13 March 2017

Undergrads can publish too…really!

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By John Maclachlan

Traditionally, undergraduate research rarely includes the dissemination of results beyond the classroom. Through an open letter to the McMaster University Community, University President Dr. Patrick Deane called for a reinvigoration of key principles of McMaster University including improving the student experience through research opportunities. In response to this challenge, I proposed a goal to the students in my course to publish their research.  The course, Glacial Sediment and Processes in the McMaster University School of Geography and Earth Sciences, had 40-students and we followed the Collaborative Writing Group model used more broadly by faculty, shortened the timelines to fit within a single semester, formed groups, and started writing.

The students had a mere eight weeks to do everything from select topics through the completion of the paper. Throughout the process, course time was put aside for both formal and informal discussions to allow groups to brainstorm ideas publically with the entire class, requiring them to be able to explain and, when necessary, defend their ideas. Final drafts were reviewed by two classmates and the teaching team before being sent to the journal. Ultimately six papers were published representing 33 different authors in a 2015 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Cartographica  With many students in the course recently returned from an Iceland Field Course  there were papers dedicated to mapping the impacts of Iceland’s subglacial volcanoes through the quantification of the amount of sediment eroded during drumlin formation in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. One student, Winnie May Chan, was even contacted to comment on the changing Icelandic landscape in repose to the landscape shown in a Justin Beiber music video that shows him swimming in various locations in Iceland by a popular media outlet!

Students in the Glacial Sediment and Processes course. Photo credit: Russ Ellis

The work published by the students allowed them to not simply have a paper published but to understand what a life of an academic is like. The amount of work done by the students to get papers published was astounding and they walk away with a better understanding of the final step of research they are rarely asked to do, dissemination. The work done on the papers led to 11 additional student conference presentations, a better understanding of what it takes to disseminate research findings, and the ever valuable citation to add to their resumes. I learned that working with students to get their work published is entirely possible.

-John Maclachlan is the Associate Director, Educational Scholarship  of the McMaster University MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and instructor in the School of Geography and Earth Sciences. John can be reached at [email protected] or @maclacjc.