By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—If you’re searching for a good beach read this summer, you couldn’t do much better than the IU Southeast Graduate Research Journal (GRJ).
The latest installment of the journal, showcasing the scholarship of grad students in 2016, features a dozen papers on topics ranging from the ecology of Caperton Swamp and light body modification to appreciating beauty in diversity and the ill-advised launch of New Coke in 1985.
As always, it overflows with interesting and provocative insights, while offering a window on graduate studies at IU Southeast.
For this year’s editors, Jodie Spencer and Erin Bishop, it also represents a deepening involvement with the campus and an opportunity to support their fellow students.
A labor of love
Working on the journal became a labor of love for both women.
Having worked on school newspapers in high school, each responded enthusiastically to the call for editors, shouldering a significant commitment in their final year of graduate studies. Bishop was finishing up her Master of Interdisciplinary Studies degree, and Spencer was to graduate from the M.B.A. program.
The GRJ, launched seven years ago, is built on the example of the larger undergraduate research journal, which is now in its 13th edition. The goal was to provide an outlet for graduate students to share their work in a public forum, and for the graduate programs themselves to demonstrate their expertise.
The structure of the journal has remained constant since its inception: the editorial staff consists of one student from each of the three graduate programs, selected by a process unique to the school, be it invitation or application. (This year’s team was down a player—but more about that later.) Three faculty advisors provide an initial orientation in the fall semester and ongoing support as needed, for example in areas of accounting and advertising. But essentially their main job is to get out of the way and let the student editors get to work.
“We empower the student editors to make the GRJ their own project,” said Dr. Deborah Finkel, professor of psychology and director of graduate interdisciplinary studies programs, who was joined in the advisory role by Drs. Kathleen Arano, associate professor of economics in the School of Business and Faye Camahalan, professor of educational psychology and director of graduate studies in the School of Education.
Empowerment means responsibility. It involves soliciting and reviewing papers by fellow graduate students across the disciplines, revising and editing the works chosen for publication, collaborating with The Design Center on the look and layout of the volume, and working with the printer.
Bishop and Spencer surely made it their own. To do so, they first needed to overcome some fairly bracing challenges. For starters, the team was down one editor, meaning their shares of the work load would increase dramatically. No small consideration for two students balancing work, school, relationships and other responsibilities.
Bishop had a full-time position as transaction coordinator at Southern Indiana Homes, LLC (she has since taken a position as loan officer and loan assistant at MB Financial Bank), and was involved in two group projects for her degree as well as preparations for a conference presentation. Spencer was working as executive assistant and marketing communications specialist at Summit Transportation Group (on her way to a full-time position as manager of recruiting and orientation), an all-consuming commitment that involved everything from planning marketing campaigns to designing operating manuals for the sector-leading group of five companies and over 200 drivers.
Was it more than they had bargained for? Probably. Were they up to the challenge? Absolutely.
Dividing and conquering
Get-togethers were unrealistic, given their schedules, so the two women mapped out an editorial process and settled on deadlines and methods for both editing submissions and communicating with one another via email and text messages.
From the start, they were committed to a volume of thoughtful, well-written, graduate-level work that would reflect well on the student authors and the program as a whole.
The two made a video inviting students to submit their work and posted it on social media, and supplemented this with posters and personal appeals. Papers started to come in.
Once the editing began the women found their grad programs had prepared them well for the project. With her business focus on “getting to yes,” Spencer was able to build trust with authors and negotiate necessary changes that turned several case studies into true academic papers. Bishop, coming from the M.I.S. context, reveled in the effort to appreciate and sensitively critique papers from a wide range of disciplines and perspectives.
This was a collaboration built on trust and a passionate commitment to excellence.
“We divided and conquered, set reasonable deadlines and provided moral support for each other,” Bishop said. “No one yelled at the other if they needed an extra 48 hours here and there.”
The goal was always to let the research speak for itself.
“The GRJ is a great opportunity to serve fellow students, the school and the community,” Bishop said. “I believe in service leadership, and felt compelled to accept this role.”
Spencer likewise saw this as a chance to profile the fascinating work of her fellow students.
“It is so rewarding to be able to make another person’s work stand out,” Spencer said.
Looking back, Bishop and Spencer are grateful for the editorial experience, which delivered unexpected insights and enduring memories.
“I think being flexible in the process is important,” Bishop said. “If I had done it the way I originally planned, I would still be reading and editing those submissions today.”
For Spencer that flexibility included spending many Sunday evenings at Starbucks, editing papers alongside her partner Brandon, who offered moral support.
Just as the effort deepened her appreciation for the work of fellow students, it strengthened her desire to give back to the university in some way. She has since accepted an invitation to join the IU Southeast Alumni Board of Advisors.
The GRJ is ultimately more than a compendium of research papers. It’s a community of mutual respect and support that lives through the service ethic and abiding friendship of the editors and contributors. Bishop and Spencer are proud to have worked on the journal, but mostly they are proud of their fellow students.
It’s a vibe that keeps the faculty liaisons invested in the project, year after year, watching the journal become a portal from the classroom to the wider world.
“These projects provide an excellent opportunity for students to see the empirical application and testing of theoretical concepts, models and relationships they learn in the classroom,” Arano said. “I love the idea that a student can turn a class paper or a project into a journal article, essentially expanding opportunities for that student.”
It’s no surprise that Bishop and Spencer would recommend the experience to next year’s class of graduate students.
“Serving as the editor of the GRJ is a big task, but a very rewarding one,” Bishop said.
Homepage photo: Jodie Spencer (l) and Erin Bishop (r) with the latest issue of the Graduate Research Journal.