They can give talented undergraduates an opportunity to shine and can even encourage them into an academic career. But lecturers are missing out on a valuable teaching tool by failing to embrace the idea of undergraduate research journals, a British pioneer of the concept said this week.
Celia Knight, a senior lecturer in biology at the University of Leeds, introduced one of the first undergraduate journals in Britain in 2003 and was also behind the first national journal, Bioscience Horizons, launched last year. She said that many academics were either unaware of the journals or viewed them as unnecessary.
"(Without more academic input) we are not going to develop them in a way that is really helpful for UK universities," she said. "We need to know that British academics see the value of this ... The number of journals is growing, but many academics are still missing out on a hugely useful tool."
With the new academic year looming, she urged academics to get involved because the concept is still developing. The journals, which became prevalent in the US in the 1990s, give undergraduates an outlet to publish the findings of their research. There are at least ten in Britain, most of which are subject specific.
Dr Knight said that some academics were opposed to the journals, believing that if the research was good, it should be published in the mainstream.
"No one is suggesting that this should replace (publication in mainstream journals). Our point is that undergraduates need all the help they can get," she said, adding that most undergraduate research would be unlikely to make it into mainstream journals because of the volume of experiments required.
Helen Walkington, a principal lecturer in geography at Oxford Brookes University, who has set up two undergraduate journals, said they "closed a gap" in the research cycle. "When undergraduates do a dissertation as part of their degree it does not get disseminated widely ... Unless you go that extra step and get students to publish their work, it is not giving them the sense of achievement and feedback," she said.
Mike Neary, the founding director of the Reinvention Centre for Undergraduate Research, a project between the universities of Warwick and Oxford Brookes to get research-based learning into the curriculum, said: "Undergraduate research papers are not just about adding to your CV. They provide students with an opportunity to shine. Students are actually involved in the job of research for the institution."
HEART DISEASE PAPER HELPED LAND MY POSTGRAD PLACE
Samantha Fahy's research paper is published in the current edition of Bioscience Horizons, Britain's only undergraduate journal supported by a professional publisher.
The paper is based on the dissertation from her University of Leeds undergraduate pharmacology degree, and its findings may have implications for the treatment of coronary heart disease.
"I knew I wanted to work in research and this was not only great practice from that point of view, but it was also a stand-out feature on my CV when I began applying for PhDs," said Ms Fahy, who is now in the first year of her PhD at King's College London.
The journal, published twice a year by Oxford University Press, is dedicated to publishing the results of final-year bioscience projects in the UK and Ireland. Students' work is peer reviewed by academics, comes back with corrections and, of course, cannot be published elsewhere.