Mac professors on helping students publish their work

Justin Wu, Contributing Writer

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Many Macalester students’ papers reach the end of their lifespan once the semester is over, with a grade and a review by the professor. Some writings, however, can grow into something more. When a professor takes note of them or when a student takes the initiative to develop papers further, a public audience and the wider academic community might distinguish student work. 

There are a number of opportunities for students at Macalester to see their work take a new life beyond class, whether it be in collaboration with a professor to co-author a work, a presentation of their research at an academic conference or by submitting their essay to an undergraduate research journal. Professors can play a key role in encouraging students to pursue publication of writings which they start in the classroom. English professor Amy Elkins noted that one of the key ways in which many students publish their work starts with through progression in classes.

“In my classes, I often craft assignments that ask students to think in creative ways about their topic, so opportunities for ‘publishing’ can take several different forms,” Elkin said. 

“In addition to traditional scholarly papers, students might also write a song or create a brilliant collage, so I encourage them to think about publishing as a larger practice.” 

Sociology professor Erik Larson echoes these thoughts in describing how the sociology curriculum’s senior seminar helps to facilitate ideas to lead to further student writings. 

“The senior seminar in the curriculum tries to head toward getting students to produce research that others could see as useful. For some students, that might mean producing research that’s useful, not in an academic publication but in a more policy relevant setting,” Larson said. 

“That might not take a traditional form of publication. It might not match the way that they are writing their thesis. But they have produced the insights that could inform them writing a policy memo or a brief, and it’s in the end stage of the thesis research where you kind of see: ‘Oh, if I you wanted to take this further, here’s how you can do that,’” Larson said.

Senior seminars often encourage the publishing of students work because they offer greater freedom for students to develop their own research, whereas 200 and 300 level courses are typically locked into a particular curriculum. , 

“Students are coming into the senior seminar with their own questions, their own ideas. And with that freedom, in some way, comes an ability to discover a question that is even more interesting,” Larson said. 

Beyond classes, many Macalester professors will directly help Macalester students by co-authoring work that first developed in the classroom. Political science professor Adrienne Christiansen believes that Macalester’s position as a small liberal arts college fosters such student-teacher collaboration, as it emphasizes, “commitment to student education as a critical component of [professor’s] work in addition to doing their own scholarly work.” 

Professor Elkins shares this sentiment, where various funding opportunities are available for professors to collaborate with students in a description of a particular project.

Professor Elkins helped a student apply for Macalester’s Mellon Foundation Lifelong Learners Grant to fund a students research idea. She and students collaborated to produce “Uncovering Jean McConville: Seamus Heaney’s Poetic Cartography of the Disappeared.”

“When a student is open to learning, dedicated to the work and invested in developing innovative ideas and approaches to interdisciplinary research in literature, it’s so rewarding,” Elkins said. “I’m so grateful that Macalester has programs in place to support faculty-student research collaborations!”

In addition to working with specific professors, departments often hold special events or contests for their students to display their work. For instance, the political science department hosts a conference every year through the department’s student-run honorary society, Pi Sigma Alpha. 

“It’s a daylong conference where students who have written accomplished research are encouraged to submit their paper to the conference,” Professor Christiansen explained.

Similarly, the, English department hosts the Harry Scherman Writing Contest. Macalester also encourages students to take part in off-campus academic conferences and contests, with the Academic Programs office  offering to fund expenses for travel and board. 

The rewards can vary widely for students who choose to publish work which they produced at Macalester, by allowing them to travel to academic conferences, gain monetary prizes and receiving recognition for their writings.