The world’s only open-access journal for undergraduate research in psychology by students from across the globe, Modern Psychological Studies, is run by UTC students.
by Sarah Joyner
WWhen David Ross walks in on the first day of class to teach undergraduate students who will serve on the Modern Psychological Studies journal, he pulls up an image of a map. It’s not just any map.
Ross’ map shows global hotspots with numbers over countries like the United Kingdom, the Philippines and Nigeria. Then he explains what those numbers show—how many times people in those locations are downloading articles from the journal the students will be producing. The students’ eyes grow big as he explains, “You have a heck of a responsibility.”
The journal, edited and run by undergraduate psychology students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is unique. It’s the only worldwide, open-access journal run by undergraduates that publishes research conducted and written by undergraduate students.
Modern Psychological Studies receives submissions from undergraduate students across the globe. Often, this is their first time submitting scholarly work for the chance to be published. That scholarly work—experimental studies, theoretical papers, literature reviews—is read and reviewed by a group of undergraduate psychology students at UTC. It’s a competitive process. Only 38% of submissions are accepted.
After an article is submitted to Modern Psychological Studies, the review process begins. All undergraduate students enrolled in the course serve on its editorial board. They read and review submitted articles, decide if there is publishing potential and begin suggesting edits to the authors. “The [Modern Psychological Studies] students will give their opinions and debate about the merits of the manuscripts,” explains student Malynda Clark.
Clark, a graduate student in psychology, works as an assistant for the journal. She oversees the day-to-day work done by undergraduates on the editorial board, serving as the journal’s editor-in-chief. The position was once held by Sally Barker ’16, ‘19, who started with the journal as an undergraduate, stuck with it a few years, then returned as a graduate student, totally five years working on the journal. She says the skills gained during that time serve her well today as a social psychology Ph.D. student at the University of Maine.
From undergraduate student to graduate assistant, Sally Barker worked on the journal for five years. She says the skills she gained during that time serve her well today as a social psychology Ph.D. student at the University of Maine.
It began for Barker as an undergraduate when her academic advisor suggested she enroll in the Modern Psychological Studies course. “My advisor at the time suggested that it would be a good thing to do. You get to practice student peer reviews, which is something that you do when you are an active scholar and academic,” Barker explains. “At the time it was this really good immersion to see what it’s like to have the career that I wanted to have later.”
Although some students might take the Modern Psychological Studies course once or twice, serving on the journal’s editorial board for a semester or two, Barker stuck with it for five years. She says having the role reversal of reviewing scholarly work and deeming its worthiness instead of being the submitter built a solid foundation and continues to influence her research and writing as a social psychology Ph.D. student today.
Number of Downloads explode
Ross, UC Foundation professor of psychology, has not always had the downloads map nor been able to give that first-day speech. As recently as 2017, Modern Psychological Studies had around 20 subscribers and was a paper-only publication. “We knew we had a really good journal because we had the science and the reviewing parts down. We just didn’t know how to get it out there. And every time we tried, it would just seem like we didn’t have any avenues to do it,” says Ross, who has served as faculty advisor to the journal since 1992.
An idea from two psychology graduate students and a lot of help from staff at the UTC Library changed the journal’s trajectory. Barker and fellow psychology graduate student Jacob Strimaitis wanted to figure out how they could get the journal online, making it accessible to anyone. They eventually found a partner in the University Library.
“We reach such a diverse population,” Ross says. “There are 195 countries recognized by the United Nations, but we’re in 209.”
University Archivist Noah Lasley uploads every journal article to the library’s online platform, UTC Scholar, making almost 30 years of Modern Psychological Studies articles accessible to anyone, anywhere. “Noah is an angel,” Ross says with a grin. “He took all of our back volumes, scanned them and then uploaded it into this magical software. It was like watching a rocket take off because we went from maybe 20 subscribers. Then within our first year online we were over 100,000. I was watching this thing like a stock market ticker every day.”
Ross says he still checks the downloads ticker daily. As of March 2021, Modern Psychological Studies articles have been downloaded more than 459,000 times by people in 209 countries. Folks from more than 12,000 different institutions—education, government and private organizations—are accessing the journal articles every day, he says. “We’ve had months that we hit 20,000 downloads,” Ross adds.
Besides the volume of downloads, the countries where the research is sought was just as shocking to Ross. Top downloads in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries might come as no surprise, but countries like the Philippines, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Indonesia are in the journal’s top 10 countries for the most downloads. “We reach such a diverse population,” Ross says. “There are 195 countries recognized by the United Nations, but we’re in 209.”