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Thoughts of a Journal Managing Editor: The (Blessed) Proliferation of Academic Publications and the Challenge of Getting a Foot in the Door

By Alison Fox, on 19 July 2016

Today’s guest blog is by Ira Ryk-Lakhman, PhD student at the UCL Faculty of Laws and Managing Editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence.

Following the footsteps of my predecessor, Ms Diana Richards, I would like to share one of the main challenges that have accompanied my role as the Managing Editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence: getting a foot in the door in a world of prevalent academic journals and competing publications.

The UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence is a law journal edited and published by graduate (Masters and PhD) students of UCL Laws. The Journal publishes scholarly contributions from academics, researchers and practitioners, as well as showcasing outstanding research of post-graduate students at UCL. The Journal’s primary aim is to make a high-quality contribution to current debates on local and global issues of law and jurisprudence. We seeks to add to the vibrant intellectual life of UCL’s world leading law school, a place where originality and innovation are highly prized, and where the shared pursuit of ideas remains fundamental to the Faculty’s continuing success.

Importantly, the Journal was one of the first law journals in the UK to fully implement the open access policy and offer all its issues and contributions free and online since its very first issue in 2012. Today, many law journals worldwide too offer open access publications. This is of course a welcome step which bolsters academic debate and facilitates the engagement with the public. However, with this blessed progress gives rise to a newly found challenge – the competition over the quality and quantity of submissions, and the promotion of existing and upcoming publications. So how does a new, starting, or existing journal find its place in an online, accessible, digital world that offers hundreds of, professedly, similar platforms? The answer is rather straightforward in fact and comprises three main steps.

Step No. 1: “What are you?” Much like with everything else in life, running a journal requires some soul-searching. The editorial board would be smart to pre-define its identity, target audience, and goals. Are you a niche journal? Are you a generalist publication? Do you seek to prompt a specific field or methodology of research? Are you focused on a certain locale or jurisdiction? Do you aim for practitioners or academics? Would you allow students, or junior researchers to publish with you? The answers to these questions, and similar ones, assist in molding and shaping the identity of the journal.

Step No. 2: “Who are you?” Once the identity of the journal is clearer it is time to move to the second step, which concerns the people working on and with the journal. The human resources of a journal, any journal, are an integral part of its success. To illustrate, each member of the editorial board brings with him his own set of skills, views, and previous experience – use all of them. One of the questions we ask when interviewing applicants for an editorial position is: “what would you change or add to the journal as an editor?” Each potential member of the board has a different perspective, and as a result a different proposition. Be attentive and open minded. Additionally, each member brings with him his own connections, colleagues, friends, and affiliations. In other words: a list of potential readers, followers, and contributors. Finally, now that you know who you are, do not forget to put a face to a name. Many academics complain about the process of submissions’ review (and rightly so) – they do not know the people reading their work and their qualifications, and thus often doubt the views and editing suggestions. In fact, many potential authors prefer knowing the identity of the editorial board (as a whole, not the specific [blind] reviewers). It, in fact, will come as no surprise to learn that most people prefer having some (visional) idea how the people they work with look. If so, why should the work of the author and the editor of his contribution be any different? For this reason, it seems rather sensible to include not only a list of the editorial and advisory board, but also a short bio of each member of the board. This increases the Journal’s engagement with the authors and readers on the one hand, and builds a sense of community amongst the board itself. Further, under this second step, a journal would be wise to inquire who are the people and organizations that may find interest in the journal – non-profit organizations, research facilities, firms, faculties, and so on. These, in turn, may be happy to collaborate and sponsor a journal that coincides with their identity.

