By Gabriel Popkin
Five years after its launch, the journal Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research (PRST-PER) has established itself as a significant and valued member of the APS journal family. The open-access, online-only journal began in 2005, and has been published twice a year ever since.
According to Robert Beichner, the journal’s editor, PRST-PER was founded to fill a gap in APS’s coverage of current physics research. “The number of people doing research in physics education was growing rapidly, and there was pent-up demand for a publication venue in the PER field.”
Eugenia Etkina, a Rutgers Science Education professor and frequent contributor to the journal, echoes this sentiment, writing in an email, “If it were not for this journal, many people would have had zero opportunity to publish their research. My professional life has become incredibly easier and ten times more productive since PRST-PER began.”
The growth of the journal’s article view and downloads is testament to its increasing popularity and visibility. Article views increased from around 24,500 in 2008 to nearly 34,000 in 2010, while pdf downloads increased from around 8,400 to over 26,000, according to statistics furnished by the APS Editorial Office.
Daniel Kulp, Editorial Director at the APS Editorial Office, notes that the journal achieved an impact factor of greater than 1 in 2008, its first year of eligibility. The impact factor is a frequently used, although sometimes controversial, method of ranking journals; it is calculated by dividing the total number of citations that papers in the journal received by the number of papers published in the journal, over the previous two years. PRST-PER’s impact factor in 2008 was 1.781; in 2009, it was 1.237.
Kulp says that while the significance of the impact factor can be hard to interpret, it can be a useful measure in gauging community acceptance of a journal. “The fact that PRST-PER’s first factor was 1.7 indicates that the physics education research community has accepted the journal, and that people find the articles useful.”
Part of the reason PRST-PER articles are frequently cited may be the open-access format of the journal, which requires no subscription or registration. This makes it available to teachers whose schools are not likely to purchase institutional subscriptions.
In addition, Kulp says, the journal is becoming more widely known, and papers are being submitted by a wider range of authors, including more international authors. Moreover, says Beichner, “the field of PER, and the journal’s impact on it, continue to grow. Of all the academic disciplines, physics is clearly recognized as the leader in studying the teaching and learning of the subject matter. I believe our journal plays a major part in building that reputation.”
Another important benefit of the journal is the status it bestows upon physics education research, notes Beichner. “Having a journal in the Physical Review family is certainly helpful to researchers trying to make their case for tenure or promotion.”
Noah Finkelstein of the University of Colorado at Boulder, also a frequent contributor to the journal, agrees. “As a premier journal in the discipline of physics, PRST-PER has helped establish physics education research as an accepted field–a sub-discipline of physics that is significant, scholarly, and an area of growth within physics.”