Thinking About Starting Your Own Academic Journal?

There are tens of thousands of journals in medicine, health care, and education, but starting over a year ago, Christopher Kevin Wong and Jean Fitzpatrick Timmerberg, faculty members in rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, began talking about the need for a new one in their field.

The two founded and recently launched the Journal of Clinical Education in Physical Therapy (JCEPT), and they spoke to the CUIMC Newsroom about what motivated them to start the journal and how they got it off the ground.

Journal of Clinical Education in Physical Therapy

Assess the Need

According to Timmerberg and Wong, the first and most important consideration is whether there is sufficient demand for a new journal.

In their field—physical therapy education—there was only one publication. “With more research in the field, there’s a long waiting list to publish in that journal, which limits the opportunity for faculty and students to publish scholarly work and share it with clinicians,” says Timmerberg. 

The limited opportunity to publish is particularly detrimental for younger scholars, Wong adds: “In order to develop future faculty, there needs to be an avenue for publishing scholarly work and sharing exemplary case studies.”

Timmerberg and Wong also believed there was a need to share scholarly work with a wider audience. “Making our journal open-access expands readership to the majority of faculty, students, and clinicians who do not belong to the professional association subsection that publishes the other journal,” Wong says.

Get a Reality Check

Even if your audience is clamoring for a new journal, are such projects realistic? How does a novice publisher identify all of the items that need to be considered to get the project off the ground?

To find out, Timmerberg and Wong first met with Melissa Mendelson, director of programs at the CUIMC Health Sciences library. “She explained that we might consider housing the journal in Columbia’s library system, instead of a large publishing house,” says Wong. He and Timmerberg pitched their concept to the digital scholarship department at Columbia Libraries on the Morningside campus, which supports digital publishing projects at Columbia. 

“We thought they would just give us some basic ideas about how to get started, but once they agreed to publish our journal, they helped us refine our mission and provided support on a number of elements,” says Timmerberg. 

The library team helped Wong and Timmerberg design a journal logo, set up email and Twitter accounts, create a mailing list, and provide a repository for housing legal documents and author copyrights. Michelle Wilson, a digital publishing librarian and project manager for JCEPT, and Mehr Ali, an intern from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, were assigned to the project to help Timmerberg and Wong manage everything smoothly.

Christopher Kevin Wong, PT, PhD, MS (CUIMC)

Columbia Libraries’ online journal software system publishes the articles and also helps Wong and Timmerberg run the journal by tracking article submissions, peer reviews, and communication with authors.

Build Credibility

“In building a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, we knew we needed to make sure our audience didn’t view this as another predatory journal,” says Wong. “One way to build confidence is to recruit an editorial board that’s beyond reproach.”

The scholarly communication team recommended starting with six editorial board members, which Timmerberg and Wong supplemented with 10 associate editors, all with three-year appointments. Most of JCEPT’s editorial team members have significant publishing experience and are geographically and professionally diverse, with multiple academic roles and clinical specialties represented.

On the suggestion of one editorial board member, the journal is also piloting an open peer-review process. For authors who opt in, reviewer comments will not be anonymous. “We’re hoping to raise the bar on communication between authors and reviewers, so that everyone in the process learns something,” Timmerberg says.

Paying the Bills

Because Columbia’s library doesn’t cover every aspect of digital publishing, such as copy editing, proofreading, and typesetting, the journal charges a small fee to cover those costs after an article has been accepted.

Jean Fitzpatrick Timmerberg, PT, PhD, MHS (CUIMC)

“Article processing charges are a reality, though we will allow residents and fellows to apply for a waiver,” Wong says. 

Wong and Timmerberg also applied for a grant from the Virginia Apgar Academy of Medical Educators at VP&S to defray some of the start-up costs and study the effectiveness in reaching their target audience. “With these funds, we’ll conduct webinars to encourage people to submit high-quality articles and subsidize some of the article processing fees for members of the Columbia University family.” 

Budget a Year and Then Some

Development of the journal first began a little over a year ago. “We have had weekly meetings since the beginning, but each meeting comes with action items, which take more time,” says Wong. 

“Setting up the journal alone could have been a full-time job,” he adds. “But now that it’s been launched, we really don’t know how much time it will take to manage on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis."

Time will tell.


Jean Fitzpatrick Timmerberg, PT, PhD, MHS, is an assistant professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Christopher Kevin Wong, PT, PhD, MS, is an associate professor of rehabilitation and regenerative medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.