Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
The distinction between “student” and “academic” research is arbitrary. Nevertheless, student research is often perceived as valuable only as a learning tool for assessment and personal development of knowledge and skills, rather than as original work worthy of joining the academic literature. Medical students must learn an important principle of scholarly publishing—that research is judged according to quality and interest, not based on the academic grade of its authors.
Unfortunately, this principle is harder for students to learn because, as they feel increasing pressure to publish, conferences and research journals aimed at students have become more popular. These are perceived as being more approachable and supportive when processing student submissions. However, such forums risk hiding student work in a format that makes it unlikely to be read or cited, particularly by established researchers. Although aiming to flatten traditional academic hierarchies perceived as excluding students from research, these conferences and journals may inadvertently reinforce such hierarchies. Student publication in such journals increases pressure on others, thus driving further submissions. The National Residency Matching Program (NRMP), among other organizations, does not distinguish between student-only and established journals, which risks burdening student journals with low-quality research aimed simply at maximizing NRMP credit.
Opportunities lost on publication in student journals include long-term career value, satisfaction of successfully competing with established researchers for journal space, and the dissemination of findings through conventional research databases. Professional academics and, potentially, members of appointment panels may also view such publications as second rate. Dissemination of data through student journals usually precludes future publication elsewhere, thus depriving the academic community of potentially valuable work.
Although publication in student journals may develop confidence and encourage further research activity, medical students should be integrated into the research culture of their professions. Indicators of true integration include subjection of student research to academic criticism in the medium shared by all researchers and clinicians regardless of grade: established academic journals. Although student journals may be a useful interim measure to stimulate interest in academic work, we look forward to a time when they will no longer be a necessary part of the research landscape.
David Metcalfe, MBChB
Associate fellow, Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catherine Hanley, PhD
Academic manager, Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom.