Canadian undergrad wanting to publish a paper in an academic journal?
April 23, 2020 2:19 PM   Subscribe

I am a fourth year undergraduate student, and I would like to work on a research paper about educational reform, but I am only an undergraduate student. If I want to use another Professor's works for reference to build upon my argument, do I need to ask their permission to use their reference, since this paper is not being graded for a course, but hoping to get it published in an academic journal.

I would not be publishing my own pure research since I am only an undergraduate student, but some of the academic journals said they would accept scholarly essays - so I could include more of an opinion piece. But I am not sure if I can use other scholars' works for citations without permission? Would I need to e-mail and ask permission to cite a Professor's work in my academic paper? Since I would like to publish an essay focused paper, using references from other sources. I am in Canada, and only wanting to be published in Canada.
posted by RearWindow to Education (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You do not need to ask for permission, unless you want to include say a figure or graph from a published work. Just make sure to properly paraphrase and cite all information and ideas that are not your own. If you use a direct quotation, make sure you identify it as such. If the work is in a non-published format, there are rules for how to cite that as well. I normally tell students to look on Owl Purdue (just Google it) as a quick & easy guide for how to reference different types of sources.
posted by DTMFA at 2:28 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

No, you do not need to contact people whose works you are citing. You can do so as a courtesy if you like, but it is by no means required.

Also, a piece of free advice: the world of academic publishing has all sorts of weird cultural quirks that might not be obvious to you as an undergraduate. If you can possibly find a professor who would be willing to look over your work and give you feedback on your writing style and where it might possibly be publishable, I would strongly encourage you to do so.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:30 PM on April 23, 2020 [26 favorites]

Having had a paper rejected by somebody who described my using the wrong kind of hyphen "distracting", I would like to second the above advice.
posted by mhoye at 2:34 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

It’s great that you want to engage with your field! I hope you get some feedback that helps you hone your craft.

Regarding the question you asked, no, it is not the norm to ask permission to cite publications. Exceptions would be for unpublished information, e.g. an email (“personal communication”) or data from an unpublished talk — but those types of citations tend to make for a weak argument anyway.

Regarding the question you didn’t ask, it would be instructive to look at the bylines of who gets opinion pieces in the outlets you’re considering. It will probably not be undergraduates. I say that not to dissuade you from trying but to contextualize the response I think is most likely. My suspicion is that these places are going to be more open to this less stringent form of writing from someone who has established their cred as a researcher in the field already, i.e. someone for whom the answer to “why should we listen to you?” is obvious. So if you get a rejection with thorough feedback from one or more reviewers, that is actually a pretty good outcome. You can then take that feedback and use it to help you refine your argument and resubmit the piece somewhere else, or at least to help you shape how you are thinking about the question. This is a dance that working academics do all the time.
posted by eirias at 2:37 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

Scholarly writing on a topic like educational reform is often in the form of an essay unless the author is studying an actual already-implemented educational reform, in which case any number of research approaches might be used. For instance, someone studying the economics of education would use economics research methodologies.

Education journals do occasionally publish pieces written by undergraduates. I'm pretty sure I've seen a few in both the Harvard Educational Review and Teachers College Record over the years.

Once you have a specific journal in mind be sure to determine which citation style they require- APA, MLA, and Chicago are the most commonly used in education journals.
posted by mareli at 3:28 PM on April 23, 2020

I co-sign all the advice above about paying attention to style guides of the journals you're targeting, and getting feedback from a mentor. Also, don't be discouraged if you get a rejection the first time! Rejections are a chance to revise and improve. It sounds hokey but it's really true -- my first scholarly paper got rejected from three places before landing at a middle-tier journal in my field. The revisions I made along the way strengthened the paper tremendously; I wound up getting media interviews, citations at my professional society's annual meeting, and most importantly, it led to very fruitful research collaborations moving forward.

only wanting to be published in Canada.

Curious why this is? I'm not in education reform, so perhaps you believe what you have to say is Canada-specific, but most journals don't have national boundaries these days.
posted by basalganglia at 4:00 PM on April 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Does your institution have an undergraduate research journal, particularly one that's open to students who are publishing something other than their senior thesis? Are there undergrad-specific publishing opportunities through your Canadian-specific associations (i.e. CERA, CSSE, CSSHE, maybe something in sociology)? Have you explored other undergraduate research-focused journals?

Another piece of free advice: talk to a prof in your field about what the norms are regarding academic publishing. In some of the Canadian social sciences, it's pretty rare for undergraduates to have first-author publications unless they have an unusually strong undergraduate thesis or get published through conference proceedings. There's also the case where one of your profs approaches you to consider building upon one of your course papers for potential publication, but it doesn't quite sound like that's the situation at hand here. There are exceptions, though, and they are much easier to identify if you work with a prof as a mentor. Best of luck.
posted by blerghamot at 4:22 PM on April 23, 2020 [5 favorites]

In a previous question you wrote that you "keep receiving B's on my academic essays."

