An academic journal is a periodical, often peer-reviewed, which publishes scholarly work related to one or a few academic disciplines. Though the nature and type of work published in academic journals vary significantly, they often include original articles on recent empirical research in the relevant disciplines, theoretical discussions as well as reviews of published academic work.
Academic Journals have for long played a central part in scholarly communities. Schafner (1994), for instance, describes five distinct albeit slightly overlapping roles:
- Building a collective knowledge base: Academic journals contribute to, and are one of the primary sources of, good-quality archives of discipline-specific knowledge which can be used by members of the academic community, and others.
- Communicating information: Journals, however, are not merely repositories of knowledge. They are also excellent forums of communication among scholars working in allied fields. And robust communication accelerates the learning of the community as a whole, brings together potential collaborators, and helps push the boundaries of the discipline.
- Validating the quality of research: The peer-review process helps ensure that authors take substantial care and effort, even before submitting their papers for publication. On submission, the academic work is validated (and may include requests for improvement and resubmission) by several peers or referees. By acting as a filtering mechanism, the journals help guide research and scholarship and contribute to the improvement and upkeep of community standards.
- Distributing rewards: In addition to helping one share his or her work, peer reviewed journals also help scholars establish intellectual ownership and gain recognition in their discipline. While recognition from one’s peers can be a significant reward or motivation (in itself), it also helps bring together teachers and students, as well as potential collaborators.
- Creating and maintaining an academic community: In line with the above point, academic journals play a significant role in helping create and maintain academic-communities in their disciplines. Letters to the editor, editorials and opinion pieces, reviews etc. often help initiate discussions which may continue beyond the pages of the journals.Similarly, news such as those regarding new appointments in the field helps people keep up to date about others members of their community.
Students’ Academic Journals
While most academic journals publish the works of established experts or scholars pursuing their doctorates; there are now, also, a gradually increasing number of academic journals which seek to support and encourage high quality undergraduate and postgraduate research and writing.
For example, The Cambridge Undergraduate Journal of Development Economics proclaims that its goal is:
“[T]o provide access for undergraduates to a resource normally reserved for professionals and graduate students in the field, to create a spirit of critical and original thinking and international dialogue, to establish a forum where a broad spectrum of opinions…can be uttered, where ideas and views can be exchanged,…to recognize those who argumentatively stand up for what they believe to be true, to create an environment in which atypical, nonconforming or uncommon views can coexist with the ‘standard’, ‘accepted’ convention, to provide a frame to integrate and embrace while allowing to differ and diverge,…to permit experimentation as well as discussion.”
Issues in Political Economy, which is edited and refereed by students “with oversight from faculty at the University of Mary Washington and Elon University”, similarly:
“[I]s committed to supporting and encouraging quality undergraduate research in all areas of economics….Through the process of research, writing, and peer review, students actively engage the discipline in a way not possible by simply listening to lectures and reading textbooks. The literature suggests that students take projects more seriously and learn more when the project is directed towards an external rather than an internal audience such as a class assignment. IPE is designed to provide an external audience for such research.”
And the Columbia Undergraduate Journal of History, a publication of the Undergraduate History Council at Columbia University
“[A]sks professors from history departments across the United States and internationally to nominate the most outstanding undergraduate work from their classes. We review all nominated articles, and then select the most exemplary among them to be published in the Journal.”
Other examples of academic journals edited and referred by students include Columbia Undergraduate Journal of South Asian Studies, The Dualist (a philosophy journal published by Stanford University undergraduates) and the Harvard Political Review.
Setting up a Students’ Academic Journal at Azim Premji University
Given Azim Premji University’s mission of creating effective programmes of learning, research and advocacy in education, development and allied fields; in early 2013, I had proposed that the students of APU work towards establishing an academic journal of Education and Development with the following broad objectives:
• Encourage academic excellence within students’ community by bringing to fore and publishing outstanding academic work by students that reflect original thinking and research, and high quality academic writing
• Provide students a supportive forum to share their academic work with a larger audience; and help them develop skills which they can find useful throughout their careers (including but not limited to researching, writing, reviewing, editing, and publishing)
• Foster a culture of open but respectful dialogue and sharing of ideas
• Encourage collaboration between students, and students and faculty members; and contribute to the creation and maintenance of ‘intellectual communities’ within the students-body of APU and other universities
The first issue of the Students’ Journal of Education and Development (SJED) finally came out in September 2014 and has received very good reviews. You can read and download the first issue of the journal below or at APU’s website.
The Journals team is now working to publish the second issue of SJED in August, 2015. You could send in your comments or contributions to studentsjournals at apu.edu.in. You could also leave your comments and suggestions below.
Update (October, 2015): The second issue of SJED has been published and the e-copy is now available for download here. You can request a hard-copy, subscribe to the journal or send in your comments or contributions by writing to studentsjournals at apu.edu.in.
Schafner, A. C. 1994. The future of scientific journals: Lessons from the past. Information Technology and Libraries 13:239-47.