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I study undergraduate philosophy.

I wrote a paper (beyond the coursework) that presents a solution to one of the unsolved problems facing our conceptions of personal identity. I regard it as worth publishing, but I get that, as an undergrad, I may not have much of a sense of what qualifies a paper as "worth publishing." So I took a few precautions:

  1. I read the recently published arguments, and the arguments that preceded them.

  2. I critically thought about whether the argument could contribute to the field

  3. I presented the argument to some people accomplished in fields that depend on logical thinking {a physicist, a lawyer,a mathematician}. The mathematician told me of a few useful concepts in math that I should incorporate into the argument, I studied them, incorporated them, and re-presented the paper to him, and he felt it was clear and logically sound.

  4. I asked some academically successful people {two medical doctors and a Harvard mathematics graduate} for their opinion on it. They agreed with me; however, none of them had much experience publishing research.

  5. I presented it to the prof.

The prof's responses seemed defensive. However, I get that I may have had a defensive bent that disposed me to regarding her criticism as her 'just responding defensively'. So I recalled the conversation to people who I believed would tell me that I had mischaracterized her responses, if they suspected that I had done so - and none of them did.

I also get that,

  1. most professors -like anyone- want to make the most of their time, and that
  2. most people usually see what they expect to see, and that
  3. most professors probably would not expect an undergraduate paper to contain much worthwhile.

So, I suspect that most wouldn't want to read it, and that if a prof agreed to read it, an extra measure of prejudice would affect her assessment of it.

I say all of that to say that I have reason to believe I should try and publish the paper, but I didn't succeed when I tried the most obvious path to doing so (presenting it to the prof), and I don't suspect that I'd have much success asking other profs to read it.

So, how might I get a journal or a professor to give the paper a fair shake?

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Stop worrying about this one professor. Your job is to convince the entire academic community that your idea is good. (Which is much harder—see below.) –  Dnuorg Spu Jan 5 at 21:28
Just submit the paper to a journal. Most of the time when I review a paper, I don't recognize the author names and I don't look them up to find out what their job title is. –  David Ketcheson Jan 6 at 12:12
I did not understand if this prof. is your supervisor and what exactly her contribution was, but note that in some fields (not sure about philosophy) the supervisor would be also listed as an author even if her contribution is very small. Make sure this is not the case. –  Bitwise Jan 12 at 22:13
I notice that you mention having asked people from several disciplines for their opinion, but your professor was the only one from philosophy. I would try looking specifically for input from philosophers, and particularly ones specializing in personal identity, given that they're the most likely ones to know whether something similar has been done before. That said, if you've already written up the paper, you won't lose anything by trying to submit it somewhere. –  Kaj_Sotala Feb 25 at 4:22
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4 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Here's what you should do:

  1. Find an appropriate journal with a double blind review process.
  2. Submit your paper.
  3. See what happens.

Double blind means that you do not know the identity of the reviewers, and they do not know your identity. The ostensible purpose of this setup is to encourage reviewers to evaluate the paper based on its academic merit, rather than the pedigree of the author(s).

In reality, of course, there will always be politics in reviews, and many reviewers will nonetheless formulate theories about who you are and where you're from. Moreover, things like hot trends in the field can influence judgement—which is why it's important to identify a journal compatible in spirit with your chosen topic.

You will also be judged on the style of your writing, and the visual style of your submission. Reviewers will be much more comfortable accepting a submission that looks like a published article than one with strange typography, layout, etc. E.g., don't submit a paper written in MS Word when everybody else in your field uses LaTeX. Strange as it may seem, you will look like a nut job! Even different linguistic tone and structure can make your reviewers think you are a quack, even if your idea is legitimately awesome. In short: be a conformist when it comes to your first few submissions. Once you understand how the game is played, you can start to break the mold (hopefully for the better!).

