What Is the Role of Graduate Student Journals in the Publish-or-Perish Academy? Three Lessons from Three Editors-in-Chief

Published date01 January 2021
Date01 January 2021
Subject MatterResearch Articles
International Studies
58(1) 98 –115, 2021
© 2021 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0020881720981222
Research article
What Is the Role of
Graduate Student
Journals in the
Academy? Three
Lessons from Three
Amelia C. Arsenault1
, Andrew Heffernan2
and Michael P. A. Murphy2
To be prepared to face the “publish-or-perish” reality of contemporary academia,
early career scholars must develop capacity and confidence. While the publication
practices of International Relations have received increasing attention in the last
20 years, concern remains around the preparedness of graduate students to
participate confidently and competently in the publication process. As three
former Editors-in-Chief of a graduate student journal, we suggest that student-
run journals can play an important role in professionalization during graduate
school. We then reflect on our journal’s context as well as on reforms initiated
to improve the policies and practices during our editorial tenure. Bringing our
experiences to bear on previous findings in the literature, we outline three key
lessons that can help support successful journals at other institutions. First,
given the high turnover rate, starting early is key to maintain early enthusiasm
and flatten intensity spikes. Second, editors must remain mindful of what we
call the ‘workload paradox’—or how the comparatively low workload of some
graduate journals can make it harder to manage an editorial team. Finally, we
argue that graduate student journals should be understood as places of learning
and primarily valued as professionalization and pedagogical spaces.
Academic development, editing, international politics, postgraduate study,
publishing (academic), student journals
1 Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA.
2 University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.
Corresponding author:
Michael P. A. Murphy, School of Political Studies, 120 University Private, University of Ottawa,
Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5, Canada.
E-mail: MichaelPA.Murphy@uOttawa.ca
Arsenault et al. 99
The publish-or-perish dictum has circulated through academia for over a century,1
becoming a near-universal stressor for aspiring and tenure-track faculty. Attention
to the apparatuses of scholarly publishing naturally follows from the importance of
publication to academic practice, as scholars seek to understand the forces operative
within knowledge production. But the world of scholarly publishing is often not an
intuitive space for the newest entrants into academia—graduate students. Advice
books emphasize the importance of publishing, especially publishing journal
articles, while in graduate school (Berdahl & Malloy, 2018; Kelsky, 2015; Peters,
1997; Semenza, 2005), and a recent commentary on political science and
International Relations (IR) remarked that ‘graduate students seldom know how to
navigate the publication process’ (Rich, 2013, p. 376). As these fields move away
from the monograph to the journal article as the primary currency, understanding
the journal ecosystem becomes ever more important. As Ole Waever once remarked,
‘journals are the most direct measure of the discipline itself’ (Waever, 1998, p. 697).
The literature on journals in IR has explored a number of important questions
about who publishes where, how publication works and how impact and prestige
should be measured. But similar attention has not yet been paid to the important
process by which graduate students—and early career researchers in general—are
initiated into the knowledge production process. This article argues that graduate
student journals play an important role in the professional development of junior
academics, and therefore deserve increased attention within the larger context of
publication practices in the field of IR. We will first provide a brief introduction
to the existing literature on publication trends in IR, and then outline the merits
and challenges associated with graduate student journals. We will then draw on
our experiences as Editors-in-Chief of a graduate student-run journal in IR to
provide advice on how to best organize similar student-run journals. Specifically,
we advise other editorial boards tasked with organizing graduate student journals
to start early, be aware of what we refer to as the ‘workload paradox’ and to
approach graduate student journals as places of learning. The conclusion reflects
on the benefits in two senses: first, for the students (whether they remain in
academia or pursue alternative pathways), and second, for the academic
community. With publish-or-perish losing no steam in its 2nd century, it is
important that graduate students receive opportunities to learn how the publication
process works. Well-run graduate student journals offer a supportive environment
where the necessary skills and confidence can be developed.
Literature on IR Journals
Scholarly journals provide a forum for examining questions and issues regarding a
specific field of study, thereby acting in a ‘gatekeeper role for the communication of
scientific knowledge’ (Kristensen, 2012, p. 2). Academic publication trends can
therefore provide insight into the state of a discipline (Hoffman, 1977; Waever, 1998).

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