Spotlight on Undergraduate Authors: Mary Baker

Mary Baker is a first year graduate student studying Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois. As an undergraduate, Mary published an article in Re:Search: the Undergraduate Literary Criticism Journal at the University of Illinois. Mary recently talked to the Scholarly Commons about her experience during the research and publication process and how publishing her work has helped her after graduation.

Mary at work in the Social Sciences, Health, and Education Library

Mary at work in the Social Sciences, Health, and                             Education Library

What was your undergraduate area of study? What are you doing now?

I was an English major and Business minor at UIUC. I was an English Honors student which meant that I took some advanced level English classes and wrote an Honors Thesis. My experience as an honors student actually led to me library science in a roundabout way—I was writing 20 page + papers each semester and using library resources more and more and I realized that my favorite part of the writing process was researching and interacting with librarians. I am now a first-semester GSLIS (Graduate School of Library and Information Science) student! I like it a lot so far although I’m still trying my best to manage my time effectively—I think I underestimated the transition I was making from undergrad to grad school since I went here for undergrad. I am a GA at the Social, Sciences, Health and Education library—I work at the info desk and enter reference statistics online.

What was the process of researching and writing this paper like?

I have a long academic history with the article I published. My original idea was prompted by an English class called “Narratives of Passing” taught by Professor Siobhan Somerville. This course was about the history of passing in the United States (passing as in hiding or covering a racial, sexual, or gender identity to avoid discrimination) and passing narratives in books and film. I wrote a paper about passing in Mad Men for this class my junior year, but I found that I had so much more I wanted to explore by the time I was finished with it. When it came time to submit a proposal for my thesis I used my initial paper as a jumping off point but also added more questions/perspectives I wanted to explore. This was also around the time when Re:Search was starting so I submitted my thesis proposal to the journal as well.

I definitely used library resources a lot for this paper. The most important resource by far was Mad men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s a book of Mad Men criticism edited by UIUC faculty. It was really cool that I got to join in this dialog with my paper and I was lucky enough to have the editors (Lauren Goodlad and Lilya Kaganovsky) on the reading committee for my thesis. I also used online library catalog a lot to find articles and books that were cited in essays that I found especially helpful.

What kind of feedback did you receive during the peer review or editing process? Do you feel that helped your writing?

I had a really great experience writing the paper because I had a thorough peer- editing process. I met with my faculty advisor nearly once a week (my advisor was Siobhan Somerville) and she was such a helpful and supportive source for me—we made a detailed timeline and I had a new draft for her feedback once every two weeks. I also took advantage of some of the peer-editing roundtables held by Re:Search, where the authors and board members updated each other on their writing and editing processes and we were able to give each other feedback and suggestions.

Has publishing your paper helped you in your coursework? What about in other areas?

Publishing my paper definitely gave me thicker skin as a writer and made me realize how much work goes into publishing an article. Even though my paper was about 20 pages I honestly think I wrote and reworked around 50+ pages of initial material. The hardest part was letting go of the pages that didn’t work anymore because it felt like I was back at square one a lot of the times but in the long-run this editing made the final product so much more cohesive. I have a way easier time drafting because I know how much time and effort goes into a final draft—I’m more likely to take my time with an assignment or paper now then I was a few years ago.

Do you have any advice for students who may be interested in publishing their work but not know where start?

Don’t be afraid to research and write about your passions even if they don’t seem to be the most “scholarly”. I would never write an article about Chaucer or Shakespeare (no offense to those scholars) because that’s not for me but I could write dozens of pages about my favorite television shows. In undergrad I found a way to write about Homeland, The Newsroom, Mad Men, and The Daily Show and more. My professors were all very receptive to my ideas because I was passionate about them.

Read Mary’s paper “Indecent Proposals: A Historical Reading of Sexual Politics in Mad Men in the Spring 2014 issue of Re:Search.

