Projects as papers August 22, 2012Posted by mareserinitatis in education, papers, research, teaching.
Tags: academia, project, research, teaching
While I was working on my MS, I read the book Getting What You Came For. (I highly recommend this book to anyone going to grad school, BTW.) I remember one section where the author suggested trying to take a class project or paper and making it into a publishable paper for a journal. At the time, it was a suggestion that totally made sense as I was in the process of deciding whether I should do that for one particular class project.
Now, however, I’m not so sure it’s always doable. I have a few reasons for this. First, I compare the quality of the projects I did when I was starting my MS versus finishing. (For reference, I was only going part time as I was also homeschooling one child and had a baby along the way. My MS, therefore, took me five years.) When I first started my MS, a lot of my projects involved finding a paper from a journal and attempting to replicate the results. In one class, for example, I built an antenna and tested it. At that point, it was rather overwhelming to learn how to use this new equipment alongside the process of learning about the specific topics we were studying. I honestly think there was no way I was ready to produce something that would eventually be publishable.
Toward the end of my degree, I started doing ‘seed projects’. These were things that probably couldn’t be published based on what I had accomplished in the class but, with work, would definitely result in something noteworthy. I attribute this to progression in my understanding of the topics I was working with, more proficiency in the lab, etc. A lot of that competence came from doing previous projects, so I was building on a lot of the stuff I’d done before.
I find it interesting, therefore, when I recently heard about professors who use class projects as a way to generate papers. That is, the outcome of a student project is to be a publishable paper, and the student needs to do this in order to receive a passing grade. Looking back at my own experience, I think getting research of that caliber out of a class project would have been dubious, at best.
First, lack of proficiency is not easily recognized by new learners, and quality research is going to be difficult for someone who’s never done research before. The whole point of doing a master’s degree is to learn how to do that, and usually get at least one publication in the process. Second, doing research quality work is probably going to take longer than a semester. Third, and slightly related, most students should be spending their time working on their own research, which they need to graduate. (I am making the assumption that the work necessary to generate something that is publishable is going to be considerably more than that of a standard class project.) Finally, I’m not sure it’s beneficial to all students. In some fields, a lot of students go into industry upon graduation, and forcing them to publish research beyond their graduation requirements really isn’t going to be helpful for them.
I do see one circumstance where it might be appropriate to generate a paper from a class project. I can see this as viable if the whole class is involved in writing it such that each student or group of students contributes a small chunk. This would ideally be easier to handle for all of the students. In fact, I see that as a wonderful way to get students introduced to research without the pressure to do a whole project themselves.
What do you think? Do the benefits of writing papers outweigh the down side? Are there aspects I haven’t considered?