As a junior at Clark University last year, biology major and chemistry minor Christie Joyce ’16 wondered if there was another career path for her besides the obvious: laboratory research or medical school. And if there was, how could she gain the practical experience necessary to land a job?
She turned to Michelle Bata, who, as associate dean and director of Clark’s LEEP (Liberal Education and Effective Practice) Center, knows more than a little about career paths. She walked away with an idea – one that not only has benefited her but dozens of other Clark students: a research journal managed, edited, designed and produced by undergraduates.
Bata “mentioned that other universities had undergraduate research journals, and I was just appalled that Clark didn’t already have one,” Joyce says. “I work at the Admissions Office, and I know the statistic that 67 percent of Clark undergrads do research, [so it’s] a huge part of the undergraduate experience.”
With managing editor Samantha Wallace ’16 and peer review editor Karishma Veljee ’15, Joyce founded Clark’s Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal (SURJ) and published the first volume last spring. Volume II was published this year, just in time for Academic Spree Day on April 27.
Joyce has served as editor-in-chief for both volumes. Next year, Lauren Howard ’17, a political science major and this year’s managing editor, will take on the editor-in-chief role.
“We wanted a research journal that any student who did research at Clark could submit to, whether that be independent research with a professor, or a big research paper for a class, like a capstone, and we wanted it to be interdisciplinary,” Joyce says.
“We wanted to have it be a learning opportunity for people from either side,” she adds, “so students who were authors would get the experience of submitting to a publication and getting feedback and editing and revising their piece, and people on the other end would get the experience of managing the publication and … learn how to do peer review, copy editing or design layout.”
SURJ is a cross-campus effort involving almost 20 undergraduate deputy editors, designers and copy editors, as well as nearly 40 undergraduate peer reviewers, 16 graduate student reviewers, 22 faculty reviewers and a 10-member faculty advisory board. The LEEP Center, Mosakowski Institute for Public Enterprise, Clark Undergraduate Student Council (CUSC) and Office of Sponsored Programs and Research have provided financial support.
The journal represents hundreds of hours of work by Joyce and six other members of the editorial board.
“Working to produce a high-quality, peer-reviewed publication is an immense effort that requires months of coordination and planning,” says Bata, SURJ’s faculty adviser. “Student volunteer staff have to be recruited and trained; learn how to work together and meet strict deadlines; communicate clearly and effectively with their peers, faculty and vendors; troubleshoot unforeseen problems and issues; and create a volume that not only represents the very best of student-conducted research at Clark but will also be of interest to the wider Clark community.”
SURJ’s Volume II received 35 entries, resulting in seven published research articles by undergraduates in comparative literature, foreign language, history, political science and psychology. The journal’s policy allows for publication for up two years after a student graduates – as long as the research was conducted while the student was an undergraduate at Clark.
For Bata, “SURJ epitomizes the very spirit of LEEP,” which allows Clark undergraduates to design a personalized educational program that integrates academic learning with research and practical experience. “I can think of no other student-led effort that so clearly integrates academic work with effective practice,” she says.
The SURJ staff’s editorial cycle began in January, when three faculty members – Deborah Robertson, professor of biology; Stephen Levin, associate professor of English; and Kristen Williams, professor of political science – taught students about peer review of articles.
“Members of the SURJ editorial board are extremely professional and had an excellent understanding of the importance and process of peer review,” says Robertson, a member of SURJ’s faculty advisory board. “The grassroots nature of SURJ is wonderful. Students who participate in the production of the journal develop numerous skills that will make them competitive in the workplace or when applying to graduate schools.”
It might not seem easy to reject another student’s article, but Joyce emphasizes that the editorial policy ensures that the process is fair. The authors’ identities are not revealed during the review process. Each article is reviewed by one or two undergraduates, a graduate student and a faculty member from fields similar to the research area.
“We looked at an article and provided constructive criticism,” she says. “People really respected the process. We tried to make it as structured and methodical as possible.”
Although last year’s journal included articles on biology, biochemistry, mathematics and physics, no articles from the sciences were published this year. Joyce said it’s more difficult for undergraduates in many scientific disciplines to submit articles because their work is often tied to faculty research.
“With the sciences, it’s trickier,” she says, “Once you publish something, you can’t publish it anywhere else, so professors obviously wouldn’t want their original research findings to get published in SURJ. … In some of the other disciplines, students can do their own independent projects.” However, science majors do have the option of submitting review papers, which examine the body of research on a particular topic, Joyce adds.
Now that this year’s journal is published, Joyce finds herself focused on graduation – and beginning Clark’s fifth-year accelerated master’s degree program in biology. She said her experience with founding SURJ has met her goal to gain practical experience – and to help her focus on a new career possibility: scientific communication.
“I’ve learned a lot about publishing and the process of peer reviewing and copy editing, but also I’ve learned a lot about managing a huge team of people and starting from the ground up,” she says. “It was definitely a challenging process, but it was really rewarding. I hope this is something that continues … to be an outlet for student research.”
— Cover art by Amy Yeager ’17, courtesy of Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal