Publishing a research paper as a high school student is a significant accomplishment—but as we have previously addressed in a recent article on our blog (“Is publishing a research paper the key to academic success for high school students?”) it is not essential to academic success, nor is it always the right path forward for a young scholar. With the variety of predatory and vanity publishing options continuing to increase in recent years, it is important for high school students to resist pressure to publish for the sake of publishing. Pioneer’s academic system has always emphasized standards such as authentic interest, originality, rigor, authenticity, and academic integrity as the most important aspects in determining student success in the academic research process: the most important reward is not in superficial demonstrations of success, but instead in the skills, mindsets, and confidence scholars develop by going through the rigorous process of writing an original research paper in Pioneer’s academic system.
In truth, Pioneer scholars have achieved success with many different approaches to publishing. While a handful of Pioneer scholars will be published in the Pioneer Research Journal and an even smaller group will pursue the long road to external publishing, the vast majority of Pioneer scholars do not publish their work at all. In all cases, the experience of research itself proves more valuable than being published, both in terms of college admissions and personal development. In this article, we hear perspectives on this issue from several recent Pioneer scholars who have approached publishing in different ways.
Getting published in the Pioneer Research Journal or in other publications should not be the ultimate goal
Each year, a selection of the top research papers are published in the Pioneer Research Journal: in 2020, this was only the top 3%. While it feels great to see your name in print, getting published in the Pioneer Research Journal should not be the ultimate goal of doing research, nor should it be the ultimate measure of success. Caroline (cognitive science, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from China currently at University College London, was published in the journal, but the academic freedom of the program is what set her experience apart. “The freedom of being a researcher is what I enjoyed most at Pioneer. It was the first time that I could choose specifically what I was interested in and how I wanted to approach it. It’s not something I get to do every day at school,” she says. For Ethan (psychology, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from the United States currently at Yale, being published in the Pioneer Research Journal gave him hope for the future of his research, which focuses on language brokering in immigrant families; however, it was the research program itself that had a transformational effect on Ethan. “It’s so powerful to see your voice, your opinions, and your contribution advance a conversation,” he says. This empowerment can only come from participating fully in Pioneer’s academic system–not from publishing alone.
The long road to external publishing
Some Pioneer scholars pursue publishing in other credible, peer-reviewed academic journals. This is a rewarding experience for many, but because the peer-review process can take years to complete, it should not be counted on to boost a college application. Preet (economics, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from India currently in his first year at the University of Pennsylvania, was not published in the Pioneer Research Journal, but his paper is currently going through a long review process at an external economics journal. “It is easy to fall into the trap of writing a paper with the end goal of just publishing irrespective of the quality of your research. This is not a good mindset to be in…. To have a quality paper is a different matter,” Preet advises. “When it comes to other research journals, some of them are definitely not credible, and the ones that are credible are extremely difficult to get into, but it’s not impossible. I applied to Elsevier, the International Economics Journal, and my Pioneer paper has gone through two rounds of scrutiny. If it gets through the third round, it can be published. To summarize, publishing your paper should not be the goal, but having your paper of a publishable quality should be the goal, and those two things are not interchangeable in any way.”
Alejandra (biophysics, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from Colombia currently in her first year at Princeton University, is also in the process of submitting her research paper to an academic journal. As with Preet, the process of publishing is long and therefore did not factor into her college applications. “It has been a long process. We have had to revise and resubmit, revise and resubmit. We still don’t know the final decision. But it has been a fun process because I’ve learned a lot, and my research has been taken further with more analysis, more discussions, more figures, and more experiments,” she explains.
Success without publishing
The vast majority of Pioneer scholars are no less successful for choosing not to pursue publishing. The rigor of the Pioneer research experience itself empowers high school students and signals to college admissions officers that an applicant is capable of meeting academic challenges. Publishing is not necessary to this end. Angeline (neuroscience, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from the United States currently at Stanford, shares, “At first I worried that my research wouldn’t be taken as seriously if it weren’t published, but really it’s more about the experience of writing the research paper and the knowledge you gain rather than the end goal [of publishing]… If you get a good grade in Pioneer… I think that already speaks volumes about your ability to do research, as well as to navigate difficult coursework and to take the initiative to seek out your own independent research projects.”
Other Pioneer scholars express having a similar misunderstanding in the past, but expanded their thinking about the value of research throughout the program. Ipek (neuroscience, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from Turkey currently at the University of Pennsylvania who did not pursue publishing, says, “I know some of my peers wanted to be published. I looked through the old journals and saw some students from my high school who had been published [in the Pioneer Research Journal]. At first I wondered if my paper needed to be published as well in order to contribute to my CV––if my paper is not published, is that a sign of failure at Pioneer? But I never wrote my paper for the sole purpose of being published. I was always focused on developing and improving myself. I was more interested in the research itself than the journal. I would advise everyone to not stress over it. It’s not that important to get your paper published in the journal. It’s about your own experience, and admissions is probably not that interested in whether or not your paper was published.” Catherine (neuroscience, 2020), a Pioneer scholar from the United States whose research paper was also not published, adds, “I also had that mindset—if I’m doing a research paper, why not get something out of it? I wanted that line on my resume that said ‘published.’ Looking back on it now, I realize that getting research published at Pioneer isn’t the end-all be-all…. You did research [at Pioneer], and that’s what shows you are interested in the subject matter. That’s really what they’re looking for—they’re not trying to find published authors.”
While some Pioneer scholars strive to see their work published, this is by no means the norm. The bottom line is that publishing research as a high school student is not essential to success, and considering the long path to being published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is best done out of intrinsic motivation rather than to impress college admissions officers. Pioneer scholars need not rely on an academic journal to stamp their research as credible, because Pioneer certifies research papers as complying to its high academic standards. A desire to be published should not overshadow the research experience itself, which is both personally fulfilling and an impressive addition to a college application or C.V..