Ryan Carlson, recently defended SFU honors student in Psychology and the first Editor-in-Chief of the newly minted SFU Undergraduate Journal of Psychology, says that the idea for the journal began after students finished their honours term in the Summer of 2013: “We write an absurd amount…and after we’re done a course it’s the end but it doesn’t feel like it should be the end.” While students receive a grade for papers produced during coursework, he says for many of the honours students, it was “kind of an unsatisfying place to finish. This idea began as a way to give people the chance to expand on those ideas. […] A way to put everything we’ve learned into something that is beyond just a letter grade.”
Honours Students Establish Undergraduate Psychology Journal
For the journal team, largely comprised of students in SFU’s Psychology honours program, establishing an undergraduate academic journal began as a natural inclination to share the academic writing they produced during coursework. Alongside a yearning to connect their individual ideas to a wider context, students in the 2013 honors cohort wanted to establish and sustain an academic community.
Andrew Lowery, editor in cognitive and neuropsychology for the journal, recalls similar feelings after completing coursework: “I would take that paper folder and dump it in the recycling bin and that was the end of it […] It seemed like such a waste at the end to not get anything out of it beyond a grade. There was nothing more substantive to it.” Feelings such as Lowery’s motivated Carlson to approach his peers and talk to them about collaborating on a proposal to the Department of Psychology. Together, they wrote and submitted a formal proposal to establish the journal, he says, and “we really got some wind in our sails once the Department began to support us.”
The Psychology Student Union was similarly keen. President of the Psychology Student Union (PSU) and editor for the journal’s clinical psychology submissions, K.B. Zaidi says that while students found the union to be a place of collaboration and community, the journal’s editorial team really wanted to “extend that community to the honours class” and to the energy of creating the journal. While the editors have certainly been “collaborating with the PSU,” Zaidi says, it has been mostly the honors class that provided the momentum for establishing the journal.
Another motivator for students to participate in the journal is the opportunity it provides to ‘test the waters’ of the academic work involved in graduate school. Many of the students involved have written and defended their honors theses and some are also looking to apply to graduate school. Lowery says that for those considering grad school, it’s an experience “which involves publishing articles and things like that but when you leave a B.A. and go into that area you’re not necessarily prepared for that.” He goes on to explain that “Psych 300 is one of the only courses where you get peer reviewed and I thought [the journal] would be a really good learning opportunity for myself and other undergraduates to become accustomed to that process so it isn’t as intimidating after your degree.”
Teresa Dattolo, an editor for the journal’s cognitive and neuropsychology submissions concurs, explains that while “there are lots of opportunities to do extracurricular activities outside classwork, this focus on academics allows for us to have academic discourse and opportunities outside of just classes or things that you’re required to do for classes…it’s more internally motivated and it allows students to explore academics and see if academic research is something they want to explore.” Curtis Hazelwood, editor for the cognitive neuropsychology submissions, points out that “there’s obviously a lot of really bright students [at SFU]—you know, ‘future academics’—and so it’s great to be able to read each others’ work.” Jessica Ferreira, another editor for the journal’s clinical psychology submissions, extends this point and explains that even for students who are not in the honours program, the journal also provides a space for those who have done directed studies share their emerging ideas with their peers.
Editor-in-Chief Carlson fully agrees with his peers’ observations, saying that this experience has something to offer everyone: “For students submitting, even if they don’t get published they get valuable feedback […] For editors, such as us, we get direct access to practicing the peer review process; graduate reviewers also have something for the C.V. and also for the university as a whole it enhances their reputation, it is something the school can say their students have initiated.”
Alongside preparing students for graduate work, Whitley Sheehan, an editor for the journal’s clinical psychology submissions, says that the journal students can also help students build their academic and professional experience, as it demonstrates an ability to go beyond coursework and participate in an academic and professional community: “It’s something that students can put on a C.V. and say that they’ve had experience in.”
When asked how they’ve managed to find the time for committing to this work, Hazlewood jokes that “sleep deprivation” has been the answer. Ferreira commiserates, noting that she had five meetings in one day on top of regular academic commitments. Sheehan explains that part of what aided the group was having “regular meetings on Mondays and having that time already scheduled and allotted.” The cohort laughs together as Lowery likens the meetings to a “little break.” The editors agree that meeting with each other, organizing the plan for the journal, whilst sharing their own ideas and research pursuits—even while it added to the list of things to do as an honours student—encouraged them to be more engaged in their community and accountable to each other.
Carlson and the other editors agree: the positive social aspect of academic work has come through in their experiences starting the journal. While many students experience isolation during their undergraduate careers, this kind of venture helps amend or ameliorate the challenge of isolation in academic work. This point is extended as the editors explain how they’ve even been able to foster ties to the broader disciplinary community. The founder of the UBC Undergraduate Journal of Psychology was very generous and the editorial board based their procedure and formatting guidelines on that of the UBC journal.
Overall, the team is excited about the connections forming between UBC and beyond. Carlson explains they’ve thought of this venture as a legacy: “There’s so many things we’ve thought of: having a travel grant award for the best paper; expanding to different universities, a lot of ambitious ideas that would be great down the road […] but since we’re just starting out we don’t want to take on more than we can handle.” The SFU community can look forward to the first issue of the SFU Undergraduate Journal of Psychology in Fall 2014.