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by Valerie Jiggetts, ASA Academic and Professional Affairs Program
Sociology faculty members, such as those at University of Texas-Austin, Boston College and Warwick University, are finding undergraduate research journals (URJs) to be increasingly valuable teaching tools. The inclusion of sociological perspective in these journals, which only publish undergraduate research, has taken student research to the next level, moving student interactions and sociological discourse outside of the classroom and into engaged conversations with a wider audience. The process of managing and editing these journals gives students exposure into peer review and the work of academic sociology, while providing them with practical collaborative, communication and organizational skills that will serve them well in the workplace while promoting a sociological perspective in undergraduate research.
Throughout the year, students who have conducted research under faculty mentorship, independent studies, and summer programs submit research papers to journals that only publish undergraduate research. Deborah Piatelli, Boston College faculty advisor of Socialeyes says that, by having to set standards for their peers, students are learning how to set standards for their own writing. Socialeyes, which launched its inaugural issue this past February, is entirely student run with faculty members serving as advisors. As is the case with many URJ’s, students who work for Socialeyes are trained by faculty and are responsible for outreach, collecting submissions, developing an editorial process and selecting the submissions for publication.
On the other end, students who submit to these journals are introduced to and endure peer-review. The select few who reach publication are a step closer to establishing themselves as researchers as part of the wider sociological community, "We hope that by showcasing high quality, diverse research outputs, students will experience being, and be recognized as, producers of meaningful knowledge, rather than ‘consumers’ of an education ‘product’." said Catherine Lambert, Waarwick Universityfaculty member and sociology editor of Reinvention. Lambert continued, "Having their [students] research taken so seriously is very important. The process of getting reviewed is rigorous and can be daunting. Students describe a range of emotions, from fear to elation, but they really value the close attention paid to their work, the feedback and critical engagement of reviewers and editors, and the opportunity to rework material. Many talk of the pride of publication and some see it as a way to see if they want to carry on to do postgraduate work."
For students who plan to advance their education beyond the bachelor’s degree, the benefits of participating in undergraduate research, especially peer review and publication, seem obvious. But, how does undergraduate research and publication appeal to students who have not made plans to attend graduate school?
Especially during the current economic downturn, departments must assist students who feel pressure to take a career-oriented perspective on their education (Spalter-Roth 2008; see also Teresa Sullivan video "The Social Context of Uncertain Times"). As ASA’s research shows, one of the major pathways to job satisfaction for undergraduate sociology students is learning sociological skills, communicating them to potential employers, and using them on the job (Spalter-Roth 2009). Being published in and being a staff member of an undergraduate research journal serves as an excellent resume booster. The ability to describe and translate the skills used to conduct and communicate the research or to run a journal will prove impressive not only on the resume but also in an interview.
When considering the establishment of a URJ, faculty and departments are often concerned about sustainability of the project. It is primarily through the collaboration and commitment of students and faculty that URJs exist. The high level of student interest and faculty support shown in launching SociologicalInsight resulted in the publication becoming linked to a course taught by Christopher Ellison, University of Texas-Austin. This format encourages faculty and student investment in the project and reassures those with concerns about sustainability. While some URJs seek funding by chartering themselves as a club or student organization on their campus, many of the journals are funded by their deans who realize the benefits of the investment.
Undergraduate Research Journals are presenting undergraduate students with remarkable opportunities. Many URJs, including all of the journals mentioned in this article, can be found online and accept submissions from students within and outside of their universities. The journals are an educational opportunity ripe with benefits for sociology students who participate.
For more information about starting an undergraduate research journal, contact Academic and Professional Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org. For opportunities to submit to undergraduate research journals and other undergraduate research opportunities, visit the student resources page at www.asanet.org.
Spalter-Roth, Roberta and Nicole Van Vooren. 2008. "Pathways to Job Satisfaction." Washington, DC, American Sociological Association. (Available at www.asanet.org/images/research/docs/pdf/Pathways%20to%20Job%20Satisfaction.pdf.)
Sullivan, Teresa. 2009. "The Social Context of Uncertain Times." American Sociological Association Annual Meeting. August 7. Atlanta, GA. (Available at: www.asanet.org/teaching/apap/images_and_video.cfm.)
Piatelli, Deborah, Faculty advisor, Socialeyes: www.bc.edu/schools/cas/sociology/SocialEyes1/socialeyes.html.
Catherine Lambert, Reinvention: www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/rsw/undergrad/cetl/ejournal/.