PeerJ Supports Undergraduate Authors

Undergraduate students occasionally get the opportunity to work on projects which end up being published in the journal literature. For example two of our published articles: “Conservation genetics of extremely isolated urban populations of the northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) in New York City” and “Significant changes in the skin microbiome mediated by the sport of roller derby” both had one author who was an undergraduate when the work was conducted.

We have heard feedback that despite our low fees, $99 can still represent a large sum of money for an undergraduate author (in an era when the average US student now graduates with approximately $25,000 of loan debt)

It is core to PeerJ’s mission to make publication affordable, and undergraduates represent the next generation of academics. If they contribute to publishable work, then they should be able to take advantage of publication in a high quality venue without financial barriers. After all, we were all starving students once…

Therefore, today we are pleased to announce a new initiative for undergraduate co-authors on papers submitted to PeerJ. Specifically, authors who were undergraduates when the research was conducted will be able to publish in PeerJ for free (with the caveats that the submission should also have senior author(s) who have a normal Membership status and assuming the submission passes peer review as normal). We will run this program as a pilot through 2013.

To take advantage of this offer, submitting authors should mention their undergraduate status when making their PeerJ Submission.

As we have already published two papers, which included undergraduate authors, we asked those authors what they thought of this announcement. Here’s what they had to say:

Keith Herkert, one of the authors on the microbiome of roller derby paper, was an undergraduate at the time of that research. Keith told us that the idea for the paper started as the subject of his undergraduate honors thesis for the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon. He said “I think the idea of free publishing for undergraduate students is fantastic. In undergrad, I was fortunate enough to be working in a distinguished lab full of individuals who were very enthusiastic and motivated to move forward with the research I was doing. Other working and researching undergrads are not always as lucky. PeerJ is now offering an extraordinary opportunity as well as opening a whole new world of available research and knowledge.” His supervisor, Jessica Green said “I think it is a fantastic that you are creating a model to encourage and promote undergraduate research. Hats off to PeerJ.

Jason Munshi-South, from City University of New York (CUNY) was the senior author of the northern dusky salamander paper and Yana Zak (the 2nd author) was an undergraduate at the time of the research. Jason told us that there are a couple of reasons why he feels that PeerJ will work well for undergrad projects:

“ I. Speed of reviews and publication.  We were considering submitting the paper to a herpetology journal, but time to publication is usually several months! Undergraduates will only work in a lab for one, or at most two, years and by the time they are ready to publish they will soon be moving on to other pursuits.  Thus, a short turn-around time to first reviews, and then a short time from acceptance to publication, ensures that they will be able to see the fruit of their labor.  At PeerJ, We received our first reviews in about 3 weeks.  The editor then accepted the revisions literally within a few hours, and the paper was online a few weeks later.

II.  The culture of open peer review that PeerJ is promoting will serve young scientists well.  Both the options of signed reviews and published peer reviews will help ensure that reviewers provide constructive comments without excessive snark or grandstanding. Criticism is a crucial part of the scientific enterprise that students need to experience early on, but should be done in a way that promotes the best science without unnecessary discouragement of the researcher. The published peer review histories will also be useful for teaching undergraduates and early-career graduate students about the publication process!”

And finally, Andrew Griffiths is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Salford and was one of the people who gave us feedback about the need to help accommodate undergraduate co-authors. He told us that “I don’t have any large grants which I can draw on to pay for the publication costs. One important way I can drive forward my research agenda is through undergraduate projects. They can also act as an important proving ground for new ideas or methods. Hopefully, this announcement will encourage the publication of such work. It may also increase recognition of those students who make important contributions towards papers, which can only be a positive thing in encouraging their future participation in research.

PeerJ is now accepting submissions to both PeerJ the journal, and PeerJ PrePrints. PeerJ is also now being indexed by PubMed, PubMed Central and Scopus. Find out more at https://www.peerj.com and submit your work now!

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