As we are launching PoliNet, a network of junior social science journals (currently) across Europe and North America, we asked our partner journals to share some of their insights into student publishing and their struggles in starting and growing a student-led journal. This blog post is connected to our interview with Prof Dr Jeremy Richardson about his role as founder and co-editor of the Journal of European Public Policy (JEPP) and his take on the developments of publishing in IR over the past 40 years, which you can read in our latest issue. Our special thanks go to Verena Matejka (DNGPS), Tito Almeida (Flux), Nora Wacker (PolisReflects) and Armin Safavi (STAIR) for their contributions to this article.
YJEA: Can you tell us a bit about your journal.
The DNGPS Working-Paper series is part of the German Student Association for Political and Social Sciences (GSAPS, Deutsche Nachwuchsgesellschaft für Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften e.V.). The main goal of the association is to connect students of all social science disciplines at German universities. Therefore, the journal covers a very broad scope and publishes papers from various disciplines.
Flux: International Relations Review is McGill’s exclusive undergraduate peer-reviewed journal. Flux publishes two issues per year, one every semester on topics of international relations academia. The first print issue of Flux came under the name “Canada in the World” and was published in the Winter of 2000 at the McGill International Review Journal (MIR). The publication provided a new platform for discussion of international relations, catered specifically to young academia. From its founding year up until 2018, Flux operated under MIR and published bi-annually, successfully garnering a strong audience base within and beyond McGill’s academic circles. With its new vision to create a journal made by the undergraduate community of McGill, Flux became an independent student institution in 2018 focusing on creating an accessible outlet for undergraduate student academic publications. Since then Flux: International Relations Review is a peer-reviewed academic journal, run by undergraduate students at McGill University, which publishes student international relations research at the end of the fall and winter semesters. The journal publishes work from a broad range of disciplines, including historical international relations, foreign policy and foreign affairs, international law and human rights, and international institutions. In 2022, Flux entered a new phase of expansion focusing on extending its call of submissions to an international audience.
PolisReflects is a student journal of International Relations. Like our home institution Polis180, we aim to strengthen young voices in European and international affairs. As we are part of a grassroots think tank, our focus goes beyond academia. With thematic issues on current topics like digital sovereignty, feminist foreign policy, and the crisis of democracy, we encourage our authors to contribute to current policy debates with the research they conduct during their studies. We build on the achievements of iReflect, a student journal associated with the master’s programme in International Relations in Berlin and Potsdam, and we are a proud part of Berlin Exchange, an interdisciplinary network of student journals supported by the Berlin University Alliance.
St. Antony’s International Review (STAIR) is the University of Oxford’s student-run, peer-reviewed Journal of International Affairs. STAIR publishes two issues each year in Winter and Spring, commentary pieces on an ongoing basis, and hosts in person and virtual events during the academic year. Created by graduate students at St. Antony’s College in 2005, STAIR has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers.
What do you consider the greatest achievement of your journal?
DNGPS: I would say that a major achievement is that we combine so many subdisciplines in the scope of our publications. On the one hand, we are interdisciplinary. On the other hand, we publish both papers with a strong quantitative positivist orientation and papers that are rooted in critical theory. I think that in this way we contribute to a little more exchange between the disciplines.
Flux: To have published articles from Canada’s top 3 ranked universities: McGill, the University of Toronto, and the University of British Columbia
“Student journals facilitate what could be called “active citizenship“ in academia: Our authors, but also our editorial team share the lived experience that they are not only consumers of knowledge, but have a contribution to make.”
PolisReflects: Editing an academic journal is a complex endeavour involving tens of people over several months, from the authors to our editorial team, the reviewers, and our friends at Designers for Diversity, who support us with the cover art and the layout of our print issue. Making all of this come together is an achievement in itself. One experience we particularly enjoyed was the launch event of our third issue, “Democracy in Turmoil”, which took place in Berlin in November. We managed to bring together our authors, more senior experts in the field and a diverse audience, to discuss the various challenges democratic political systems are facing. Despite the sombering topic, we had a very engaging conversation that not only allowed us to better understand some of the challenges, but also to think ahead towards ways in which they could be addressed.
STAIR: STAIR is the only and longest standing peer-reviewed Journal of International Affairs run within the University itself, as opposed to the University Press. STAIR turns 20 next year, a real achievement given the lifespan of past International Affairs journals at the University.
What is the biggest challenge your journal is currently facing? How are you trying to address it?
