Publishing Research with Undergraduate Co-authors

This is a guest post from Ursula Whitcher, Associate Editor at Mathematical Reviews.

One of the highlights of the Joint Math Meetings every January is the undergraduate student poster session, where hundreds of students present original research projects. Have you mentored undergraduate research? Are you working on a paper based on your results? If so, where will you submit it?

If the paper is solely authored by your research students, there are many options. The Center for Undergraduate Research in Mathematics maintains a nice list of venues for undergraduate math research. However, many of us choose to co-author papers with our students. Why might you do this? Maybe you want the paper to be listed on your CV, or featured in a portfolio for promotion or tenure. Maybe you spent the summer focused on making conjectures and proving results, and want to write up the details in the fall and winter; undergraduates may not be able to devote time to the publishing process during the academic year, especially if they are seniors, or don’t attend your institution. You may have worked with several students or teams of students over a period of a few years, and not have a single student to tap as lead author. You might need to include disciplinary context based on postgraduate-level material. Or perhaps you simply have multiple collaborators, and they’re not all undergraduates.

Some undergraduate research journals do accept papers with faculty authors. If you’re considering journals of this type, Involve is a natural starting point. This is an excellent journal, with an editorial board comprising many prominent mathematicians and experts in mentoring research. At least one third of the authors of a paper submitted to Involve should be undergraduate students. The Pi Mu Epsilon Journal also considers papers by faculty members, if they are accessible to an undergraduate readership.

But where else could you send your paper? It’s always a good idea to have several venues in mind when you begin the submissions process. Making a multi-step plan frees you to be ambitious in sending your paper to well-known and respected journals, without dooming you to despair if the first or second place rejects it.

Of course, you can always send papers with undergraduates to a “grown-up” research journal. If you need high-profile publications for promotion or tenure, this should be your first step! You may already have identified some targets, based on past experience or the traditions in your subfield; the journals that appear often in your bibliography may also provide inspiration. If you just want to look at a big list of math journals, various rankings are available. Math Reviews computes a “mathematical citation quotient” for every journal in its database; you can find list of the top scorers in the citation section. (You’ll need to log into MathSciNet to view more than the top 10.) Other rankings are collected in this MathOverflow post.

Research with undergraduates often entails computational experimentation, gathering evidence that may lead to new conjectures. Journals such as Experimental Mathematics feature this style of research. You’ll have the most success with experimental journals if your methods are interesting in their own right; ask yourself whether you have created a new algorithm, or surmounted a significant technical obstacle.

What if your paper has expository elements? If the paper is aimed at researchers in your field, you can seek out opportunities to submit to refereed conference proceedings, which often accept a mix of exposition and original research. Ask your colleagues whether they know of a suitable venue: though this doesn’t hold in all fields, in mathematics it’s often possible to submit to a “conference proceedings” without attending the conference. A bonus of proceedings publication for your undergraduate collaborators is that their names will appear in a hardbound book.

If your paper has a strong expository element and a broad potential readership, consider submitting to a journal whose mission is exposition. Don’t expect publication in an expository journal to be easier than publication in a research-focused journal! You will have multiple referees, some from far outside your research area, and you may need to rewrite your paper multiple times to make it crystal clear.

The best-known expository journals are the MAA magazines. You’ll likely be choosing between The College Math Journal, Mathematics Magazine, and The American Mathematical Monthly. Officially, CMJ is focused on the first- and second-year math major curriculum, Math Magazine covers all of undergraduate mathematics, and The Monthly is aimed at mathematicians of all sorts. Because undergraduate research in mathematics usually takes junior- and senior-level classroom mathematics as a starting point, Math Magazine is often a good venue for papers on undergrad research projects. One advantage of publishing in MAA magazines is eligibility for MAA prizes.

What are your favorite places to submit research with undergraduates? Please share your ideas in the comments section!

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