Student Successis an open access journal based in Australia published by and supported by the STARS Conference and Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Library. As part of our ‘Story behind the journal’ series, DOAJ spoke with the Managing Editor, Tracy Creagh.

Tell us about the Student Success journal and your role within the journal

Student Success logo

The journal started publishing back in 2010 under a different title, International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education. Our founding and current Editor-in-Chief, Professor Karen Nelson, was involved with a conference around the first year experience of students in universities. She wanted to find a way to keep the dynamic and productive conversations and discussion from the conference going, and decided to start publishing an academic journal. I was working for her at the time as a Research Assistant, and we approached our university library, who set us up with the open-source version of OJS (Open Journal Systems). I became the Journal Manager, though we both knew very little about publishing. We knew we wanted to make it accessible, so it was open access right from the beginning. We use the Diamond model, there’s no APC and it is supported by our institution, though we have had some sustainability issues with this as well.

When we started publishing, we published two issues a year. In 2015 we started getting more submissions that were not just about the first year in university, but around the student experience as a whole, or transitions in, through and out of university. We wanted to make the journal more holistic, so we changed the title to Student Success. At the same time we started publishing three issues a year, with one Special Issue each year dedicated to a specific theme. We encourage submissions from all staff from universities involved in the student experience including academics teaching and researching, professional staff supporting students and the like. We publish both research articles and practice reports, and this is to ensure those who publish can share their experiences around strategy and practices that work well, enabling others to adapt these to their own environment.

Photo of Tracy Creagh, Managing Editor of Student Success

We rely heavily on our scholarly communications team in the library at our university, and they recommended DOAJ indexing right from the beginning. This started a whole education process for ourselves in terms of the value of open access. Once we started the process of applying to DOAJ, we realised that there was a whole list of things we needed to do as a scholarly journal. We really wanted to embrace good practice, and DOAJ has been pivotal in terms of shaping the journal and how we publish. Today my journal manager role sits within the scholarly communications team in the library, and I also support and manage two other open access journals in my institution.

We recognise we are one of hundreds of learning and teaching themed journals. It’s a big pond and we’re a little fish, so we’re leaning on the things we are doing well. We’re extremely proud to have the DOAJ Seal, which has given us a nice reputation. We do everything we can to align to best practice in publishing. I think people feel good when they publish in a journal that has good ethical awareness around academic publishing and the benefit of making their research accessible to all.

There is a lot of focus on education within your journal – not just in relation to the subject area of the journal itself, but in how the journal is developing and sharing good practice back to the community!

Yes, definitely. We’re interested in the student experience, but we are also interested in disseminating that as widely as possible. We want to influence higher education policy, practice and want everyone to be able to access the critical research that staff are doing in this space.

How do you think the journal makes a difference in your subject field or region?

We put the student at the centre of everything. We encourage submissions that talk about who our students are, what their needs are and what their sense of belonging is – their experience. Higher education in Australia is going through a significant review process, which will affect all universities. And so, we hope a lot of the research published in Student Success will come together to help inform the government response and about who our students are, as some of those who have published in the journal have made submissions to this national education review.

What motivates you to be a part of the Student Success journal?

In the beginning, the whole editorial team were really passionate about the student experience, but it’s evolved. We’re also passionate about sharing the experiences of university staff supporting their students and trying to improve their learning outcomes -, and disseminating their research faster and as widely as possible. It’s important for institutions in higher education to share what’s really working – and what’s not. Ultimately, I guess it’s about the same passion as we started with – the student experience is at the centre of everything we do.

Do you feel inspired when you go through submissions to the journal?

Yes, and it’s interesting to see what’s happening internationally as well! Though most of our research is Australian or from New Zealand, we are getting a lot of submissions from the UK and North America too. It’s all very different, so it’s interesting to see how other systems in higher education are working.

Sometimes we get submissions where someone has tried an initiative that hasn’t worked, and they outline why it didn’t work, or reflect on what could have been done differently. That type of research is just as valuable, as it also provides insight and guidance to others. So, even though our journal is called ‘Student Success’, it doesn’t have to be success stories all the time, it can be a lesson, a learning. We just want to create ongoing conversation and dialogue about initiatives to improve the student experience.

What are your thoughts on Open Access?

For me it’s all about equity and accessibility. I think there’s still a great deal of outdated opinions about Open Access that we run into. I guess the reality for us is that the current academic publishing environment is not equitable. People who want to access high quality research run into paywalls, and there’s restrictive licensing on articles. I understand a lot more about Open Access now than when I started. Personally, I think Open Access is a social justice issue. In developing countries, academic research dissemination is hindered, because people cannot afford to publish in a quality scholarly publication.

The biggest challenge for us in Open Access, is how do we sustain a journal with no APCs that is supported only by the institution. For us, being indexed in DOAJ was good to show that we align to good practice and we publish high quality research. Our publishing policies are aligned to COPE. Being a journal with limited funding it’s very important to us to signal to our community that we are a high quality journal that follows best practice.

Why do you think DOAJ is important to the scholarly community?

One of the first things we did when we started the journal was to use the DOAJ guidelines to help us understand what best practice looks like. In the beginning, DOAJ to us was like a list of Open Access journals, but we now see it as the key index of Open Access journals. You can go to any publisher, and they will have some guidelines on what a journal should look like and what criteria is required to be indexed. However, DOAJ includes a variety of journals, and has a very comprehensive list of criteria and good practice, including type of open access, quality control, copyright, licensing, and archiving.

Now I use DOAJ more widely;I keep up to date with DOAJ’s news section and blogs, which helps me think about keeping the journal up to date and refreshing our policies. So, DOAJ is not just an index for us, it’s become a ‘go-to’ for us to make sure we align all our principles and policies with good practice in open access. 

What could DOAJ do in the future to help journals such as yours?

I think what DOAJ does very well is that it raises awareness of the value of Open Access. I’ve also noticed that DOAJ does more webinars now, and especially this year in relation to your 20th anniversary. It has been wonderful to see DOAJ get the recognition it deserves.

DOAJ is a go-to for me, but it would be great to encourage it to be a go-to for other journals too. I know this happens, but outlining to new journals that the DOAJ guidelines are out there and are so important to follow and get right, will ensure the journal gets a great start. 

This story is a part of our series about journals indexed in DOAJ, which digs into the history of selected journals, their views on open access and their motivation for and experience of getting indexed in DOAJ. Each story is based on an interview with a representative of the selected journal.

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