Each year I supervise and mark dozens of undergraduate dissertations of varying quality and every once in a while a student comes up with a gem.
Where I currently work at Sheffield Hallam University the best dissertations are put into the library as examples for future students to refer to. However I believe there is value in making some of these original research projects available to the wider academic public as many of them contain valuable empirical data.
I would advocate co-authoring with students, even undergraduates, and submitting work to student/graduate focused publications.
I’m currently working on a co-authored paper which I aim to submit to online peer reviewed, open-access journal PLATFORM: Journal of Media and Communication which is aimed at graduates.
The dissertation the paper is based on got a high 2.1 due to weaknesses in the write up, but methodologically it is very robust and contains a unique and valuable content analysis. It certainly needs work in terms of the appropriate academic writing style and critical analysis which is where I step in, but the data is all there.
When I suggested to the student that we use the data to co-author a paper he was very excited even after the realisation that there was no payment involved!
The paper will give his CV an unusual and impressive addition whilst also benefiting my own publication catalogue. It does not matter that the student is not intending to enter academia, for them it is about having something on their CV that other graduates won’t have.
Here are my tips for co-authoring papers with students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level:
1. Don’t just consider dissertations that get a First. The most important element is the data, whether qualitative or quantitative. If it is relevant, robust and original then that is half the job done.
2. Be clear what your individual roles are. It may be that you simply intend to rewrite the dissertation using the student’s data or you may want to help the student rewrite it themselves with in-depth support above and beyond usual dissertation supervision.
3. Agree on who the first author will be. As the academic guiding the student you may feel that your name should be first but equally you may not be too fussed and may want to give the student a boost (particularly if they are going into academia) so are happy for them to be the lead author.
4. Be prepared to put in time, effort and patience. This could be time to do a complete rewrite or to give feedback on repeated drafts.
5. Seek suitable publications. Peer reviewed journals aimed at postgraduates will often take submissions from undergraduates if they are good enough and also papers co-authored with academics. Just ask.
6. Remember if the student is graduating they won’t have access to their university email account for very long so make sure you take an alternative email contact.
7. Pick your students carefully. They may have a great dissertation but are they someone you can work with, who will take your advice?
8. Be aware of the word count. Most communications journals ask for around 6,000 to 8,000 words and university dissertations are usually 6,000 to 10,000 words making them the ideal length to adapt but they may need some serious trimming.
9. Make sure you explain to students the slow nature of academic publication as they may be expecting a quick turnaround. Explain how they can put something on their CV referring to a pending publication.
10. Be clear to the student that the final paper may look very different from the original dissertation especially if you are rewriting it yourself. This is not a poor reflection of their original assignment but simply a different way of portraying information within a different set of standards.