Students at a doctoral training centre in England’s South West are trying their hands at managing an academic journal to boost the skills they develop over the course of their doctorates.
The first issue of TOR: The Open Review for the Social Sciences, whose name is a nod to the rocky peaks of the West Country, was published earlier this month. The open access journal is designed to give students a place to publish their work and to provide them with experience of working on a journal.
TOR was the brainchild of Benjamin Bowman, a final-year PhD student in the department of politics, languages and international studies at the University of Bath. Mr Bowman told Times Higher Education that the initiative grew out of his interest in open access and his awareness of the importance of publications to PhD students.
“When you are an early career researcher, one of the things you really have to do is get a publication or an understanding of the publishing process,” he said.
Mr Bowman added that as a student, the world of publishing seemed to him to be a “closed box”, and the project has helped him and his peers to get a better understanding of how academic journals work.
Bath is one of three partner institutions in the Economic and Social Research Council’s South West doctoral training centre, along with the universities of Exeter and Bristol. A team of about eight PhD students affiliated with the centre manage all aspects of the journal, which publishes social science research from postgraduate students across the three institutions and is indexed with the British Library.
The group received training on all aspects of the peer review process from academics at the doctoral training centre. After issuing a call for papers, they put these newly acquired skills into action and reviewed submissions with mentoring support from experienced academics. The group also decided on the name of the publication and agreed the design.
A second edition planned for November will offer a platform to disseminate papers from the doctoral training centre’s student-generated annual conference.
Much of the work has been done in virtual meetings using online content-sharing tools with the aim of reducing time commitments for participants juggling work on the journal with research and writing.
Peer review opportunities for all
Molly Conisbee, collaboration facilitator at the doctoral training centre, said that the structure of the group is such that if someone is too busy to help out, there are enough other pairs of hands to keep things moving.
“The plan is to have a shifting editorial board so that as many students who want to be part of it as possible get the chance to be part of it,” she said.
Ms Conisbee, who also sits on the journal’s editorial board, added: “The advantage of doing the peer review training was that we could open it much more broadly to people who didn’t want to work on the journal, because peer review is going to be such a useful skill for lots of [PhD students] in their working lives.”
From the initial idea to the launch of the first issue, the project has taken six months and is in line with the doctoral training centre’s collaborative and knowledge exchange approach.
Ms Conisbee said that the TOR project has cost “very little” because “students have given their time voluntarily”.
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