Five great tips to start publishing as an undergraduate

Pranav S. Kulkarni
20 mei ’20

If the PhD and masters’ students are the flesh of any university, undergraduates are its laboring bones and joints. They are what forms the supporting structure of the academia. An average undergrad will go through college with a lots of study pressure, exams, assignments and occasional snippet of research for theses. Occasionally, an ambitious undergrad may be work on a nice piece of project or create one of their own research questions that has great implications. This is a good chance for this student to show the world the fruits of their efforts.

In my bachelors, I had an opportunity to work as a research assistant on multiple projects, two of which, resulted in scientific publications with my name as one of the authors. They were neither prestigious articles nor belonged to a high-impact journal but nevertheless, it was an inspiration for me to continue my journey in the academia. I have written this blog to highlight some aspects of publishing whilst being an undergrad student. So, here goes--

Why publish as a bachelor student?

If you are a bachelor student who wants to pursue a career in academia or in a research rich environment, it is generally a good idea to aim for a publication in the course of your undergraduate education. It won’t guarantee you a good postgrad position or a job in prestigious industry but will definitely give you a taste of what it is like to publish and obviously, an opportunity to showcase your work. But it is not a simple job and hence will require a lot of effort on your part in addition to the burdens that you carry being an undergrad student.

What to publish?

This is an important question. Although, the judgements and reputations of a successful academic career seem far off, a publication will be a permanent addition to your resume. Thus, it is very important to be sure of what stuff you should put out there. Generally, undergrad research is a part of a team project or a subproject of a much larger scheme. If you are sure that the work being done is sufficiently because of your individual contribution, it is a good idea to go ahead. You can be a part of a bigger list of authors in an over-arching paper that contains your work. Very rarely, you might do something that entitles you as a sole contributor of a research piece.

When to publish?

This is another important aspect of your decision. The question of directing your attention to working on a publishable manuscript whilst studying full-time for a graduation can be a difficult one. In my case, I spent a better part of last two years of my bachelors struggling with full time courses along with trying to get drafts of manuscript on the paper at the same time. Remember, your studies have the priority over all else while graduating. When you are sure that you have some ‘publishable’ research material available with complete results, then it is a good idea to look into the option for publishing.

Where to publish?

Most commonly, this is a question that your guide or supervisor will give you the best suggestions about. There are very specific domains outlined by journals that you can publish in. Sometimes, however, it can be a good idea to look for specific places where undergraduate research is highlighted. In such journals or magazines, you are reviewed on undergrad standards and not on those of the broader scientific world. Some details of such research journals can be found here. Sometimes though, it is a good idea to aim for a higher journal depending on quality of your research because, if you have a publication in a prestigious journal, it makes your resume more alluring for future prospects.

How to publish?

This is a question that I saved for the last. Let’s start with ‘what is a publication?’. More often than not, it is a report of research work that was done towards a specific goal. The report or research ‘paper’ generally includes description of the goal and gaps in knowledge (introduction), what was done to fill that gap or achieve that goal (methodology), what was the result (results) and the interpretation of the result in existing knowledge along with its future implications (discussion). This research paper will start out as a manuscript that you write and get reviewed from your supervisor, then it gets reviewed by group of other qualified people (either peers or editors of journal, depending on the nature of journal) and then after making necessary alterations, gets accepted to be published. A publication is complete when you have this manuscript printed in the official volume of the journal in question. It is always a good idea to ‘target a journal’ while preparing the manuscript. 

See the figure below for an example of a peer review flow chart. Source: APEM 

We hope this blog will help you make your first steps into the publishing world. Do you want to read more articles by Pranav Kurkani? See his other blog posts How to become a PhD student and First steps in the PhD program

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