range of world-class professors who frequently publish peer-reviewed literature, because this reflects well on the university and enhances their intellectual capital. In turn, this strong reputation and prestige helps bring in new donors, applicants, and strengthens alumni bonds to the institution.
As an undergraduate student, you will want to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities specifically available to you on campus – especially related to research. However, research does not have to be limited to STEM fields; rather, many humanities students find meaningful research opportunities with professors in fascinating subjects. Do not be dissuaded by your major – you will be able to find plenty of chances to take your learning beyond the classroom.
Make sure you’re developing strong relationships with your professors and inquiring about their work, as well as leveraging your background as reasons why you’d be an asset to their team.
Be persistent, patient, and gracious – you want to demonstrate how well you’d work in a team setting, so don’t be frustrated or demoralized if your first-choice professor turns you away – keep pursuing opportunities at your university for research.
Why Should I Publish As An Undergrad?
It’s important that you spend time thinking about your motivations for publishing research as an undergraduate student, because it is a major time commitment; however, there are many benefits to publishing while you’re in college.
Some of the benefits of publishing as an undergraduate:
Even if your paper is published in a lower-tier journal, you can use those articles as leverage to gain access to higher-level research teams at your university and beyond.
Your article acts as a great piece on your resumé, which again can pay dividends should you pursue a master’s/doctorate program in the future.
Often, research is a collaborative effort, and this process can also teach you valuable skills in how to effectively work in teams and hone your leadership potential.
Lastly, it provides you the opportunity to showcase your academic passions and contribute to the greater conversations in your academic field.
Where Do I Start?
First and foremost, you need to spend time refining your academic goals and really get to know what part(s) of your major and academic field most interest you. Whereas high school was about acquiring the fundamental building blocks of learning in five main academic tracks (math, science, history, language arts, and foreign language), college is all about experimenting with new academic opportunities and majors, and then ultimately narrowing that focus into a sub-focus within that field.
You’ll also be devoting considerably more time to your college major than you would to any main academic field in high school. Generally, after you finish your first year or two of general education requirements, you’ll be devoting the rest of your college time to your major (or double major).
Within that major(s), you’ll need to really zero in on what topics, issues, and subfields most interest you. Spending time to narrow your focus will help you gain more expertise in that specific area and therefore be a better asset to colleagues and professors.
In college, you’ll gain deep insights and profound understandings of your academic field, which makes you even more ready to share that knowledge with the rest of the world through publishing.
Is It Hard to Get Research Published?
There is no unilateral answer to this question; however, ultimately, the thing that matters most is the quality of your paper. If your research findings are written poorly, you will not properly convey your intellectual depth, academic strengths, and novel ideas.
Instead, you will likely be passed over in favor of someone who spent time crafting a thoughtful, persuasive article that presents their research with clarity, accessibility, and depth.
Because of this, it’s essential that you develop a small team of trusted colleagues, peers, and/or professors to provide you feedback on the quality of your work. Try to find people who can put biases aside, be objective, and not be swayed by their personal relationship to you.
This type of feedback is invaluable to writers and researchers – get in the process now of receiving this constructive feedback with grace and integrating it into your work. Editing is one of the best tools you can learn for your academic success.
Additionally, you should consider how your research fits into the current landscape of your academic field. Is it timely? Is it relevant to current discussions? Does it add to the greater dialogue in your field? It’s essential that you have a strong grasp on the current status of research and can advocate for how your paper elevates the field.
In summary, it’s not easy to get research published. Still, with a strong paper of exceptional quality that has been workshopped with a team of trusted peers and is timely to the larger discussions in your field, it will be considerably easier to be successful in publishing.
How to Get Research Published
The first step to getting your research published in a journal is to learn the journals specific to your academic field. Take a look at this pretty comprehensive list to begin understanding what journals publish student work, broken down by academic field. Additionally, look to see if your own university and/or department maintains an academic journal – that can be a great first step.
Rather than shoot for the top journals in your field, you should also consider low-to-middle tier journals in your academic field, as you have a better chance of being accepted into those journals.
You can then use your published articles as leverage for future articles in highly ranked peer-review journals. Also, be sure to look into specific undergraduate research journals, as their entire nature is centered on showcasing undergraduate work.
You’re therefore evaluated based on a slightly more forgiving set of criteria, rather than being judged against the qualifications of those who have considerably more experience than you do.
An example of this is the American Journal of Undergraduate Research, which is a “national, independent, faculty peer-reviewed, open-source, quarterly, multidisciplinary student research journal, established in 2002… [whose] mission is to peer-review, publish on the web and in print, and index scholarly and creative manuscripts written by undergraduates and with undergraduates’ participation, at no cost to authors.”
You should consult your academic mentor, supervisor, or research lead on their ideas about where to publish, as well. They may have good ideas about specific journals that would be a good fit for your project, and they may know some of the people who run the journals and can provide an introduction for you.
Another way to look for journals if you’re stuck is to read through the citations and bibliographies of other articles from peer-reviewed academic journals that interest you. This can be a great way to get to know other publications that might have eluded you.
Additionally, you should be going through your desired list of journals and see if they have previously published articles related to your research, as that can be a great leverage point to use.
Make sure you’re only sending your paper to one journal at a time – it is bad etiquette to “shop around” your journal to multiple publications. If they find out about this, you will likely be rejected before they truly consider your paper for publication.
While this rule is a bit more flexible with undergraduate research journals, you should be aware that this still happens and should make sure you’re not required to declare other publications you’re considering.
To prepare your paper for submission, you need to make sure that you’re following the proper formatting and citation process for your desired journals, as these can be quite different.
Here are examples of different citation processes:
MLA Style (Modern Language Association)
APA Style (American Psychological Association)
AAA Style (American Anthropology Association)
Chicago Style (University of Chicago Press)
Make sure you’re paying attention to the specific details for each publication. This can lead to a quick rejection if you’re not properly formatting and citing your work. You should be making a list of all the specific criteria:
English style (American / British)
Length (word count) requirements for the article (minimum/maximum)
Choice of submission medium (online submission, hard copy, etc.)
Meeting editorial requirements
What is the Peer Review Process?
Here’s a good visualization of the peer review process, courtesy of Elsevier, which publishes a number of reputable academic journals:
Publishing Your Work
Publishing your academic work during your time as an undergraduate student is a decided investment of your time, but it can pay great dividends. While you’ll have to put a good deal of time into writing the paper, formatting it properly, and submitting it to journals for consideration, having research published as an undergraduate can be a very powerful tool for building your resumé, establishing academic legitimacy, and point of leverage for accessing higher-level research opportunities in the future.