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Publishing in Humanities as an Undergrad


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Hi all,

After submitting my BA thesis at the end of last year, my advisor, in his feedback, said that if I was able to edit it down from 50 to 30 pages, he thought it would be publishable material. Now, after working on paring it down for writing samples, I have a short version that I'm pretty happy with. Or, at least I'm happy with it for a writing sample. I'm back to thinking about perhaps trying at least to submit it to a journal, but I'm worried that maybe my advisor was just trying to be nice, and that it really isn't quite up to the level of work that a person already with or well on their way to a PhD (rather than just my BA, so far) would be able to produce. It engages heavily with relevant theoretical/critical work in my field, but at the end of the day, I'm pretty convinced it'll be obviously the work of an undergrad (not that I'm worried about that, per se--I wrote it as an undergrad, and it was good for that level of study). I'm just worried that, for a journal read, edited, and produced by "real" academics, it'll be an auto-reject. 

So my question is: is it worth it to still try to submit? (I mean, maybe my advisor was being 100% honest, and maybe I'm just selling myself short [I've been known to do that...], so maybe it'll at least get me reviewer's comments for revision suggestions? Or at the very least, it'll be an experience?) Will editors be generally annoyed with what might be an obvious undergrad submission? Any potential at all that it will hurt later attempts--once I actually have PhD level work to submit--to try to get something published with that journal?

(Also, I just opened the online submission form just out of curiosity, and it asks for degree & position/Institution. Will even having BA/"Independent Scholar" on there be a red-flag for editors?)

Thanks!

Edited by haltheincandescent
a bit of added info
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There are many academic journals that cater specifically to undergraduate research. If your adviser believes your thesis will be competitive for submission, do it. There is no drawback, right? It's not like taking the GRE one too many times, or retaking a course. 

If you're daunted about submitting to "real" journals, I would look for undergraduate journals catering to your thesis' topic. You can then move on to graduate journals, and then to professional ones. Of course, many journals (especially at the professional level) have strict requirements about publication - they won't let you publish your material in two other journals, for instance - but there's no harm in sending it out prior to serious consideration. 

I would also look to submit the thesis as a presentation in a conference format. Many times such conferences, which are also held at the undergrad/grad level, have end-of-conference publications where you can disseminate your work. 

Edited by StyLeD
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16 hours ago, StyLeD said:

There are many academic journals that cater specifically to undergraduate research. If your adviser believes your thesis will be competitive for submission, do it. There is no drawback, right? It's not like taking the GRE one too many times, or retaking a course. 

The downside is that OP's work is, as they fear, subpar, but the journal accepts and prints it anyway. This would not look good later on. I wouldn't recommend publishing in my field (history) without an MA, generally

The best course of action if you do want to push through with publication is to find the best journal in your subfield and submit it there. You'll probably get rejected, but so what? Maybe there'll be some good feedback, and you can get a sense of how nice your adviser is being. You can always submit it elsewhere later.

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I get the feeling that things are done very differently in the Humanities so take this with a grain of salt, but I would not submit to a journal that targets specifically undergraduate research. I think that would be generally pretty useless. It won't count as a serious publication down the road and at the same time it'll be out there, and if it's not very good then the OP might rather not having out there. 

OP, talk to your advisor about your plans and seek feedback on your revisions. Ask for help picking the highest ranked journal that would take the work, and submit it there. You probably don't have the ability to pick the correct one yourself, but your advisor should know what journal is likeliest to be sympathetic to the arguments and also to accept work of the caliber of your paper. If you're concerned and have the chance, once you've picked a journal but before you submit, find a way to chat up another professor and ask them their opinion of the journal you selected. Hopefully they don't find the journal subpar. You might decide not to submit now, but hold onto this work and revisit revising it for publication maybe in your second your of your PhD. You'll have a new perspective and more experience, and you might see things differently then. 

Finally, there is no point in fearing rejection. Yes, you might get rejected. But already have a 'no,' so worst case scenario is you stay with a 'no.' But if you're successful, a 'yes' could be very helpful down the line. On the other hand, if you don't have this publication, it won't be a big deal either. You might even get some useful feedback along the way. I'm not sure what an "obvious undergrad submission" is--if the paper doesn't read well and isn't polished, then it's not ready to be submitted. If you and your advisor think it's good enough, let the editors and reviewers worry about critiquing it. I guarantee that they will have concerns that you've never even considered and that they won't even blink an eye at some of the parts that you worry about most. If it gets rejected, that should not hurt you with that journal down the line. Rejections happen all the time, we just don't talk about them. 

