Student Publishing: New Impulses for Science and Higher Education

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The publication of research results is essential for scientific progress. Through publication, new insights are shared with other scholars who can then review them and develop them further. At the same time, publications document authorship for new discoveries or arguments.

The results of student research carried out as part of a term papers or dissertations are often left out of this process. However, these studies hold particular potential for scientific progress and open up new avenues for the development of teaching in higher education. In our blog series “Student Publishing”, we show how things can be different.

The Potential of Student Research

Throughout their studies, students write numerous papers, which are often read only by their lecturers. They often address topical issues that have received little attention in the academic mainstream. In addition, students typically compile a wide range of sources for their work, or document previously unknown phenomena. Because students often do not subscribe to established schools of thought, they can develop new perspectives that differ from established patterns of interpretation. However, when student work is filed away – or worse, uploaded to dodgy term paper websites – these insights are withheld from the scientific community.

What is student publishing and what does it look like?

To increase the visibility of student research, various initiatives have been set up to promote student publishing. Generally speaking, student publishing refers to the publication of academic work by students. However, this term is usually used only to describe those offerings with their own quality control mechanisms, to distinguish them from non-scientific formats or predatory publishers.

Student journals are the most common format. These are often associated with university departments or associations and operate in a similar way to established journals. Run by students (sometimes with the support of established academics), these journals publish articles after they have undergone a review process. There are also working paper series of individual departments and research groups, which publish outstanding term papers and dissertations. While the formats vary in terms of the extent to which papers are revised before publication, they all have in common that they are almost exclusively made available in open access, either through agreements with publishers or through publication in university repositories.

In which fields is student publishing practiced?

The prevalence of student publishing is unevenly distributed across disciplines. Traditionally, initiatives have been concentrated in the humanities and social sciences. Political science and sociology in particular have a large number of journals, both in German-speaking countries and internationally. Student journals have also been established in law for some time. So-called ‘law reviews’ publish not only academic articles, but also very good exam papers and new case law to help students prepare for their bar exam.

In contrast, student publishing is are rare in technical disciplines and the natural sciences. This is partly due to the fact that, due to technical constraints (limited access to laboratories and equipment, no opportunity to carry out own experiments), publishable results are rarely achieved by students alone. In addition, students involved in larger research projects in these fields are more likely to be included as co-authors on publications and are more actively involved in projects.

What are the benefits of a (student) publication?

Student publishing has many benefits for students, lecturers, and universities. Students can deepen their knowledge of a subject and receive helpful feedback for future work through the review process. Having their own academic publication is also a valuable unique selling point when applying for jobs after graduation.

On the other hand, lecturers can enhance student motivation and identification with the subject by integrating student publishing into their courses. Universities also benefit from a publishing culture that considers students as equal partners in the process of knowledge production.

Challenges of Student Publishing

But there are also challenges: The process of submitting a manuscript, going through the peer review process, and waiting for the publication requires perseverance on the part of the students. Lecturers sometimes need to provide support beyond the class in which the paper was written. Although student journals themselves provide extensive information and a first textbook is now available (Studentisches Publizieren in den Sozialwissenschaften, Springer VS 2024), students still need the support of more experienced academics. The short lifespan of some student journals is also a problem, as journals often cease to exist if no motivated successors can be found for the editorial board.

Perspectives for Academia and Higher Education

In many disciplines, a research-based education, in which students carry out their own projects at an early stage, is becoming increasingly important. Student journals can also be described as pioneers of the Open Access movement, as they have always been freely accessible. However, greater institutional support and incentives are needed for the long-term establishment of a student publishing culture. Universities need to find ways of recognising the contribution of faculty and students if they are to reap the benefits of student publishing.

Student journals – selected examples

A comprehensive overview of student journals

Philipp Köker

… ist Akademischer Rat am Institut für Politikwissenschaft der Leibniz Universität Hannover und unterstützt seit mehreren Jahren studentische Fachzeitschriften sowie Studierende, die ihre Haus- und Abschlussarbeiten publizieren möchten.

Morten Harmening

… ist Doktorand am Institut für Politikwissenschaft der Leibniz Universität Hannover und war von 2019 bis 2023 Herausgeber der Working Paper Reihe der Deutschen Nachwuchsgesellschaft für Politik- und Sozialwissenschaften (DNGPS e.V.).