Science & Tech

New journal highlights undergraduate research

4 min read

THURJ provides forum for students

Spanning topics as diverse as cancerous tumors and the overfishing of
grouper in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a new journal aims to
highlight the serious scientific research regularly undertaken by
Harvard undergraduates.

Editors of the glossy magazine — launched last month and called
“THURJ” for “The Harvard Undergraduate Research Journal” — plan to
print an issue every six months and create a self-sustaining
publication that will last long after they’ve graduated.

The journal’s inaugural issue — graced with a blue and green image
of nanotubes created by Initiative for Innovative Computing Senior Research Fellow Felice Frankel —
includes summaries of nine research articles, the articles themselves,
and an op-ed from School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean
Venkatesh Narayanamurti, as well as features on the head of the
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, on the neural circuitry behind morality,
and on study abroad and other topics.

Provost Steven E. Hyman supported the project financially and also
wrote an introductory letter for the journal’s first issue, saying that
undergraduate research not only generates new knowledge, but also
provides a critical hands-on learning experience that cannot be
replicated through books and lectures.

“It is vastly different to read about the scientific method compared
with planning, executing, and interpreting experiments,” Hyman wrote.
“In textbooks, the experiments have already worked. At the bench, there
is a mix of success and failure, both highly instructive. It is in the
lab that one begins to understand the complex and often rapidly
changing basis of current knowledge.”

John Zhou, who along with Shoshana Tell is co-editor-in-chief of the
journal, said the mix of research and feature stories was intended to
mirror the formula of well-known scientific journals, such as Nature
and Science.

Zhou, a Winthrop House sophomore concentrating in applied math, said
he got the idea for the journal before he came to Harvard, when he was
being recruited to Stanford and was shown that university’s
undergraduate research journal. After a bit of checking around, Zhou
found similar publications at other universities and thought Harvard
ought to have one as well.

The magazine’s actual startup probably began during conversations with
Tell, also a sophomore, on “one of those late nights doing problem sets
at the Science Center,” Zhou said.

The two elaborated on their motivations in a note in the inaugural
issue, saying that as they worked on the journal the excellence of
undergraduate research became apparent.

“It truly is the case that many undergraduates are passionate about
the sciences and perform advanced research; we believe that such
outstanding work deserves recognition and will contribute to scientific
dialog on campus,” Zhou and Tell wrote.

Work on the magazine began at the end of their freshman year, proceeded
through the summer and into this school year. Along the way, Zhou and
Tell gained the support of the Provost’s Office, Harvard College,
Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey Flier, and Associate Professor of
Medicine Steven Freedman, who is also associate dean for clinical and
translational research and who wound up working closely with the
students on the project.

Freedman said he gladly gave his time because he believes the
project not only provides the 30 students involved with experience in
creating such a publication, but gives recognition to the students
whose research was highlighted.

“This is amazing what these students have done, absolutely amazing,” Freedman said.

Freedman was impressed by the quality of the research and the
writing, and said that the journal can help build a broader sense of
community among Harvard scientists. That community, he said, includes
everyone from undergraduates in Harvard College to faculty at
affiliated hospitals, such as Freedman himself, a physician at Beth
Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“It’s all about community; this is one powerful way to bring the
community together,” Freedman said. “It’s about bridging all career
stages. This is essentially as important as taking care of patients. If
we don’t train the young, we’re not doing our job.”

The students set up procedures to ensure the journal is
peer-reviewed, as are other scientific journals. Articles submitted for
publication are reviewed by the journal’s student peer review board,
which then sends its selections to faculty advisers for final
scientific review.

Four thousand copies of the first issue were published in late April
and distributed to all undergraduates and to libraries across the
University, Zhou said.

Though the publication of the first issue is fulfilling, Zhou said,
they are hoping the second and subsequent issues will be even better.

“It was a lot of work and very satisfying to have the final product in our hands,” Zhou said.