For perspective, a paper written in a graduate level seminar that receives an A+ might be worth consideration of a journal, likely after numerous rounds of edits.

With due respect, and please take this gently, it's very unlikely that your writing is publishable in any academic journal. I strongly second blerghamot's suggestion to look for undergraduate journals.

Also, beware of the numerous vanity publications.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 5:15 PM on April 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

Quoting Ahmad Khani: Also, beware of the numerous vanity publications.

I can't second this enough. There are, unfortunately, many predatory journals that will accept papers without peer review and publish them online after you pay a substantial amount of money. They sometimes have the trappings of respectability, including listing well-known scholars on their websites as members of the editorial board (usually without those scholars' permission), but no one takes them seriously, and being "published" in them might be a black mark on your career.

There are a few exceptions for so-called "gold" open access, but in general, if a social science journal asks for money to publish your work, it's not legit. Some scientific fields have page charges for publication to cover the expense of graphics and complicated typesetting, but in my experience that's rarely the case for legit social science and humanities journals.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:08 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

+1 to everyone saying to see if you can find someone who has published in your field to mentor you through this process, for all the reasons people state (from weird style quirks to being wary of predatory journals). They will be able to give you some feedback on whether your aspirations are realistic as well as guide you through the process. I am not sure you need a prof, someone more junior might have more time and be willing to help you (postdoc or assistant/associate prof, just be careful about them taking credit for your ideas).

I disagree that being an undergraduate should necessarily put you off if you have something original and carefully researched to say and you target the right journals; if you are not submitting to appropriate journals the editor or reviewers will soon let you know(!) Also knowing the timelines involved in academic publishing you might be a postgraduate student by the time the thing actually makes it into the journal.

Good luck, I think it’s helpful to get a handle on the publication process early especially if you are considering doing original research in the future. My first few citations are book reviews/comment pieces when I was a student, one was commissioned — I published original research later.
posted by Erinaceus europaeus at 7:37 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I declined to comment earlier when I read your question, but I think you need to temper your expectations.

It is exceedingly rare/ unheard of for an undergraduate to get a "review article" published in a respectable journal. Those are usually at the invitation of a specific journal to a specific specialist in the field who has the in-depth and historical background knowledge to synthesize new insights from the extant literature then flavour that with personal research and/ or ideas about fruitful future directions. The individuals invited to do these usually enlist the help of a postdoc (or two) and/ or a particularly brilliant grad student.

Depending on the journal, it may be within the realm of possibility that they would accept an opinion piece or editorial from an undergraduate - if the article is informed by highly salient personal experiences and extraordinary exposition. This is not even close to an actual "research article" and are typically a page or, more often, less in length.

The formatting of these in a CV will make it obvious that it was not a research article.

A research article is exactly that, something based on new research with new data.

As an undergraduate, the traditional avenues to "publish" is to do guided research with a faculty principle investigator, then present that at a local poster session (or if it's very impactful, an oral presentation). If it's very strong/ you have a famous PI, it might be accepted at an international symposia or the like.

Posters and oral presentations can definitely be included in your CV (at least, until you've built up enough actual research publications and don't need those anymore).

If your research is particularly interesting and well done, it might become a small part of a graduate student/ postdoc/ PI's published article, and you get included in the authors list.

Brilliant undergrad research? The PI might ask you to become one of their grad students to continue the line of investigation - or help you continue to do that with another PI - in order to have enough meat to write an actual research article.

If this is something that you very much want to pursue, find PIs who are doing research in areas that you are interested in and see if they are in a position to take on a "research assistant." These positions are often paid, but volunteer positions are sometimes available. Volunteer researchers are flakey as hell, so if you impress the PI, they'll pay you (not much) for a little bit of "reliability insurance" (but they can can your ass if you aren't reliable).

More typically, these would be "co-op" or "honours" positions that count towards your credits and can be part-time or something that you devote an entire semester (or two) full time towards

This is a not uncommon "backdoor" way of getting into grad school - if you have a PI vouch for you, the department isn't going to care too much about grades/ standardized test scores.

Also, why "only in Canada?" Researchers/ policymakers in other jurisdictions are definitely and absolutely interested in the findings from other jurisdictions. Scholarly journals know no borders. Low impact (and vanity and scam) journals know no borders either and being a Canadian "publication" is no barrier to it being a vanity/ scam affair.

n-thing Ahmad Khani and brianogilvie - beware of "publishing" in a vanity (or even worse, scam) journal. If you mention it to anyone who has any sophistication in the field, this will get you laughed off as either terribly naive and/ or an outright huckster - and may even blacklist you from respectability even if you don't divulge but are found to have had.
posted by porpoise at 8:03 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

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