Undergrads launch peer-reviewed journal

When she was a sophomore, Victoria Alkin ’23 noticed that while many of her fellow undergraduates wrote senior research theses, very few wound up in peer-reviewed journals. If Cornell had an undergraduate research journal, she realized, students could share their research with the world.

“Research is large part of the undergraduate experience at Cornell,” said Alkin, a biological sciences major in the College of Arts and Sciences and, now, editor-in-chief of the Cornell Undergraduate Research Journal (CURJ), which launched this spring. “I wanted there to be a way for students to share their research with the Cornell community and the research community at large.”

CURJ, a biannual digital and print publication, received 20 submissions for its inaugural issue. From those, the editorial board selected nine articles featuring a wide range of topics, with titles such as “State of Hate in Greater Buffalo: A Community Perspective” and “The Considerations of Biological Plausibility in Deep Learning.”

“All the work had to be done from scratch,” Alkin said. “A lot of things needed to be done to get the journal up and running, from legal forms to branding to recruitment to planning to creating a new website, getting finances, and creating entirely new processes for articles, submissions, review, graphic design and journal layout.”

The CURJ board operates with the guidance and assistance of their organizational adviser Ellen Hartman, director of research communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation (OVPRI), and Gail Steinhart, a librarian at Cornell University Library who specializes in scholarly communication. The board is divided into several teams – editorial, outreach, graphic design, finance and operations – and consists entirely of students, who have collectively invested hundreds of hours into making the journal.

Emily Pollack ’24, a biological sciences major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is CURJ’s managing editor of content. Melia Matthews, a doctoral student in the field of biomedical and biological science, is the graduate student coordinator.

“When I first heard about CURJ, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Matthews said. “Grad students are normally the ones who are publishing their research in journals, so I think this position lends crucial experience and perspective to the group.”

While the board drummed up interest in the new publication and sought a diverse group of papers for the inaugural issue, Matthews had to build a team of reviewers that could evaluate submissions. “I sent out the solicitation for grad student reviewers, and we had an amazing response,” Matthews said. “About 110 people wanted to volunteer their time. We now have graduate student reviewers representing over 30 different research fields.”

Each submission goes through four stages of review. Initially, the student’s adviser or principal investigator (PI) checks the paper. Then CURJ’s editorial team ensures that the paper abides by its submission guidelines, looking out for errors or inconsistencies.

This is followed by a thorough review by graduate students or faculty advisers who specialize in the field of research under discussion.

The review process is finalized when the editorial team revisits the corrected paper, ensuring that the appropriate changes have been made and that the article is perfect and prepared for publication.

The OVPRI is supporting CURJ with a seed grant to assist with startup costs and to fund the first issue. CURJ is also supported by a grant from The Contribution Project.

The journal will appear online through Open Journal Systems, an open-access platform provided by the Cornell library. Open Journal Systems allows readers to access CURJ online at no cost. It also supports submission, review and editorial workflows for authors, reviewers and editors.

“This journal will allow undergrads at Cornell, as well as anyone else in the Cornell community, to read articles written by their peers and be exposed to various kinds of research that they might not have been aware of before,” Pollack said. “Our main goal is to become an established part of the Cornell research community and hopefully get undergraduate students excited about submitting to the journal and seeing their work published.”

KeShonna Jackson ’24 is a writer for the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.

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