Even accounting for everything above, there is an extremely good chance your submission will get rejected. Coming up with genuinely good ideas is hard; developing political/cultural/intellectual savvy in academia takes time and experience—especially as a lone undergrad. And rejection will sting! But the submission process will be a valuable experience nonetheless. After a few days, go back and read your reviews calmly, and think carefully about why the reviewers wrote what they did. Was the typography too bizarre? Are they protecting their political interests? Or is your idea simply not as good as you thought it was? The more papers you submit, the better you will get at answering these questions objectively and honestly. Eventually, you will master the game and can just focus on the work. I hope.

Good luck!

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Your answer gave me a lot of prospective I didn't have before. Thank you. –  Hal Jan 6 at 4:22
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One additional comment to bolster Druorg's answer: you should also take a look at undergraduate journals. The bar to publishing is substantially lower in such journals, and you won't have to worry about finding a faculty member to "sponsor" your work.

Another avenue would be to talk to the academic advisor for undergraduates in your department. They may have some suggestions for alternative means of getting your work published, and would at least have some ideas about who else you could talk to!

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I found several undergraduate journals. Those do seem like the most straight-forward option in this case. –  Hal Jan 6 at 4:23
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It's wonderful to see undergraduates with a desire to publish! I want to encourage you and also give a few tips that I learned when I first began publishing.

Finding the right journal is crucial.

First, see what journals in your field publish articles similar to yours, in terms of:

  • topic area
  • type and format of article
  • tone and voice
  • authors (any non-PhD authored articles?)
  • degree of originality (some leading journals often focus on major ground-breaking articles)

In other words, can you see your article fitting into the journal? Look at 4-6 issues.

You can also take the reverse approach -- find a few articles similar to yours and see where they published.

Second, look at the journal's home page. Do they have an annual student issue? (Some do, especially those published by associations.) A few journals reach out more to new authors and indicate this on their web sites. These would be good candidates.

Third, look closely at the author guidelines and make sure your article fits in terms of length, format, etc. You will also see guidelines on how to submit a manuscript.

I also have some more general advice. There is a considerable process of socialization and mentorship involved. The way to get this mentorship is to build relationships with some of your professors. Talk to them after class or during office hours. Get to know who is really interested in developing students in their scholarship. Ask them for advice. I know you already tried to do this, but it sounds like a lot of the people you asked were not in your field. It's very important to get this advice from your field.

There are also ways to approach professors that tend to more successful outcomes. Humility is important as is the ability to take constructive criticism. You clearly have put a lot of energy into this paper and it is an excellent first step on your pathway to being published. But it may be that you are not yet quite ready to contribute to the field. If not, you want to know where you need to grow and develop. This is really difficult to hear and we have all had to accept rejection in our journey with publication. Don't let rejection stop you, if that happens. Make sure you pick someone supportive and be open to the outcome, as long as the person can give you something constructive to work on. If the feedback sounds reasonable to you, go away and work on the issue identified. Keep learning.

And good luck!

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Thanks so much for that. About getting to know profs, in high-school, teachers seemed to really enjoy talking about the subject matter, for its own sake, after class. But in university, it hasn't been so easy. Other than one who probably would have if he could have, I had my first 'success' last week after class when a professor and I had a conversation we both enjoyed, when I thanked her for it she replied brightly, that she'd be happy to repeat it anytime. What would you suggest I do now to cultivate the relationship? –  Hal Jan 12 at 18:44
@Hal If you have to do any bachelor/master project then it's simple: Ask her to propose an interesting topic and to supervise you ;) –  tohecz Jan 12 at 19:43
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I, for one, have a paper published in a reaonsable quality journal (not impact factor, still well indexed and well recognized by the community), I'm the only author and I was in 4th year of my university, at the beginning of my masters, when I submitted it.

Don't worry too much about the fact people don't know your name. Papers get reviewed by their text, not by their authors (well, some reviewers don't follow this rule, but from my experience, these are exceptions).

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