To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Vassar College’s Neuroscience and Behavior Department, students and faculty published their third issue of Grey Matters.
Grey Matters, a national neuroscience journal run by undergraduates, exists at many colleges and universities across the country, such as Washington University and Columbia. Its presence at Vassar is fairly new, as it was started in 2021. This recent issue was a much greater undertaking for the staff of the journal because it was much longer than previous issues. Generations of Vassar students came together to contribute to the field of neuroscience.
The issue included the work of over 100 current Vassar students and over 15 alumni. It took nearly an entire semester to create. According to Anjali Krishna ’23, a member of the lay review team, Grey Matters prides itself on mentoring writers. As a result, they work closely with authors throughout the entire process, from creating outlines to polishing off the final draft. In other words, the journal guides students along the writing process, rather than editing final drafts.
Vassar’s division of Grey Matters approaches article selection differently from other undergraduate journals across the country. Instead of accepting articles from any student interested in getting published, there is a more rigorous process required. To get published in Grey Matters, students must summarize their topic of interest in the form of an article proposal. Once the Leadership Team reviews and accepts proposals, writers are paired with editors from each of the three divisions to assist with the writing process. In addition to their team of editors, artists coordinate with writers to produce illustrations to accompany their articles. “This model allows us to mentor every student who contributes to the journal, helping them develop their skills and become better writers, editors, artists, and members of the scientific community,” Lorman explained.
In an email correspondence, Editor-in-Chief Daniella Lorman ’22 wrote, “Each article team is comprised of an author, an artist, and editors in each of our 3 divisions (General Editing, Lay Review, and Scientific Review).” Article teams attend workshops to approach accessibility in science by learning to report and edit complex phenomena in a way that is accessible to the general public.
The role of the Lay Review team is to ensure accessibility and clarity in articles, specifically so that readers without a science background are able to understand and comprehend the topics being covered. “Our articles lure you in like a pop culture Buzzfeed article, but are just as credible as scientific journals on Pubmed,” Lorman exclaimed. Lay editors, who typically have a strong humanities background, work closely with scientific editors, who usually have a strong STEM background.
Those working in the scientific review division focus on upholding the scientific integrity of the articles. Specifically, these editors work to ensure that physiological processes and studies are represented accurately. Additionally, they work closely with authors during the early stages of writing to serve as research aids. General editors aim to provide authors with concrete feedback on grammar, clarity, tone, organization and word choice. Each editor works in tandem with members of other divisions, in addition to authors and artists, to create accurate and accessible scientific literature.
Artwork is also a large part of the journal’s allure. The students that work on Grey Matters recruit student artists to create pieces to go alongside the articles. These pieces can range from scientific diagrams to portraits. Mara Russell ’22, Grey Matters’ Arts Executive, reflects on her experience with the journal. “Working with all these talented artists with different viewpoints and art experience has taught me so much about my own work and process. I’m always so humbled and impressed when I see the finished products,” she explained.
Grey Matters was excited to publish in-person this year. This has been a very exciting experience for many of the students involved, especially amidst COVID-19 limitations. “Things are just developing,” said Krishna. “We got the chance to finally work with people in person,” Krishna said, referring to the current COVID-19 climate and limitations. This article was even more special for senior editors, as they were the ones who got to reach out to alumni. This project helped to create generational connections between Vassar students, both current and graduated.
What makes Grey Matters special is that it works to be accessible to everyone. Even though it presents itself as a science journal, many of the students involved in the writing and creation of the journal are not even involved in the sciences. In fact, over 60 percent of contributors are not majoring in any of the sciences. According to Lorman, the articles in each issue are diverse in thought. People have written on topics ranging from the neuroaesthetics of dance to the science behind lucid dreaming. “Any article topic is an excellent article topic…We encourage students to write about what interests them, as long as they make an effort to weave in some neurophysiology,” Lorman shared.
For those looking to contribute to this project’s Spring 2022 cycle, applications are due on Feb. 7, 2022.
Additional reporting by Janet Song and Monika Sweeney