In the world of graduate school, awed whispers (sometimes with a twinge of jealousy) can strike up when the topic of publication arises.  With academic publishing playing such an important role for any graduate student, it is no wonder that there is often a lot of stress when it comes to the whole ordeal.

Enter Scholastica.

This project is the brainchild of three graduate students from the University of Chicago: Rob Walsh, Brian Cody, and Cory Schires.  After each of them realizing the limitations with the current system of academic publishing, they decided to take matters into their own hands to figure out a way to make the peer review process more efficient for the student, editor, and journals.  It is currently in the beta testing stage and you can request to be a part of this great new project!

After conducting over fifty interviews with graduate students and countless surveys on user experiences in the peer review process, the overwhelming response was, “I hate it.”

The frustration stemmed from the lack of information on where your manuscript were in the process once accepted for reading to wondering who exactly was reviewing the journals.  And there was always that nagging question of how fairly your article would be judged based on content versus, say, who you know.

Beyond this, it demystifies the publishing process.  Instead of wondering who is reviewing your manuscript and when they’re going to get around to it, you actually get updates which helps to not only make the whole process less stressful, but it can also make it *gasp* almost enjoyable!  And by making it less scary for grad students to start the publishing process early, it’ll help to form relationships with journal editors and hopefully make the peer review process less painful.

With all these things in mind, these intrepid students build a system to alleviate some of these issues.  Profiles will reflect your purposes on Scholastica.  You may use the program to be author, reviewer or editor. . .or any combination of these!  Your profile will allow you to showcase your expertise with the tagging functionality which may help you as you wear any of these three hats.  Let’s take a look at these three different roles a little more closely:

As an author, you’ll be able to link your Twitter account, add a picture, list your publications, post your bio, upload your C V, and tag various things that you’re interested in.  This will help to build a strong profile of your own interests and help establish you as an expert in the field.  As an author, you can submit manuscript directly to a journal (with the added functionality of suggesting a reviewer or to restrict certain reviewers).  For graduate students, this will be invaluable in getting your name out in the publishing world.  Especially those of us in programs with limited funding (uh, everyone?), conferences can be hard to attend if you don’t have deep pockets yourself.  This will provide an avenue of communication with others in your field based on the tagging system built into the site.  While there isn’t an in-site communication tool in place, the search functionality based on tags will help enhance how you can connect with others in your field of specialization.  Another added bonus is that Scholastica keeps you in the loop every step of the way as you’re waiting to hear back from the journal with an official decision.  You’ll be able to get email updates when reviewers are invited, when they confirm their participation, when they submit their reviews, and when the editor makes a final decision.  Now, instead of being in the dark for months wondering what happened to that manuscript, you’ll get updates to help you cope with the emotional rollercoaster ride of the wait!

The journal/editor profile can both receive manuscripts from authors submitting their documents online and seek out authors based on their tagged expertise profiles.  They can also invite a reviewer to edit manuscripts based on either their own arsenal of names, based on a suggestion from the author themselves, or by searching by expertise tags.  When the request is sent to the reviewer, the invitation will include an abstract of the manuscript for convenience.  The journals are given a lot more freedom in searching for good reviewers while having the ability to read through abstracts submitted to them in a timely manner.  After the journal owners invite editors, they can help manage manuscripts by inviting reviews and making editorial decisions.  An additional functionality is in the works that will automatically suggest appropriate reviewers by matching manuscript keywords to user profiles and past reviews.  With all of these tools, editors will be able to easily manage their sections of the peer review process without having to go through all of the publishing companies.

 

Once a reviewer received a request to edit a manuscript, they’ll be given the option to accept or reject the request.  After the reviewer has accepted the request, the author will receive a notification that their manuscript is being edited.  When the reviewer is done reading the manuscript, they will submit their analysis based on pre-determined questions, they can send additional comments to both the author and the editor.  In the future, the journals will be able to customize the types of questions asked in this section to help hone in on specific areas of interest.  Reviewers that do good jobs, will also be recognized through Scholastica as “expert reviewers” and will help authors get their manuscripts reviewed by appropriate people in their field of specialization.  No more will you wonder if your manuscript is being reviewed by someone only tenuously related to your field!

With the three groups working together towards the publication of a manuscript, it is important that lines of communication remain open.  Email alerts are sent out to the pertaining party when an update has occurred (i.e. for an Author:  successfully submitted; reviewers invited; reviewers confirmed; reviews submitted; decision made).

Another functionality that will be coming with the launch of Scholastica is “The Conversation.”  This section of the website allows for topics to be discussed and experts to chime in on the forum.  The questions and comments can be given a thumbs up or down by users based on the usefulness of the question or answer.  This type of rewards system was put into place to encourage a stronger community of academics and to help foster a sense of good scholarship.  Beyond that, it can help identify experts in the field who may not be known yet so that emerging scholars from lesser known program can still have an equal change at being influential in their field.

The future for Scholastica will undoubtedly hold more tools to help authors, journals, and reviewers interact on various other levels. The three creators have their sights set on using new platforms (who doesn’t love a good iPad app?), allowing the easier access to selling of rights, and overall empowerment for the community as a whole.

As a grad student who has yet to publish, this walk through was incredibly helpful for me to get a sense of what the whole process currently looks like and what pitfalls await me.  Knowing that Scholastica will be able to guide me through some of the scarier months of my grad school life is comforting.  I think what struck me the most about the program was how. . .pretty the site was!  As silly as that is, I think we all know that we do somewhat judge a book by its cover and if I’m going to have to stare at a computer screen for hours on end, it may as well be pleasing to the eye.  I loved hearing how the project came to existence and I’m excited to see what else these three guys have up their sleeves!

 

 

 

3 Responses to Scholastica

  1. Rob Walsh says:

    Thanks for the spotlight GradHacker!

    Anyone interested can sign up for our invite-only beta that will be kicking off soon at our homepage:

    http://www.scholasticahq.com

    - Rob Walsh
    Team Scholastica

  2. Alex Galarza says:

    Congratulations Cory on an informative post and to Team Scholastica for an important project. After sitting in on a few THATCamp sessions dedicated to discussing the many problems in academic publishing, it is inspiring to see a graduate student-led project that proposes solutions.

    Has the site been particularly successful in a certain discipline?

    Keep up the great work, more people need to hear about this project!

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