For the past year, Roshae Roberts has been working with a team of other Howard Community College students who researched tobacco hornworm caterpillars and their feeding inductions. After nearly two years of student-conducted research, the group’s findings were published in an academic journal produced by the college.
Roberts, who joined the group’s research this past fall, helped take the team’s two years of research and compile it for the college’s second annual Journal for Research in Progress that highlights undergraduate research. The second journal was released at a launch party Friday.
Roberts, 20, of Columbia, said she enjoyed the entire process because in labs or classes the outcome is known “but with research, we were learning.”
“The information was coming from us, it wasn’t reading the textbook or figuring out the lab manual,” she said.
At one point Roberts’ group had to restart the entire experiment after the plants the caterpillars needed to feed off of were not growing properly in the college’s greenhouse due to rainy and cloudy weather.
“We can’t test the caterpillar ... if we can’t get them the best plant, so we had to start over,” Roberts said.
In its second year, the journal features 14 student research articles and eight pages of original student artwork. This year’s journal has 50% more research papers and original artwork that was inspired by the research is a new feature, according to Alex Barr, assistant professor of physics.
“Part of the fun is because there are a lot of different disciplines, lots of them are outside my specialty,” said Barr, who has sat on the journal’s editorial board for the past two years.
This year’s research papers focus on dentistry, anthropology, art and its relation to philosophy, among other things, Barr said. Last year’s journal featured research solely from the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
This year there was “a very conscious effort” to try and include other majors to make the journal more of an entire college work, he added.
Carol Howald, associate professor of mathematics and co-chair of the mathematics division, has sat on the journal’s editorial board for the last two years.
“We think yes, it's a cool product to have in hand, a useful product to have in their [the students’] hands, for jobs and scholarships, but the students are also walking away with a level of experience that the typical freshman or sophomore does not have,” she said.
Barr echoed Howald and said students have the ability to start a professional portfolio and bring it along to the four-year university they go to after graduating from HCC.
Students “can go to a faculty member and hand them an actual professional-looking research journal that really shows the faculty at the four-year schools what [the students] are capable of,” Barr said.
Roberts, who is graduating at the end of the month after studying life sciences and general studies, is attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore County next fall.
When applying to colleges, she had to include abstracts of her research in her applications.
“I think that’s something that puts me ahead of other applicants,” she added.
The journal has been thought of as an “educational experience from the beginning to the end,” with students conducting research, writing papers and participating in peer reviews, Howald said.
One of the hardest parts about the journal process is receiving the feedback from three peer reviews and two faculty reviews, she said.
The students have to ask themselves, “How do I balance the different types of comments and what fits best within my writing?” Howald said.
After receiving the comments, the students whose papers were provisionally accepted had two weeks to address the concerns and re-submit.
However, while some students papers were not accepted, they were encouraged to try again.
“We have students that submitted papers and got reviews back about where to dig deeper and clarify,” Barr said.
Those types of comments were along the lines of, “We would love for you to submit next time and get published and here’s how to strengthen it,” he said.
For students who did not participate in this year’s journal, Howald hopes after they read it and “see what’s possible,” they will be motivated to get involved.
The journal is “a truly valuable experience at a community college,” said Roberts, who spoke at the launch party. “My advice [to other students] is to try it out and see if you like it.”