Step No.3: “Work with what you’ve got”. Now that you know what you are and who you are – use it. Here the journal is required to demonstrate creativity, innovation, and resilience, so as to be noticeable, accessible, and competitive with other platforms in the field.  For instance, publishing a call for papers on your (say) Facebook account would reach those following your account, but not others. Thus, it is necessary to publish the same CfP with other specialized social media groups and forums, online blogs in the field, specialized accounts that promote publications, etc. It is also useful to circulate said CfP amongst faculties and academic institutions. However, sending it only to UCL staff and students would reach a limited number of potential readers and authors, thus the circulation list ought to include the alma mater of each and every single one of the members of your board. These examples alone are illustrative of the manner a Journal is capable of reaching some thousands of people, free of charge. Along these lines, it is also advisable to be original and innovative. For instance: If you have sponsors, try to prompt cooperation with them – launch events, publications, meetings, etc.; if you use the UCL OJS service – personalize it to your logo, colors, forms, fonts, etc.; if you publish hard copies – send them to those who may be interested; consider launching a blog using the available UCL Blogs platforms, and so on.

Finally, the most important step of this three-step program is: repeat, repeat, and repeat. This will assist you to get a foot in the door and stay there.


About the author

Ira Ryk-Lakhman is a PhD student at the UCL Faculty of Laws. She is researching the protection and regulation of foreign investments in times of hostilities. Ira serves as the Managing Editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence and the UCL Law Journal Blog.

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Student publishing supported by UCL Press: the story of Object, UCL History of Art graduate journal

By ucwcsnl, on 29 June 2016


I am pleased to have an opportunity to share my experience as an editor for Object 17.

Object is a journal produced entirely by graduate students in the History of Art Department at UCL, which has been produced in print form for the last 16 years. The contents of each edition represent the diversity of issues and methodologies with which graduate students in the department are currently engaged. Drawing upon object and theory-based analyses, the studies within Object indicate a continual questioning and renegotiation of meaning in the visual arts. As with previous editions, the essays and reviews included represent the wide range of historical and theoretical concerns of our current research students.

The seventeenth edition of Object was published in open access form online for the first time this year, with the intention – while maintaining the journal’s core values – of wider distribution, increased readership and public engagement via the department’s growing digital platform. As part of a proud departmental tradition, the relationship between Object and its readers has developed over a long period of time. In order to carry on the tradition, while making full use of the new digital platform, we had to think about how the original print format version could be transferred into Open Journal Systems (OJS). This required numerous departmental meetings to decide interface and customization work with UCL Press, who host OJS for the use of student journal publishing. As our original format was not entirely transferrable to OJS I had to think about the structure of the interface (such as how to reorganize the website to achieve clarity and momentum), focusing on what was best for the journal and for the community the journal serves.

Having now published our journal on UCL Press’s OJS platform, the impact of our articles and reviews has become more visible. On the website, our contributors and readers can check the most updated information on where, internationally, their journal has been downloaded. It is wonderful to see that Object is attracting readers from all over the world, which made us more passionate about our research activities.

Offering open access to an art history journal that had previously circulated mainly within universities and museums meant that copyright became an important issue. With a limited budget, I had to think about various ways of persuading the image copyright holders to contribute their images for free. This was challenging because revenue from copyright is an increasingly important source of income for museums and estates. Through constant communication, we eventually received lots of generous contributions.

Apart from dealing with designers to prepare the interface, and ensuring that each article was set within the OJS system, my own duties included setting the schedule for authors to complete manuscripts and have them reviewed, engaging proof-readers to check the articles and helping choose the cover image. Therefore, an eye for detail and building strong collaborative relationships between parties were vital. In discussions, I learnt a lot about editorial policy, the revision process as well as practical matters such as intellectual property rights and formatting.

As an editor, it was my responsibility to participate in the decision whether to accept or reject an article for publication in the journal. Sometimes it required an open and honest discussion and feedback in order to produce a common understanding and outcome that was in the best interest of the authors, the journal and the community. I discovered how to make an objective assessment of a manuscript from an editor’s perspective.

