Undergrad Arts journals aim to get papers off the shelf and into people's minds

Writing papers as an undergraduate can often feel anticlimactic. After spending long weeks on research and writing, the final product often languishes in a file folder never to be seen again. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

At UBC, there are several journals that publish work at the undergraduate level. According to Parmida Esmaeilpour, editor in chief of the Journal of Political Studies, this experience is tremendously validating for students whose work would otherwise go unread. 

“[Our journal] is a student run initiative with the broad mandate of empowering students in the sense that their work, their writing and the product of their intellectual efforts are worth something,” she said. 

“It’s worth the time of other students in being edited, it’s worth being printed on physical paper [and] it’s worth more than just sitting and gathering dust in a drawer.”

These undergraduate journals are run primarily by student staff with supervision and input from relevant faculty members. Submissions undergo several rounds of edits — similar to the peer-review process that occurs in graduate-level academic publishing.

Although UBC has a relatively long history of undergraduate publishing — the UBC Journal of International Affairs, for example, has been around since 1985 — recent years have seen an uptick in student interest with the establishment of several new publications.

This year marks the inauguration of the IONA Journal of Economics, an undergraduate journal established by student TerraLynn Forsyth. Forsyth hopes to use the journal as a way of showcasing writing in economics — a rare opportunity for students.

“With economics you don’t get a lot of writing opportunity at the undergraduate level in your econ classes. A lot of them are problem sets, there’s a lot more technical math involved, but writing is still a big component of the discipline,” she said.

“Basically, it first and foremost is a journal for giving students a platform to publish really outstanding undergraduate work.”

Other publications have sought to provide opportunities for students outside of traditional academic writing. Now in its third year of publication, the Outside-In Photojournal is UBC’s only academic publication for student photojournalism. The journal showcases photos and essays related to international affairs as well as models itself primarily after popular magazines such as TIME and National Geographic.

“Speaking as an [international relations] student in the [political science] department, you don’t get a ton of chances to write outside of an academic context,” said Bridgitte Taylor, editor in chief of Outside-In. “[It’s] a different outlet for creativity.”

Students with artistic aspirations may also submit to the Undergraduate Journal of Art History & Visual Culture (UJAH). Publishing online since 2009 and in print since 2015, UJAH features academic papers, art exhibition reviews and in-depth profiles of student artists. The publication has also created close ties with the local art scene and distributes its print editions to local galleries such as the VAG and Gallery Gachet. Although UJAH already publishes a diverse array of material, its editorial staff are hoping to continue pushing the envelope.

“We want to make sure that we provide platforms for something that doesn’t already exist,” said Josephine Lee, UJAH editor in chief.

“If there’s content that people are really dying to write about and they have no platform on which to publish it, then they can always approach us and say, ‘This is the new content we have in mind — what do you think?’ We’re more than happy to incorporate that into UJAH.”

All in all, students looking to submit to an undergraduate journal — whatever the discipline — are advised to just go ahead and do it. A minor tragedy, said Esmaeilpour, is the amount of excellent work that never gets published due mostly to author shyness. 

“Bottom line is always just submit,” she said.

“The best students and the best authors specifically tend to be the most critical of their own work. So you end up missing out on an opportunity to be published and we end up missing out on an opportunity to edit and publish the greatest works.”