The inaugural edition of the “Princeton Undergraduate Research Journal” was distributed this week to the University community in residences and academic departments. Cofounded by editors-in-chief Yash Patel ’18 and Daniel Liu ’18, the journal aims to provide a wide audience for undergraduate independent work.
“A lot of the amazing research that’s being done by undergraduates isn’t seen by most students,” Patel said. “Really the drive for us in founding [‘PURJ’] is that we wanted research to be appreciated by the entire Princeton community, not only undergraduates reading other undergraduates’ research, but also sharing across departments, by graduate students and administrators as well.”
Patel and Liu, who have conducted research in the natural sciences, first met to plan the journal’s creation in September. They met with the Undergraduate Student Government student group committee, worked with the Office of the Director of Undergraduate Students, contacted web designers and printing companies, and recruited undergraduates to be peer reviewers, content writers, designers, and finance managers. They also reached out to faculty, professors, and administrators, ultimately forming a faculty advisory board to consult on matters of academic publishing.
Liu said that the journal was formed with three attendant goals: a rigorous system of peer review, a multidisciplinary scope of published research, and free and open access to the entire University community.
The journal received over 45 submissions after a five-week entry period ending in January. Students were free to submit work online, and some faculty reviewers and advisors recommended students to consider submitting their work. All of the submissions were peer-reviewed by undergraduates, who selected essays to move on to faculty review. Papers that received faculty approval were accepted for publication, with six essays to be published this year and others to be published next year alongside new submissions.
The members of the faculty review board provide “an expert eye to make sure the work being done is legitimate and original and represents a novel contribution to the field,” Liu said.
English professor Susan Wolfson, who served as one of the faculty reviewers for the journal, said that the review process entailed an advisory report to the author that explained which parts of the essay were promising and which parts needed more careful work. The process of reading, thinking about, and writing a report on the paper can take a full day, in addition to sharing the essay with colleagues for more feedback.
“I think it’s always a good idea for students to think of having an audience for their work that is larger than the professor who gave them the assignment,” Wolfson said. “There’s a lot of very interesting work going on in the undergraduate program in the University. It’s great to have not only a report of that for the sake of the University, but also a publication of that knowledge to a wider public than one might have within the confines of any one particular course.”
Ruby Shao ’17 won the first prize of $1,000 for her paper, titled “A Natural Case for Taxation.” The essay addressed the philosophical debate between the fields of libertarianism and conventionalism over the issue of taxation, arguing that the government is justified in infringing on natural property rights in order to ensure a decent life for everyone.
Shao is news editor emerita of The Daily Princetonian.
Shao, a philosophy concentrator, said that her essay was a reworking of her spring junior paper and part of the writing sample she used when applying to graduate programs in philosophy.
“It’s such an honor to win first prize for Princeton’s first undergraduate research journal given that this institution has so many amazing thinkers and we all produce such great work. Especially since I want to be an academic, it feels like a really encouraging step,” Shao said.
She added that the journal “is an excellent initiative because it encourages students to realize that their independent work can have an impact beyond the grade they get or the opinion that their professor forms of them upon reading the work.”
“Even though we often forget as undergraduates how cutting-edge our work can be, we should take heart in pursuing our independent work so as to truly contribute to the scholarly discussion,” Shao said.
Ashesh Rambachan ’17, an economics concentrator, won the second-place prize of $500. His paper, “Employment Dynamics during the Great Recession,” addressed the increase in the involuntary part-time employment rate during the Great Recession. He found that two thirds of this increase was due to workers entering part-time work from other labor force states, such as working full time.
Rambachan, who will begin an economics Ph.D. after graduating, said that the submission process was a “gentle introduction to what the whole process of research is.”
The journal will have a booth at the Princeton Research Day, a celebration of non-faculty University research held in Frist Campus Center on May 11. Authors of the journal’s published manuscripts will speak about and present their research at the event.
In the future, Patel and Liu plan to publish one issue of the journal each semester. They are also working with librarians to get the journal into University archives, and they have registered the journal with the Library of Congress in order to be archived there as an official publication.