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Neuroscience journal provides professional experience

By Lucy Casale '13
December 17, 2012

St. Olaf College students Melissa Songpitak '14 (second from left) and Michelle Frank '13 (second from right) are part of an international team that edits the online neuroscience journal Impulse. Their work is guided by Associate Professor of Biology Kevin Crisp (right) and Associate Professor of Psychology Shelly Dickinson (left). Photo by Steven Wett '15

When undergraduate researchers from around the country submit articles to the online neuroscience journal Impulse, there's a good chance their work will end up in the hands of St. Olaf College students Michelle Frank '13 and Melissa Songpitak '14.

These two students, along with Associate Professor of Biology Kevin Crisp, are part of a team of editors and faculty advisors from institutions around the world who review and publish articles submitted to the journal.

The professional-level publication, which has drawn student editors and faculty advisors from Middlebury College to the University of Barcelona, is written and edited entirely by undergraduate students.

"I have yet to find anyone who could point me in the direction of a comparable publication," says Crisp, the faculty advisor for the St. Olaf team.

Founded in 2003 by four University of South Carolina students, Impulse is "the first online, undergraduate, international and inter-institutional journal for publications in the neurosciences." In 2010 St. Olaf became one of seven institutions that are home to peer reviewer training sites for the journal.

Frank, a physics major with plans to attend graduate school for neuroscience, is in her third year working with Impulse and has been an associate editor since this summer.

"If you're interested in any kind of science, writing and communication are a huge part of the field," she says. "Impulse exposes you to other kinds of research at other schools and helps you with your science writing and copyediting."

Songpitak agrees. "It's a pretty great learning experience," she says. A biology major with a neuroscience concentration, she has been involved with Impulse since the spring of her sophomore year. She loves the experience she's gained while working on the journal. 

Like Frank, Songpitak plans to attend graduate school for neuroscience. Impulse, she says, is "a good preview" of what she’ll be doing there — reviewing and writing articles. 

And while Frank and Songpitak both major in the sciences, students from all majors are strongly encouraged to join the St. Olaf team that edits Impulse. Crisp says contributing to the journal is well within the range of possibility for students with majors ranging from English to economics. "I'd really like to see breadth," he says.

So does that mean that the average reader — unschooled in the art of neuroscience — could make sense of an article like "The effect of Vitamin E on the survival rate of unc-13 Caenorhabditis elegans mutants under oxidative stress" (which the St. Olaf team did, in fact, recently review and publish)?

If it's a good paper, yes, Songpitak says. "I think the main thing with editing Impulse is to see if the scientists can convey their results and their procedures effectively to their readers," she says. "If English majors or people who aren't involved in the scientific community can read their paper, then it's a great paper."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or vanderve@stolaf.edu.