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BC journal showcases research

Editor: Elements breaks stereotypes

Boston College had long encouraged its undergraduates to go beyond their survey courses and study topics in depth, establishing a number of fellowships, faculty internships, and independent study programs in the past decade to promote scholarly research. Now, students have a showcase for all their long hours in the lab and library stacks: the college's first undergraduate research journal, Elements. Its inaugural issue, published in May, featured nine student research papers on topics as far-flung as cultural barriers to mental health treatment, homosexual stereotypes on television, and European currency and oil prices. Another 1,000 copies of the student-run journal will be distributed for free on campus this fall, and a second issue is slated for December. Returning editor-in-chief Greg Wiles, a senior majoring in economics, took a break from his summer job as a public policy researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston last week to discuss Elements with Globe staff writer Peter Schworm.

Q. What inspired Elements?

A. The school had been thinking about a research journal for a while, as a forum for the exchange of ideas and an opportunity for undergraduates to show their work. . . . I think every single department at BC offers a course in which you can do independent research, but often the only person who sees the final product is the professor. You work so hard and no one reads it. I think a lot of students felt that roadblock. We hope this will inspire more research, so it's both a means and an end.

Q. What is the journal's goal and guiding philosophy?

A. The goal is that each person that picks it up will find something from their field they want to read, and will have their interest piqued by something else. When we were thinking about a name for the journal, we discarded a few Latin and Greek suggestions because we wanted to boil it down to something easily understandable. Elements is simple and shows that the articles cut across disciplines. . . . It's meant to show the world what BC students are doing, but it's also meant to foster a community on campus, so English majors can see what biology majors are doing, and what other English majors are doing.

Q. How are articles chosen? Which wins out: research quality or eye-catching topics?

A. The first thing we're looking for is good research, that's far and away the top priority. Only after that does topic come under consideration. Out of 40 submissions, we chose nine articles, and we were trying to strike the best balance possible between readability and credibility. It's an undergraduate journal so it is meant to be read by undergraduates -- it can't be a professional journal you have to read because you are a PhD in that field. If I read a Kierkegaard paper and can't understand it, there's no way that's going in. But we also want to be an academic journal, not the Atlantic Monthly.

Q. Most people think scholarly journals are for professors under a ''publish or perish" mandate or graduate students working on their thesis. Who are all these undergraduates doing specialized research?

A. The stereotype of college courses isn't of students being buried in books, but lots of students find something particularly interesting in one of their survey courses and they want to learn more. BC gives students that chance. . . . There's also the stereotype that Harvard's the place for intellectual thinking, and BC's the place to have a good time. I think even within the university, people don't realize their classmates are engaged in high-level, complicated, but rewarding research. So it breaks two stereotypes. There are a lot of great students here doing great work, and Elements is the result of that.

Q. You're the editor of a scholarly journal, and an economics major working at the Federal Reserve. Which will it be: Ivory Tower, the Feds, or Wall Street?

A. I have this ingrained belief that research should be used for the good of others, so public service has been a goal of mine, either through think tanks or politics itself. I really want to use my knowledge to make the economy better . . . but if I don't find anything there, I can always fall back on Wall Street.

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