Feature

In 1970, a handful of social psychology graduate students at the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill, noticed gaps in journal publishing. Editors shied away from research that replicated other studies or resulted in nonsignificant findings. In addition, journals offered few opportunities for graduate students to gain substantial reviewing or editing experience.

Rather than grouse, they set out to fill in those voids.

With funding from the university and APA--and profits from several bake sales--the students launched Representative Research in Social Psychology (RRSP), which is published annually and due out this month. The journal bases publication decisions not on the significance of results, but on methodological soundness and contribution to the field of social psychology. The journal also gives special consideration to null findings and replications. Moreover, the journal is edited, reviewed and managed by graduate students.

At its launch, faculty were impressed and supportive, but felt sure the journal would die out after the first or second year if the work involved cut into students' teaching and coursework. But the journal's editors persevered and 30 years later, RRSP has a small but loyal circulation of more than 300 individuals, psychology departments and libraries in 18 countries and publishes the work of prominent social psychologists.

The journal has seen difficult times--years when it seemed the tradition might dissolve, says one of its founders, Robert Cialdini, PhD, of Arizona State University. But in recent years, students worked hard to sustain and improve this "invaluable training mechanism," says Cialdini.

Management and editorship of the journal has been passed down each year to seven or eight graduate students in the Chapel Hill social psychology program, who run the peer-review process, decide on content, create the journal's layout, manage subscription records and finances and copyedit manuscripts. And at the spring mailing party, they paste the mailing labels to each glossy, perfect-bound edition they send out.

"The experience has strengthened my ability to think and write critically, to fairly evaluate others' work," says last year's editor, Brad Pinter, a fourth-year graduate student. "And to manage what is basically a small business."

Thirty-two-year veteran of the UNC social psychology department Vaida Thompson, PhD, is a former skeptic who today sees the project as an essential part of her students' professional development. "This is probably the best training in publishing they can get as students. They go to conferences to present their research, and they do so with confidence because of what they have learned."

A training ground

Balancing the journal with graduate work is challenging, say members of the RRSP staff, but most agree that the experience they gain is worth making time for. "Being editor could be a full-time job," says fifth-year graduate student Jody Davis, RRSP editor-in-chief from 1997­98.

"I have heard faculty express concern that the journal takes too much time away from students' research projects," she says, adding, "At the same time, I think they realize we are gaining immensely valuable experiences--managing a staff, overseeing the review process, weighing the relative merits and weaknesses of manuscripts and writing reviews are invaluable to our development as social psychologists."

Backing the editor are two associate editors, two financial managers who double as a production team, a distribution manager and several copy editors. Because some roles are more demanding than others are, students rotate positions from year to year. All students in the social psychology program can work on the journal, but only those graduate students who have passed their comprehensive exams can serve as UNC reviewers.

Thompson, along with Chester Insko, PhD, are longtime, unofficial faculty resources for the journal, but the students seldom consult them.

"I am here for them, but they do this all on their own," says Thompson, director of the social psychology program.

Work begins in the fall when the editors and staff send out a call for manuscripts and new reviewers through three social psychology listservs. On average, RRSP recruits five or six new reviewers each year to fill openings created by graduated reviewers. Prospective reviewers are screened carefully, says this year's editor, Robert Horton, and need a master's degree and strong faculty recommendations to be selected for the 20-member editorial board.

Many of today's most influential social psychologists served on the editorial board while they were students, including the University of Wisconsin at Madison's Patricia Devine, PhD, editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, and Harvard University's Daniel Gilbert, PhD.

The editorial staff collects submissions in the fall, and in early December several students across the country and the UNC editorial team review them. Layout and production of the journal begins once the first article has been edited and accepted.

While graduate students control the peer-review and editorial process, doctoral psychologists dominate the submissions. PhDs wrote more than half of this year's 23 submissions, says Horton, and many faculty publish in the journal with their graduate students.

Former RRSP editor Richard Smith, PhD, is one of them. He and student Matthew Webster co-wrote an article on emotions that arise from social comparisons that will appear in the 2000 edition. Smith, an associate professor at the University of Kentucky, says the journal plays a key role in social psychology.

"This is a journal people appreciate as a place for articles with sound methodology--articles where the results may not be significant, but that should be out there nonetheless," says Smith, who edited RRSP from 1984­85. "It's a journal I am always proud to publish in."

A flourishing enterprise

While university support was needed to print and mail the journal in its early years, those costs are now covered by the journal's subscriptions profits.

But there is little money left over for publicity, so each editorial team feels lucky to have the help of a large network of RRSP alumni who encourage colleagues and students to submit their research and spark their students' interest in becoming reviewers. Many alumni publish in the journal as well.

One of them, Arizona State University's Cialdini, is happy to see that it is still thriving.

"This journal has given so many students insight into preparing manuscripts themselves because they have learned how to look for strengths and weaknesses in a manuscript," says Cialdini. "They are students now, but in a year or two they will be faculty members."

Further Reading

Those interested in becoming reviewers for or submitting manuscripts to RRSP can contact Robert Horton, Editor, at rhorton@email.unc.edu. For subscription information, e-mail Horton or write to RRSP, c/o Robert Horton, CB#3270, Davie Hall, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599.