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57 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

I get the feeling that things are done very differently in the Humanities so take this with a grain of salt, but I would not submit to a journal that targets specifically undergraduate research. I think that would be generally pretty useless. It won't count as a serious publication down the road and at the same time it'll be out there, and if it's not very good then the OP might rather not having out there. 

OP, talk to your advisor about your plans and seek feedback on your revisions. Ask for help picking the highest ranked journal that would take the work, and submit it there. You probably don't have the ability to pick the correct one yourself, but your advisor should know what journal is likeliest to be sympathetic to the arguments and also to accept work of the caliber of your paper. If you're concerned and have the chance, once you've picked a journal but before you submit, find a way to chat up another professor and ask them their opinion of the journal you selected. Hopefully they don't find the journal subpar. You might decide not to submit now, but hold onto this work and revisit revising it for publication maybe in your second your of your PhD. You'll have a new perspective and more experience, and you might see things differently then. 

Finally, there is no point in fearing rejection. Yes, you might get rejected. But already have a 'no,' so worst case scenario is you stay with a 'no.' But if you're successful, a 'yes' could be very helpful down the line. On the other hand, if you don't have this publication, it won't be a big deal either. You might even get some useful feedback along the way. I'm not sure what an "obvious undergrad submission" is--if the paper doesn't read well and isn't polished, then it's not ready to be submitted. If you and your advisor think it's good enough, let the editors and reviewers worry about critiquing it. I guarantee that they will have concerns that you've never even considered and that they won't even blink an eye at some of the parts that you worry about most. If it gets rejected, that should not hurt you with that journal down the line. Rejections happen all the time, we just don't talk about them. 

Yeah I'm in philosophy, and to my understanding - try to avoid publishing in undergraduate journals. They're not generally professional enough to warrant much merit, hence why you don't see them appearing in CVs anywhere, and their relatively low standards mean that you risk jeopardizing your future reputation by putting something out there that will look not-so-great once you've improved at doing research.

The second paragraph is great advice. Your professors will know what to do to maximize your chances. And the good thing about trying professional journals is: if they like your work enough to publish it, then your work is good enough that it probably won't embarrass you later on. If they reject it, no problem; something like eighty, ninety percent or more of articles submitted to professional journals are rejected. It's not a grand failure so much as a statistical inevitability if a journal doesn't accept your paper, and it is very unlikely the editor will remember you, let alone hold you in poor regard because you were one of the many who just happened not to get a submission accepted. The reviewers, of course, will (generally) never even know who you are.

I'd say you've got practically nothing to lose and plenty to gain if you at least try for publishing in a well-regarded journal.

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Thanks, everyone!

Yeah, I wasn't really thinking about publishing in an undergrad journal, especially because by the time I get things submitted anywhere & get an acceptance/rejection, all my applications for PhD's would be sent already--and I can't imagine a publication in such a journal doing much for me once I actually am in a grad program. So, I think I'll try submitting it to a credible one in my field, and then, if it gets rejected even with out review comments, hold onto the idea until I can rework it, after I know more about crafting a more methodologically sophisticated argument. (I'm fairly convinced of the importance of my particular reading as far as the current criticism on my subject goes, but it just might need more complication in terms of situating it in larger, and more recent, theoretical discussions, which is what I hope to develop a bit more in grad school).

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This is a very strange thing that I've noticed more than once, that one prof would say "oh, this is nice, how about you try to publish" and then another prof would say what has basically been said above "don't rush your first publication" (although not so much because it would look bad to publish in a bad journal but just because it's a lot of work for limited output). This argument in favor of the latter position makes sense to me, although there is this sense that hmmm, it might actually be nice to publish before applying for PhD. Of course, we're not talking about social sciences where people manage to publish dozens of articles and sometimes even books before starting their PhD. But even in my field where few people publish anything in the undergrad and where, generally, people publish little while in PhD, when I looked at CVs of all the folks who got admitted into top programs in my subfield, they all had at least some sort of publications they made at the undergraduate level. Some even posted that material on academia.edu. They might remove this from their CVs later on, but it was there once and I doubt it had no impact on the adcom's decision. So I think if the urge to publish is strong and you have free time on your hands, consider presenting your work at a local graduate conference if there happens to be one soon. They will not be too judgemental of you as a new person in the field, because it will all be your immediate colleagues, yet you will get feedback and experience doing that, and at the same time this will not go online forever and ever. Same goes for whatever journal you find which does not post their stuff online, such as an undergraduate journal at your institution. It will look nice on your CV because you will actually have a rubric for publications. Another option is to publish as a journalist some stuff tangential to your field, where you can show your wit without necessarily disclosing that your research skills are not there yet. (...or maybe they are!)

Edited by random_grad
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