International studies journal showcases undergraduate research

Laurel Mills, born in China raised in the United States, decided early on in her college career that she wanted to focus on international issues. A senior from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Mills is studying political science and German at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a connoisseur of all things German.

Even before stepping foot on campus, Mills knew about the Journal of Undergraduate International Studies (JUIS), a publication devoted to publishing undergraduate research on international topics.

“I always wanted to do something with an international focus and this seemed like the perfect opportunity,” she says.

She contacted the editor-in-chief and, by the second semester of her freshman year, she had joined the staff as an editor to help work through an unexpected number of submissions. By her junior year, she had become the managing editor; this year, she is the editor-in-chief, leading a 12-member staff.

JUIS was founded in 2003 by David Coddon, an undergraduate international studies major who went on to become an attorney specializing in international arbitration. Coddon’s family foundation continues to support the journal, along with the Letters and Science Honors Program and Global Studies.

Generally, JUIS publishes an issue each semester. Each issue tends to include lengthy research papers on issues of international education, economics, politics and more.

JUIS Laurel Mills

Looking for depth, good writing

“We are looking for things that are in-depth, that are making a new argument, that are very well-written,” Mills says. “Those tend to be longer research papers, just because those are the papers that are able to explore the literature base, add something new and have the length to develop that argument. But, we have had shorter insightful articles.”

JUIS editors read all submissions, rank them and determine which will make the publication. Over the years, the journal has grown in popularity and attracts more and more submissions. More than 100 articles were submitted for the fall 2012 issue.

Undergraduate research does not always get the spotlight it deserves, Mills says.

“At least for me, undergraduate research has been an important part of my time here. We do have undergraduates who are writing these papers, who are doing this research,” she says. “Just because publication opportunities are limited doesn’t mean that there is any shortage of this really good undergraduate research being done.”

And the JUIS staff looks for the best of the best – and seeks submissions not just at UW–Madison, but from undergraduates at other universities across the United States and beyond.

For example, recent issues have included articles by students from Harvard, Northwestern, Macalester, Tufts, University of Utah, Rhodes, Swarthmore, University of Pittsburgh, Cambridge University, Occidental, University of California-San Diego, and Amherst. JUIS also has received submissions from abroad, including many from the Netherlands, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Recent articles have dealt with such topics as the likelihood of hegemonic war between U.S. and China; the transformation of Egypt’s foreign policy since 1970; international sustainable development; origins of the Iran-Iraq war; and the AIDS epidemic in Southeast Asia.

“I think we really want to be able to showcase the best undergraduate work in the nation,” Mills says. “When we expand the pool of people who are able to contribute, it leads to more competition, but it allows us to make a publication that is very professional with very innovative articles.”

Seeking more Madison submissions

But, surprisingly, recent issues of JUIS have contained few contributions from UW–Madison, due to limited submissions from the campus where the journal is produced.

“I wish we could receive more submissions from UW–Madison students, because I know these kinds of papers are being written in our classes and people are doing external research projects,” Mills says.  “So I would be very happy to see more Madison submissions and provide more opportunities to our campus.”

In an effort to increase Madison submissions, the staff is seeking to build more contacts with academic departments.

“I think one misconception is that we are looking for people who are really good at international studies or majoring in it, but, more than that, we want people who have good critical thinking and writing skills,” Mills says. “So we actually have editors from a wide range of majors and backgrounds. Our managing editor is a sociology major. We had a neuroscience major last year.”

In an effort to expand the opportunities to showcase undergraduate work on international issues, the JUIS staff has created a blog, working with Mark Lillelhet, program coordinator at UW–Madison’s Global Studies, a sponsor of JUIS.

“I think it will be great. I think it opens up the door to more active engagement both in time and in breadth of coverage,” Lillelhet says. “If they can get consistent, regular content provided, it gives them a platform to reach a much broader audience, but also spread the word about the journal.”

Mills agrees. “For us, it will diversify the kinds of things we can publish, the kinds of dialogue we encourage. And to give a wider range of opportunities to people who have written shorter things or opinionated pieces,” she says.

“We have also thought about offering runner-ups a spot on the blog. So, on the one hand we have the print journal, where we are sticking to this idea of we want to publish the best undergraduate papers, but with the blog we could have more flexibility.”

Meanwhile, the staff is gathering submissions for the next issue, scheduled to be published in May.

— by Jeff Cartwright