I was lucky that, as an editor for this issue, I could be involved in the initial conception of the project, managing production while working closely with my co-editor Tom Snow, our editorial board, various faculty and staff in the department and UCL Press. It was a rewarding experience to read and edit the many interesting manuscripts from contributors. Overall, I learnt that producing an academic journal is about effective communication between individuals with different kinds of expertise and valuable experience. I genuinely appreciate all the members of our department who were willing to contribute their time, knowledge and brilliant ideas for the publication. Particularly, Prof. Frederic Schwartz and Prof. Rose Marie San Juan, as they know Object‘s unique traditions well and have had long experience working as members of the editorial board of Oxford Art Journal. They helped the team to define and resolve issues for the project. Through the whole process, I learnt how to make good, effective editorial judgments and decisions for serving the needs of the academic community.

As an academic field, art history has abundant resources of invaluable discussion around visual images and culture that can help the wider public internationally to enrich their contemporary understanding. In this respect, open access is crucial, and thinking about the digital platforms was a small step toward that great, distant goal.

During the process, I had to invest a considerable amount of time and effort. But it was extremely rewarding because I could attain a more comprehensive perspective on the practical workings of the academic world. I came to see how my study can be positioned in a larger academic context and how I can grow as an academic who can contribute to the future academic world.

We all worked hard to produce Object online for the first time and had a wonderful departmental celebration during which we could share all the challenges we encountered over several glasses of wine. Although it feels like an important turning point to be launching online, I am fully aware that this is just the beginning of a journey. The new digital platform offers a glimpse of the potential yet to be explored. Fellow students liked the interface. And perhaps due to its enhanced visibility, the proposal for submission has increased this year so we now have two editors and three deputy editors working on the new edition.

Sena Lee

Co-editor, Object 17, History of Art, University College London

Digital Technologies in Academic Publishing: Thoughts of a Journal Managing Editor

By Alison Fox, on 13 October 2015

I have just completed my year mandate as the managing editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence. Those who know me are aware that I dip my toes both in academia and the tech startup world. And that gives me a rather unusual perspective on both. If one would ask “What were the two things that made you most proud at the journal?” I would simply say switching to open access and developing a social media presence. Both bring the powers of the digital in the service of research, making it faster, more relevant, and more connected to the outside world.

The switch to open access was made in collaboration with UCL Press, dubbed the first fully open-access university press in the UK. We implemented the Open Journal Systems (OJS), which means the submission, editing and publishing processes are now transparent, scalable, and above all else, incredibly quick. We are done anonymising manuscripts, sending dozens of e-mails and docs back and forth, or doing DTP. The work of the academic editor or the reviewers’ has suddenly been simplified and all that could be automated is now automated. We receive dozens of submissions per month now, and we are not snowed under anymore. We are accepting less than a third and keeping the journal high quality.

But the advantage of OJS was not just for us, on the inside. This sounds grand, but it is a great progress for the scientific advancement of knowledge. With this kind of system, it does not take years to get an article published. The slow and cumbersome review process often made research and publications obsolete. This is now a story of the past. It now takes just a few months from start to finish. But what’s even more important, it is open access. Anyone can read it. You don’t have to be in education or pay thousands of pounds for access. You can do so for free, from the first second of it being published by us.

For my clients in the London tech startup environment, it takes me two months to conduct dozens of qualitative interviews and to get quantitative data on millions of users. And it takes me a few days to prepare and present a report. In academia, that kind of research could take half a decade to gather and present to the public. This is completely unacceptable and needs to change. Some visionary initiatives, like Academia.edu, sought to change this. We did it too, at a smaller level, but it works. And it feels damn good.

In addition to open access, using social media to communicate with our audiences only contributed even more to bringing academic research in the now. We are among the most active UK academic journals on Facebook and Twitter, and we used that to keep everyone posted on the latest research available.

With open access and social media, the academic publishing world is changing. This is our chance as researchers to become relevant again, by regaining dynamism.

About the Author

Diana Richards is currently finishing a doctorate at UCL Laws and has been consulting in the digital sector since 2010. More info at http://www.dianarichards.co.uk. The UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence can be found online at http://ojs.lib.ucl.ac.uk/index.php/LaJ.

This post was originally posted in UCL Press news in October 2015.