The office of undergraduate research has created Spectra Undergraduate Research Journal, a bi-annual journal dedicated to the publication of undergraduate student research at UNLV.
Leading the effort as editor-in-chief is Levent Atici, executive director of undergraduate research, and professor of anthropology, who said, Spectra is a unique opportunity to showcase research carried out by UNLV undergraduate researchers and their faculty mentors.
Why is it important for UNLV to have an undergraduate research journal?
We promote research in every academic department at UNLV. Why? Because direct participation in research at the undergraduate level enhances learning and significantly contributes to students’ overall success. It prepares them for a graduate education as well as entering the professional workforce.
We perceive research as an ongoing dialogue among researchers (faculty, experts, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduate students) to advance our collective knowledge in a given research domain. Researchers accomplish this fundamental premise largely by disseminating their research findings through conference presentations and publications.
We strive to provide our students with ample opportunities to develop and hone research communication skills through symposia, and we now fill a large gap with our new undergraduate research journal.
Has this type of journal existed at UNLV before?
Yes and no. UNLV students participated in a joint effort along with UNR students under the umbrella of the Nevada State Undergraduate Research Journal until 2019, when I took over the leadership of the office of undergraduate research. At that time, after listening to students actively involved with the previous journal, we decided we needed a UNLV journal to create inclusive opportunities for our undergraduate students. That’s when the concept of Spectra emerged. The Spectra Undergraduate Research Journal is the result of productive and synergistic collaborations among many UNLV stakeholders, including my office, UNLV University Libraries Scholarly Communications, academic and administrative faculty, and undergraduate researchers. In this vein, I must stress that ensuring this journal’s self-sustenance and success is more important than its creation and we will need to maintain the same campuswide collaboration toward this goal.
How will Spectra benefit UNLV undergraduate students?
First and foremost, we hold our undergraduate researchers to the highest standards in any research-related activity and encourage them to use best practices and responsible and ethical conduct. Any career researcher at any stage will tell you how overwhelming it can be to go through writing, editing, submitting, receiving feedback via peer-review, revising, and resubmitting a final product.
As such, providing undergraduate students with the opportunity to both understand and experience the rigorous scholarly publication process professionalizes them. Students evolve swiftly to become producers and leaders when they generate new knowledge or contribute to the existing body of knowledge through research and its publication. I always use the analogy of a dinner table conversation with scholars and experts, and tell students that they reserve a seat at the table when they get involved in research, but earn that seat and join the conversation when they publish. Research publication advances students’ reading and writing skills and enhances their information literacy, data literacy, and understanding of methodological and theoretical agendas in their field. They experience the research and inquiry cycle by going from the question to data to information to decision or solution. All of these experiences combine to contribute to students’ personal and professional development, as well as their lifelong success as critical thinkers, problem solvers, and active readers and writers.
What is your specific role?
I envision a facilitator role to promote high-quality and inclusive research education experiences that will boost student participation in research. The goal is to create meaningfully articulated programs and services. We offer our Research Skills Academy program with professional development and career training webinars/workshops, Undergraduate Research Symposia, and research funds and programs, and, now our journal.
As we structure our programs across the student life cycle and train students in the publishing process, we effectively integrate research into undergraduate education by cross-fertilization. When students learn how to actively read research articles and to write an abstract, they feel prepared and confident to write and submit an abstract to present at our symposia. When they learn how to write a manuscript, they also consider publishing. So, it is sort of building an airplane while flying it.
What are the many ways students can get involved?
In addition to submitting manuscripts to publish in our journal, students can get involved with our journal to learn more about the editorial end of the publication process. From the outset, we have committed to an editorial governance model that envisions significant student involvement. To this end, we have created an organizational structure with six paid positions: three senior undergraduate editors and three associate undergraduate editors, representing the academic and demographic diversity on our campus. Unfortunately, the pandemic halted this program abruptly, preventing us from implementing this vision. But I am excited to say that we will get back with this agenda upon returning to normalcy. We want our student researchers to understand and experience perspectives from both sides of the research publication fence.
How can UNLV students and their mentors submit their research to Spectra for publication?
We have a dual platform approach: the Spectra webpage provides our student authors with specific instructions, guidelines, and ample and relevant examples and links to helpful resources that cover many aspects of publishing. When it comes to submitting a manuscript, our student authors can use the “submit article” link on the UNLV Libraries' Digital Scholarship@UNLV Spectra website website where we host our issues and manage the entire publication process digitally. Using these platforms, we strongly encourage all UNLV students and their mentors to submit their research to Spectra for publication. The next issue will publish June 2021.
How would you like for Spectra to evolve in the future?
Our undergraduate symposia have been attracting students from other universities across the country lately. I envision a similar evolutionary trajectory for Spectra as well. We have created a legitimate open access journal that is featured in Undergraduate Research Commons, and that is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals, a community-curated online directory that indexes and provides access to other journals. I also would like to expand and boost undergraduate research in arts, humanities, and some social science disciplines which are not readily and conventionally recognized as research disciplines. Along the same lines, increasing diversity in the representation of underserved student populations has always been an ideal I champion. In short, I wish to see increased diversity in every aspect of undergraduate research including research publication. And, lastly, I would like our students and faculty mentors to play more active roles in the management of the journal.
Supporting Undergraduate Researchers
I must emphasize that we cannot achieve any of this without faculty mentors who engage students with their discipline-specific curricula and content and we come into play as a supporting actor. That is why I always seek out for sustainable and symbiotic relationships with faculty mentors and campus partners such as Graduate College, University Libraries, Writing Center, the Center for Academic Enrichment and Outreach, and others to build more undergraduate research capacity. One of my larger goals and ideals is to cultivate a campus culture wherein undergraduate research education is not optional. To me, conducting research, presenting at symposia, applying for funds, and publishing must be actively promoted and supported. I am very happy to tell you that our campus is steadily and surely moving in that direction thanks to strong and visible support from UNLV’s top leadership and all the resources dedicated to research education.