Google Scholar: Setting Up a Citations Profile and Understanding the Impact Factor

Google Scholar allows researchers to easily search scholarly materials across a range of formats, disciplines, and sources.  A search will yield results in articles, theses, books and more from publishers, online repositories, universities, and websites. In addition to being a research tool, another valuable feature of this service is Google Scholar Citations.  This service allows authors to create a free profile to keep track of citation metrics and connect with other researchers.

How can you benefit from a Citations account? Google Scholar will track citations and automatically update profiles as references are located online. Creating a profile and making it public will provide a face to your research and an easy way to maintain an online presence for your scholarly accomplishments.

Setting Up Your Profile

1. Sign in here using an existing Google account or create a new one.

2. Confirm your name and enter your affiliation, email address, and research interests.

Note: You must enter an educational (.edu) email address in order for your profile to be eligible for inclusion in search results.

3. The next page will display articles written by you or by people with similar names to yours. Add articles that belong to you or click “search articles” to search Google Scholar content for your work.

4. You will now be asked if you would like updates applied to your profile automatically or if you would prefer to review them first.

Note: You can always make changes manually regardless of the option you choose here.

5. You will now arrive at your profile. You may make changes to your information and add a photo.

6. Check your university inbox and click the verification link.

7. When you are satisfied with your profile, make it public by selecting “make my profile public” at the top of your profile page.

Understanding the Impact Factor

The impact factor of an academic journal is a measure of the relative importance of that publication in a particular field. This measure is based on the number of citations of articles published in the journal. The impact factor is an important consideration for academics seeking tenure or for new scholars locating the highest impact publications within their field.

Google Scholar allows authors and researchers to easily gauge the influence of recent articles. You can begin by browsing the top publications in a given discipline. You can view the overall top publications written in English across the disciplines here.  Select a journal and click on the “h-index” to see what articles were cited the most and where they were cited. To learn more about impact factor, see this guide. For more on Google Scholar Metrics, visit Google Scholar.



The Benefits of Publishing as an Undergraduate

Writing an article and going through the peer review and editing processes can be difficult and time-consuming. Students may wonder if the end result is worth adding the extra commitment to their schedules. However, having an article published as an undergraduate has a wide variety of benefits and can present new opportunities to students involved in the publication process. Here are a few of the reasons to consider publishing as an undergraduate:

1. To help improve writing and research skills.

The process of researching, writing, editing, and publishing an article for the first time will provide valuable feedback on what steps may require improvement and where strengths may be. Going through these steps will improve writing and research skills that will be useful in graduate studies or a professional career.

2. To experience the scholarly publication process.

Publication is a requirement in many disciplines. Going through the process as an undergraduate will make the experience familiar when it may be required later. It will also provide context and understanding of the field.

3. To connect with professors and researchers.

Faculty in the department the journal is connected to will likely be involved in the publication or post-publication process. Publishing in the journal will help connect students to those faculty members in a way that isn’t often achieved in the typical classroom setting. Publishing may also help students connect with other professionals and researchers in the field, providing new opportunities for collaboration and future study.

4. To display leadership and initiative.

Working as part of the editorial team or being involved in the publication process is hard work. Faculty, employers, and graduate school admissions committee members will understand this and recognize pursuing this endeavor as an example of leadership and drive.

5. To professionalize the undergraduate experience.

Having a published paper will provide a certain level of professionalization to a resume that many undergraduates do not have. It will signal to graduate school committees and employers that steps were taken to seriously pursue research interests. Published paper may also be useful as a writing sample in graduate school applications.

6. To inform a future career path.

The process of publishing a paper may help inform a future career path and illuminate opportunities that may otherwise have not been considered. It may pique a student’s interest in pursuing publishing or graduate studies as the next step after completion of an undergraduate degree. Alternatively, it may confirm to other students that they wish to pursue other interests outside of academia. Working with faculty and other student researchers will allow students to enter a scholarly community that may help them decide on a future career path. Either way, the process will be valuable in assisting students in deciding what the next step will be.