Letter from the Founders

How can undergraduate research publications contribute to the uncovering of new knowledge and avenues of discovery? The volumes presented here emerged from our humble attempt to address this question. We broke down spheres of disconnect between researchers into several domains: diverse geographic origins, institutional styles of problem-solving and disciplinarian jargon and cultures of thinking. We acknowledge these factors as the bases for the increasing proliferation of novel viewpoints and lines of inquiry in recent years. However, we also believe that the existence of these status quo demarcations allude to the potential for something greater if communication across these diverse backgrounds can be realized. It is this dialogue we seek to engender.

We believe that this dialogue is particularly missing from the undergraduate sphere. Many undergraduate publications accomplish the definitional mandate of publishing–the communication of information–without establishing the utility of the content being disseminated. Framing is especially important for undergraduate research, which is often a snapshot of a larger project. This encapsulation frequently shifts the journalistic focus of undergraduate publications from the content to the process, with legitimacy given to those journals that best recapitulate the methods used by professional ones. Certainly in doing so editors learn much about the workings of peer review and publication, but in directing the knowledge inwards, as a community we do not broadcast the impact of highlighting undergraduate research. Can we aspire to something more?

We believe we can, and perhaps more importantly, that undergraduates are uniquely poised to contribute to this integration of diverse perspectives. As individuals exploring different fields without having wedded themselves to any particular problem solving paradigm, we find that both our undergraduate editors and research contributors are exceptionally motivated to connect their ideas with those of others across diverse interests and backgrounds. We seek to channel this energy within the Columbia Undergraduate Research Journal (CURJ) by selecting exemplary research from institutions all across the world, by including voices from all disciplines (ranging from astrophysics to zoology), and by positing our own views in Perspective pieces that deconstruct jargon and situate research within a more accessible ‘bigger picture.’

It is our hope that in connecting the specific research done with the larger issues that it seeks to address, we may provide readers of the CURJ with an understanding of the many different approaches being taken to tackle the scientific, social, and humanist problems we face today. We encourage our readers, the undergraduate community, and researchers at large to use the ideas contained within as a springboard for their own avenues of exploration. The CURJ is a polyphony of startlingly different voices reaching out to many different goals. It is our sincere hope that our readers find resonance with the voices housed within our pages, seek them out, and work together to attune the world to their findings.

Darpan Patel & Akshay Menon
Co-founders of the Columbia Undergraduate Research Journal