February 29, 2016
Crossing Borders journal gives undergraduate researchers a professional edge
When students graduate from K-State, they quickly discover how well their undergraduate experiences have prepared them for the next phase of their lives.
Haley Claxton, a first-year law student at the University of Kansas School of Law, and Kaitlin Downing, a second-year graduate student in children's literature at K-State, shared an experience that they credit with not only building their résumés but also honing vital skills: They published their work in Crossing Borders: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Undergraduate Scholarship.
Claxton, who earned a degree in history with a minor in English, published an article on the influence of medieval history and visuals on World War I propaganda. She says the research, revision and citation processes were excellent preparation for law school.
"The main thing I got out of the experience is learning that the technical things really do matter, especially when you're looking at an academic publication. You want citations to be correct. They really stress that in law school," Claxton said.
Downing's undergraduate degree in English with a minor in dance also was enriched by publication of her honors project exploring how Victorian author George MacDonald used imagery from the classical elements — water, earth, fire and air — as a way to share his beliefs about child death, a common topic in the period.
"It was one of the most helpful things I did in my undergrad to prepare for grad school. Publishing helped me understand how to get into a scholarly conversation. In undergrad papers, I was usually just finding an idea and sources to back up my idea, but in this, I was researching everyone's ideas and where I fit into that and seeing what I could add to the conversation," Downing said.
Engaging in a process of substantive revision in response to reader comments was also helpful.
"It was good for me to learn how to actually revise," Downing said. "I received a lot of development-based feedback, and it was good to work on my ideas and flesh them out and reorganize. It's a good experience to learn how to write something and get feedback and improve the paper over time," she said.
Claxton agrees. "Taking constructive criticism was a big part of it," she said. "I received a lot of good comments that I could build on. That made the paper better."
Claxton's and Downing's experience with revision fulfills a founding goal of the journal, according to Karin Westman, department head of English.
"Our editorial approach emphasizes the writing process. Authors who submit manuscripts will work closely with our editorial board and with tutors in the Writing Center to develop their ideas and hone their prose in response to reviewers' suggestions," Westman said.
Justin Kastner, associate professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, director of the honors program, and director of the Frontier program, says the journal helps students become better critical thinkers by helping them think outside disciplinary boundaries.
"When students have to combine perspectives from, say, political science as well as epidemiology, they will inevitably have to translate the discipline-specific jargon and interpret reality differently, and in the process they will become better critical thinkers," Kastner said. "We think that's a really good way for students to grow in their use of the human faculty of reason."
Students need not be planning to attend graduate school or law school to benefit.
"K-State graduates need to be able to quickly demonstrate their competence to graduate school admissions committees, prospective employers, and internship hosts. One of the best ways to demonstrate that you bring something to the table is proof that you've published something," Kastner said.
Kastner also noted that although publication is open only to undergraduate students, Crossing Borders is recruiting graduate students as peer reviewers. That means grad students gain valuable experience, too.
Both Claxton and Downing say their résumés are stronger because of their Crossing Borders publications. Downing hopes to work in book editing when she finishes her master's degree, so her understanding of the publication process is helpful. Claxton says prospective employers take notice.
"It's definitely worth it — I've had interviews with fairly large law firms, and the first thing they say is, 'You've been published?!' It's a good talking point," Claxton said.
Claxton's article, "The Knights of the Front: Medieval History's Influence on Great War Propaganda," and Downing's article, "The Journey to Death: Elemental Imagery in the Works of George MacDonald," are both available for download from the Crossing Borders journal website.