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Students Strut Smarts in Brownstone

Undergrad research journal seeks submissions by Dec. 20

The 2006 cover of the Brownstone Journal. Founded in 1982, the journal is an attempt to foster academic community at BU.

These days, the voice of undergraduate scholarship at BU is getting a little louder, though no less learned, thanks to a revamped Brownstone Journal, a collection of student research, analysis, and translation that has been published on and off since 1982.

“We’ve made leaps and bounds,” says Kristin Weiland (CAS’08), executive editor of Brownstone, which reappeared in 2005 after a three-year publishing hiatus. Since then, the journal has grown in almost every way — more faculty reviewing papers and nudging students to submit their work, new funding for a more professional look, and more of a presence both on campus and online, where the journal now posts Web-only articles that cannot be crammed into the 200-page print volume. The submission deadline for the 2007 edition is December 20, although late submissions will be considered until mid-February.

While the number of pieces making the cut depends on the length of those selected, last year’s volume had about 20 contributions, including research into the Turkish massacre of Armenians in 1915, a paper on the archaeological remains of an ancient city in what is now Iraq, and a survey of toxins that had spread through the oceanic food chain to fish consumed by humans. The journal also publishes works of translation and several photographs and other illustrations by students.

Competition for a spot in the table of contents is getting stiffer. Last year, Brownstone received about 200 submissions, up from about 100 two years ago. This year, Weiland says, “we expect to double that.” Both she and Zachary Bos, Brownstone’s staff advisor, attribute the journal’s resurgence to the leadership of last year’s executive editor, Rachel Eyler (CAS’06), who built relationships with faculty to extend the journal’s reach, recruited freshmen and sophomores to bolster staff continuity, and met with University administrators to win sponsorship by the Office of the Provost, via the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

“She made the case that if we want to be a serious research institution, we should have this dimension of academic work,” says Bos, the administrative coordinator for the CAS Core Curriculum. “And now, with that institutional support, the students on staff feel like they’re stepping into something established, rather than having to create something out of whole cloth. I think they take it more seriously.”

The journal’s staff includes 18 section editors, who secure faculty readers and solicit research papers from the University’s colleges and departments. During an intense week and a half in February, each submission is read by three staff members and given a ranking from one to five. Then, a select number of papers are passed on to volunteer faculty readers for further comments, questions, and requests for information, such as expanded footnotes to help explain research to nonexpert readers.

Indeed, making University research accessible is one of the journal’s main goals, according to Weiland. “We want to share the outstanding work that students produce at this university,” she says. “We hope to foster a community of research, scholarship, and intellectualism in an environment that is otherwise torn by the many distractions that are part of university life.“

Another goal is to give students with an interest in editorial work an introduction to the world of publications. “They learn things like how to make suggestions without imposing their will on the writer,” says Bos. “They learn diplomacy.” Staff also arrange for seminars on such skills as proofreading and the publishing software Quark.

Once the final lineup of articles is decided in March, production work begins, and a new Brownstone Journal is typically completed and ready for distribution by late April or early May. Weiland hopes that this year will bring a more diverse range of submissions beyond the journal’s traditional mainstays: the College of Arts and Sciences and the University Professors Program.

In the meantime, she says, “we’ll continue to work to ensure that we remain a visible institution on campus, to foster that sense of an academic community, and to get our name out there so that students will look for the journal at our next release date.”

Chris Berdik can be reached at cberdik@bu.edu.