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 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.