Reflection: UofT’s Student Journal Forum (2018)

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Caption: Me (Farah Qaiser) during the Student Journal Forum Panel Session. Photographer credit: Daisy Dowdall (U of T Libraries’ Engagement Assistant & Toronto Academic Libraries Intern).

Last Wednesday, the University of Toronto (U of T) held its 3rd annual Student Journal Forum at the Robarts Library in Toronto. This event featured a panel with student journal editors (including the IDIOM journal, Caméra Stylo, the University of Toronto’s Medical Journal, and the STEM Fellowship Journal), a talk illustrating how the University of Toronto’s library can offer support, and ended with a lunch where attendees mingled and showcased their journals.

While all slides can be found at U of T’s TSpace repository, this post is a reflection on the Student Journal Forum, and the key points raised by the speakers. Disclaimer: I represented the STEM Fellowship Journal at this event. That being said, this post is a reflection of the event and is non-promotional.

Heather Buchansky (a Student Engagement Librarian based at the U of T Libraries) started the event with a land acknowledgement, followed by an introduction to the event.

Panel: Running A Student Journal — Best Practices for Success and Sustainability

Camera Stylo and the IDIOM Journal

The panel kicked off with a talk from Lola Borissenko (of the IDIOM journal) and Rachel Gao (of Caméra Stylo). IDIOM is an English undergraduate academic journal. Established in 2006, it is the only journal involving literary criticism by undergraduate students on the U of T campus. On the other hand, Caméra Stylo is the undergraduate academic journal dedicated to cinema studies. Both speakers had experience with the two journals, so they together highlighted the typical editorial workflow seen in the IDIOM & Caméra Stylo journals — specifically: the pre-selection, selection, submission, design, publication and launch process.

Gao stressed the importance of finding faculty advisors in the pre-selection phase. These advisors can either act as source of advice, provide input as a peer-reviewer or offer a sense of stability as editorial boards change every year. Establishing a faculty advisor beforehand (around September) is vital as this secures support for your journal beforehand. In Gao’s case, faculty advisors are brought on for three-year-long terms. As for meeting frequency, Gao stated that a meeting is beneficial at first to ensure that both the journal editors and the faculty advisors are clear on what their responsibilities are to each other, but future communications can be done online.

In terms of selecting submissions, the two speakers suggested to either have an editorial committee, or to have both a selection and an editorial committee (where the selection committee would blindly select submissions for print, while the editorial committee would perform revision and proofreading as needed). The selection process is kept confidential by removing names and affiliations from submissions, and for ease of access for the editors, all submissions are uploaded to Dropbox. The two speakers recommended that journals should select submissions no later than January (if publishing within a regular academic year cycle). This is especially important if a lot of submissions are expected to be sent in. For example, the IDIOM journal receives around 100 submissions, and has six associate editors, so each editor may have to review 30–40 submissions each.

Once articles are selected for publication, the journal moves on to the design and publication phase. In terms of design, Borissenko recommended that if the student journal is funded by ASSU or is a U of T-associated journal, then UTDesign is a potential campus group to turn to for free graphic designs. If not, then a graphic designer will likely have to be hired. This may be expensive, so budgeting beforehand is necessary. In terms of printing, both Gao and Borissenko caution that quotes have to be sent in beforehand (including the number of pages to be printed, paper quality and more) so scheduling is key to a smooth publication process. Both the IDIOM & Caméra Stylo journals then celebrate their publications with a party. In the past, IDIOM has held their launch event at Hart House, opting for a more academic environment, while Caméra Stylo has a bigger party at an off-campus venue.

Aside from highlighting their editorial workflow, Gao and Borissenko also highlighted the challenges their journals face. Caméra Stylo has faced problems in outreach — specifically with letting people know that the call for submissions is now available. On the other hand, Borissenko emphasised that it’s important to be able to work with circumstances as they unfold. For example, in Borissenko’s case, publication of an upcoming issue of the IDIOM journal was delayed and they would not receive copies in time for their launch event. Fortunately, the IDIOM journal’s budget was flexible, and an urgent (albeit expensive) printing request to Staples solved the problem in time for their launch event.

Both Gao and Borissenko also recommended that journal editors should tap into institutional resources wherever possible. For example, social media marketing or simply doing promotions within the university (via tabling, posters, etc.) is an excellent way to reach out to the student population.

