Mark Stout ans Maarten Vink Mark Stout ans Maarten Vink foto: Sacha Ruland

Helping Maastricht students reach the summit

Written by  Jolien Linssen Thursday, 13 January 2011 09:55

Publishing an article in an academic journal might be compared to climbing the Mount Everest. Only after a lot of training, does one stand a chance of success. In the world of academia, this usually comes down to at least having finished one’s master’s programme. Things are a bit different though for the eager beavers following the University College Maastricht programme or doing the European Studies programme at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Here, the best student papers are published in the Maastricht Journal of Liberal Arts (MJLA) and the Maastricht European Studies Papers (MESP). Call it ambitious or call it extraordinary; at Maastricht University they just call it education.

 “A couple of years ago, some students expressed the feeling that there were not many extracurricular activities for them to engage in”, says Maarten Vink, associate professor of political science at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “So we came up with the idea for MESP, an academic journal run by and for students. During their second and third year at the European Studies programme students write a lot of papers, of which always a couple stand out. Through MESP, we are able to show the high quality of their work.”

According to staff members Mark Stout and Jenny Schell, offering a platform to demonstrate the outstanding level of their students’ research is also at the core of MJLA, the journal of the University College Maastricht. Mark Stout: “Within our curriculum there is a strong emphasis on research, which means that our students are expected to do a lot of theoretical work. We have always known that they are extremely capable, we just needed to find the right medium to show it”.

Having published an article in an academic journal is not only a nice thing to tell your grandparents; in an increasingly competitive environment, you can use it to your advantage on your CV. “Since the introduction of the bachelor-master system, the educational market has become tougher”, Maarten Vink states. “It is no longer self-evident that one is accepted into a master’s programme, in particular research master’s. Students need to prove that they have been actively involved in educational and research activities”.

Peer-review

Getting a paper published in either MESP or MJLA is, however, far from easy: the process of submitting and reviewing articles is intended to resemble that of a normal journal. Mark Stout: “Last year, we received about seventy papers, out of which only six were published. Only the best get through”.

Through MESP and MJLA, students can experience themselves what academic publishing is all about. “Special emphasis is placed on the process of double-blind peer-review”, says Maarten Vink. “In practice, this means the following: papers are submitted to the editorial team, formed only by students. The editors take a look at the overall quality of the paper and decide whether its topic fits the journal. Then, the paper is handed out to at least two student reviewers, who write a review-report. Once this is done, the paper is revised and proofread”.

This way of working with master’s and, particularly, bachelor’s students seems to be rather unique. “I have studied at several universities in the United States”, says Jenny Schell, “none of them had an initiative similar to this”. According to Schell, herself a graduate of the University College and currently working on her PhD, the experience of taking part in such a peer-review process is undoubtedly a useful one. “When I was a bachelor’s student, MJLA did not yet exist. Now that I am in the process of writing and submitting articles myself, I realise that some prior training, including the experience of being rejected, would have helped me”. 

Differences

Despite the similarities between MESP and MJLA, there are also some differences to be noticed. Whereas the dean of the University College Maastricht is keen on having a paper version of MJLA, Maarten Vink, who deems accessibility most important, wants to avoid having piles of paper spread around. For this reason, MESP is only available online. Further, while MESP features both bachelor’s and master’s papers, MJLA consists of articles written by bachelor’s students as there are no master’s programmes at UCM.

The biggest difference, however, lies in the style of approach of MESP and MJLA. ‘Do it yourself’ could be the slogan which MESP seems to identify itself with – a journal completely run by students. Maarten Vink: “We instructed the editors and then left it up to them. The idea was to have a journal for and by students, without any involvement of staff. It is a matter of trust”. The editing of MJLA, on the other hand, is carried out by Mark Stout and Jenny Schell. After a first peer-review round done by students, the papers – awarded a minimum grade of 8 – are sent to experts in the field. “We want to ensure the best possible process”, Mark Stout explains. “The result is that our journal can be taken seriously. Our primary aim is to make it easier for students to enrol into a master’s programme. We want to encourage and prepare promising Maastricht students to pursue an academic career”.

For more information, please visit the websites of MESP and MJLA at: http://www.fdcw.unimaas.nl/mesp http://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/web/Main/Sitewide/Content/TheNewMJLAHasBeenReleased.htm

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