DNGPS: The nature of student journals is that students finish their education and leave the university. This has been the main challenge to the journal during the last month and is quite complicated to find new students for the editorial board. However, we are fortunate to have found interested students willing to take on the editorial tasks.
Flux: Shortage of peer-reviewers, we will try to address this by the beginning of 2024 but contacting McGill’s grad school department of Political Science.
PolisReflects: As a journal of International Relations, we would be happy to have more submissions from outside of Germany to be able to bring in more diverse views and perspectives on international politics. We are addressing this by building our international network, through PoliNet but also with individual partners like the European Studies Review.
STAIR: As with most journals, particularly those managed by students, STAIR must complement its outreach to new cohorts of students with new cohorts of staff as graduation intervals make preserving institutional memory and networks difficult. As such, developing a consistent contributor base, be it to our peer-reviewed journal or our new commentary section, is a challenge. We are attempting to solve this problem by leaning on our dedicated Advisory Board for contacts, consistent and high-quality outreach via our social media, mailing list, website, and staff-level snowballing. In our view, however, the greatest potential remedy to this issue, not merely for STAIR but for journals like it, is to coordinate publications standards, deadlines, and criteria between different journals and pooling submissions into databases for additional consideration beyond an author’s journal of first choice. In conjunction with coordinated promotion and outreach between journals, STAIR and other members of PoliNet can reach larger audiences, preserve institutional memory and networks via ongoing network custodianship, and procure more high-quality submissions than ever before by a significant margin.
In your view, what is the unique role student journals can play in academia?
DNGPS: High-ranking academic journals and other publication options (e.g. edited volumes or monographs) are often out of reach for students. Further, early career scholars often face challenges when submitting their first manuscript to a journal, as practices in the publication process are not (or cannot be) taught during their studies. Student journals not only give students the opportunity to publish their work, they also help to learn the conventions of the publication process, as they provide more assistance and feedback at the individual steps. In addition, students often bring a different and fresh perspective to research questions and social issues, which can lead to excellent research that would be lost without student journals.
Flux: To give publication opportunities to young academics to get their work published, increasing their chances to get to their dream grad school.
PolisReflects: Student journals facilitate what could be called “active citizenship“ in academia: Our authors, but also our editorial team share the lived experience that they are not only consumers of knowledge, but have a contribution to make, that their papers are not only written to be graded and then forgotten, but can help their fields advance, especially if they work on topics they are passionate about, but that may not yet receive a lot of attention in academia. Lastly, this experience, as well as the opportunity to shape a journal of one’s own, also allows us to critically rethink some of the standard practices of academic publishing in order to make it more accessible and to offer more space to innovative ideas.
“Every journal article is part of a conversation among an actually existing community of academics. It is imperative, beyond simply knowing their subject matter, that students know the specific scholars who make up the community of potential readers of their work.”
STAIR: Student journals are faced with an ambivalence of identity which, when navigated with care, is a tremendous and unique opportunity. Student journals straddle the line between being professional academic journals which just so happened to be run by students and journals whose student management are uniquely equipped to reach out to emerging scholars who are often precluded from other opportunities despite having insightful and novel academic contributions. Journals that successfully manage to fill both roles are equipped to address important academic questions by bringing together audiences which may otherwise seldom interact, both at the level of authorship and readership.
What would be your advice for students who want to work on their first publication in a student journal?
DNGPS: Take your favourite term paper or bachelor or master thesis and think about what differs between your paper and a published article with a similar subject. Use these differences as a guideline for revising your paper. It is also always helpful to talk to your supervisor.
Flux: To be open to constructive criticism as everyone working on the editorial team are proud of the author’s work and want to perfect it for publication.
PolisReflects: Be brave and trust the process! Submitting your work to a journal can be daunting at first, and the reviewers will scrutinise and challenge your paper in ways that you may not be used to. We invite everyone to take this as an opportunity for developing their arguments, and not to be discouraged if you receive critical feedback. Trust your abilities, you have a contribution to make!
STAIR: Every journal article is part of a conversation among an actually existing community of academics with expertise on particular subjects and relevant questions about those subjects. It is therefore imperative, beyond simply knowing their subject matter, that students know the specific scholars who make up the community of potential readers of their work. Above all, your writing should be valuable to them, as opposed to simply expressing your opinions on a given subject. This is a great approach to practice when submitting longer form term papers and assignments and will pay dividends down the road.