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University of Toronto Medical Journal

Established in 1923, the University of Toronto’s Medical Journal (UTMJ) is Canada’s oldest student-run medical journal. UTMJ representative Alex Adibfar stated that while their editorial board is comprised solely of current medical students at the University of Toronto, they welcome submissions from any field of medicine, and from all students, regardless of their level of education. Adibfar emphasised that their journal was open-access (as a result of donations from generous patrons and U of T’s funding), and that they wanted to “give unheard voices a voice” instead of restricting access due to paywalls.

UTMJ currently has a 75-person large student editorial board. Adibfar stated that having a large team gave them both a unique set of benefits, as well as challenges. One clear benefit is that a larger team enables UTMJ to successfully publish three main issues each year (in the spring, winter and fall terms), and also publish a supplementary issue (which features abstracts from medical students). In order to solicit submissions, they share their call for submissions via a listerv — or as Sharef Danho, the second UTMJ representative, stated, it’s essentially mass “cold-emailing.”

The two speakers re-iterated that their biggest challenges were managing a large team, and recruiting peer-reviewers. Adibfar stated that he consistently sends reminders in order to ensure that editorial matters stay on track in such a large team. Additionally, Danho commented on the peer-review process and stated that he, and his fellow managing editors, take a “shotgun approach.” They tend to contact six or more peer-reviewers each time for a single article, as it takes time to find a willing peer-reviewer, and potential peer-reviewers are just as likely to say no, ignore their email or forget to complete the peer-review in time.


The STEM Fellowship Journal

Last but not least, I represented the STEM Fellowship Journal at the panel session.

The STEM Fellowship Journal is an open-access peer-reviewed journal which publishes research from high school and undergraduate students in the fields of STEM. While the journal’s editor-in-chief is Dr. Sacha Noukhovitch, our daily operations are handled by a 20-person large student editorial board, consisting of both undergraduate and graduate students. Our journal is supported by Canadian Science Publishing.

In my talk, I briefly highlighted the STEM Fellowship Journal’s editorial workflow (i.e. welcoming submissions from all, as well as recruiting submissions via student-run conferences, pairing authors with an editor to be mentored throughout the publication process, external peer-review, final edits and then immediate publication). I chose to reflect on the panel theme (‘Best Practices for Success and Sustainability’) by instead sharing a recent study completed by members of our editorial board: Student-Run Academic Journals in STEM: A Growing Trend in Scholarly Communication.

This study, published in the Council of Science Editor’s journal, aimed to characterize student-run journals’ structure, review methods and management. A mixed-methods Google Forms survey was distributed to 122 North American student-run journals, and results were analyzed from the resulting 24% response rate. The key findings include the fact that student-run journals are growing (i.e. the number of student-run journals increased 10-fold from 1995 to 2015), and that the majority of student-run journals are focused on expanding within their respective institutions to engage students. Despite recent growth, a large percentage of journals cited challenges including gathering manuscripts, recruiting reviewers, and transitioning managers.

I also brought up how the STEM Fellowship Journal addresses such challenges, which includes soliciting submissions by partnering with student-run conferences, and making it mandatory for all student editorial board members to complete the Publons Peer Review Academy course (in order to help editors learn how to critically assess manuscripts).


Library Support for Student Journals

Graeme Slaght (the Copyright Outreach librarian at U of T Libraries’ Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office) began this session with an overview of what copyright really is. While you can refer to Slaght’s slides for more precise details, his talk focused on what is copyright, fair dealing, and the differences between assigning copyright and licensing. In an assignment of copyright, documentation is necessary, and there is a set term for this ownership of content, while a license permits the use of content with no change of ownership, and is non-exclusive.

Mariya Maistrovskaya (an Institutional Repositories librarian at U of T Libraries’ Information Technology Services) introduced attendees to the journal directory hosted by the U of T library. U of T’s Journal Production Services currently hosts 36 actively publishing journals, where 23 are faculty-run, and the remaining 13 are student-run journals. Maistrovskaya also mentioned that U of T will be transitioning to the OJS 3.X version soon, and that student journals should also keep an eye out for relevant events to be held soon by the U of T Scholarly Communication and Copyright Office, as well as St. Mike’s Scholarly Communications Symposium.


In short, the Student Journal Forum fostered an interesting discussion on the topic, and featured a very diverse set of journal editors. The event would not have been possible without the support of U of T’s libraries — or the very engaged crowd, consisting of journal enthusiasts, as well as students who are currently running or about to revive a student journal at U of T. I was very thankful for the invitation to speak at the Forum, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with our fellow journal editors!

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