"Even though students could go about publication alone, I feel that having a professor to work with and support my goals made a huge difference in both the quality and process of the work."
Being published! When outstanding work, perseverance and a dedicated mentor are stirring the pot, it’s possible for even a newly minted professional to share her research with the professional world. That’s what happened to Kim Menius, valedictorian of the Class of 2012, whose senior thesis in criminal justice was recently published in a peer-reviewed online journal, The International Journal of Criminology and Sociology.
Ask just about any professional, regardless of their field of expertise or their level of experience, about the travails of getting a paper published, and they’ll likely have stories about the one that was rejected – or rejected countless times by countless publications – or needed so many major overhauls they hardly recognize their original work. And so it was for Menius, a budding professional whose outstanding senior thesis, is published.
Guiding her through the experience was professor of criminal justice and legal studies Robert Hauhart, Ph.D., J.D., himself a frequently published researcher and author. During the process, she says she learned valuable skills.
“If I had to pick a single most important thing I've gained from the collaboration it would be persistence,” she says.
Menius zeroed in on her senior thesis topic during an internship with a local police department, she says.
“I was given a task to research all aspects of evidence in order to help update the department’s operating procedures. With the help of Dr. Hauhart, I was able to narrow all these interesting findings into one thesis statement.”
Her intern project itself was challenging and relevant, and Menius took the opportunity to further investigate the capability of police officers to collect and preserve potential DNA evidence.
Menius also knew she wanted to use her internship to support her work in the Senior Seminar/capstone course and she worked hard right from the start,” Hauhart says.
“She developed two surveys for the officers, obtained permission from the commander to distribute them, obtained IRB approval, and collected important information about the officers' knowledge regarding DNA, their evidence-handling practices, and departmental evidence policies. She then decided that she wanted to ask laboratory managers for the five, full-service Washington State Patrol crime laboratories about DNA-handling procedures by local police in the state more generally.
She prepared another survey and conducted phone interviews with the lab managers to gather the information. She did all this over a summer and fall with my guidance – before her actual Senior Seminar in the spring semester.
It became apparent that Kim was developing a quality project and capable of working collaboratively. Therefore I encouraged her to consider revising her project after completion of Senior Seminar with my help.
Kim was interested in continuing with the project – another indication of a student who takes the initiative to try and excel – and we worked on the project off and on until we received acceptance for publication at a peer-reviewed criminal justice journal.”
No small feat!
For professional publication, a senior thesis must address a significant question of scholarly merit within a discipline, he says.
“Many undergraduate students have difficulty formulating questions of contemporary substantial significance,” so most choose a “tried and true” subject or issue area, then don’t research it thoroughly enough to come up to the “professional” bar.
“The capstone student who wishes to excel hones in on an important question, creates a valid research method to explore the question, works regularly on the project before the semester for Senior Seminar begins, and devotes whatever time is necessary to examine and resolve the issues presented and collect available data to address the question,” he explains.
But even when a student such as Menius excels and the work seems to merit professional publication, he says the first piece of guidance he gives him or her is: “There’s no guarantee that your paper – however good it may be – will receive professional acceptance. Students need to understand that achieving professional publication is a difficult task even for their professors.”
As an oft-published professional, he feels he’s in a good position to guide a student through the process of developing such a paper. But persistence probably will be needed to match the paper with a suitable journal or to have the paper reviewed by peers and be accepted.
“We submitted Kim's paper at least four times before we found a journal editor who believed the paper was suitable for his journal and then received positive peer reviews. We received four peer reviews from the journal that finally published the paper and then needed to take in to account as best we could the criticisms and concerns of those reviewers. Fortunately, three of the four reviewers found much more to like than to criticize but even the positive reviews had a number of suggestions in them.”
It’s all a normal part of the professional process, he says, but a mentor needs to make sure that’s understood.
For Menius’ part, she says her Saint Martin’s professors were always willing to go the distance for their students.
“If a student has the passion and commitment to pursue publishing the thesis, I would suggest they approach their professor about it. Even though students could go about publication alone, I feel that having a professor to work with and support my goals made a huge difference in both the quality and process of the work,” she says.
For her, the rewards have been both professional and personal.
“To be able to turn a passion into something tangible and set a standard for myself has been more than self-fulfilling and I look forward to all the future possibilities.”
Making a success of the senior project
Students need to meet with their faculty advisor to insure they’ve identified such a question and can approach it in such a way that it can be answered “persuasively,” he says.
The earlier students start the process of identifying and narrowing down a thesis topic, the better the end product in most cases, he says. Those who start the process three or four months in advance of their Senior Seminar usually have better results. Those who do the initial work the summer before are often those who have the finest work.
Hauhart describes his role in guiding students through Senior Seminar as multi-dimensional: “On the one hand, I must be - to a degree - a taskmaster. Students live busy lives and even the most well-intentioned students can easily put social obligations, work, and other matters before their schoolwork. A professional does not do this; a professional insures that tasks essential to his or her profession are addressed first and then time for other roles exists. Students are just learning how to be a professional; thus, a big part of guiding students is keeping them at the task at hand. Therefore Senior Seminar has a timeline for developing the project built into it. Students are reminded every week that they must meet the timeline.
Once students recognize that they must produce new work on their thesis every week one can start to give more guidance regarding the content, structure, organization, and implementation of the project. That is when it becomes much more fun for students - but they must commit to the process first and this is hard for some students.”