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May 14, 2003

Students' science magazine takes off

From: The University of Maryland Diamondback, MD - May 14, 2003

By Rachael Jackson Senior staff writer

When Soroush Rais-Bahrami and Brad Buran registered for Anthropology 428X: "Special Topics in Bioanthropology" in the winter of 2001, they had no idea they would leave the class published authors and founders of a science journal with worldwide reach.

But after a semester of studying human biodiversity and authoring analytical essays, they created the biannual journal Maryland Essays in Human Biodiversity with the help of their professor, Fatimah Jackson. MEHB was originally intended to be an online publication, but its immediate success convinced them to also publish it as a 40-page journal to give a fresh student perspective to anthropological research.

"We want this to basically be a venue for getting informed opinions out," said Rais-Bahrami, who will graduate this semester with a double degree in biological anthropology and cell, molecular biology and genetics.

"A lot of students have an open mind still and they look at things through multi-disciplinary ways," Rais-Bahrami said. "We can present novel opinions on issues that have pretty much been established in the field."

The journal is distributed to faculty members and administrators at this university and is also sent out to libraries and other colleges. Buran, also a graduating senior majoring in biological anthropology as well as physiology and neurobiology, and Rais-Bahrami have submitted the journal to the Library of Congress for copyrighting.

With the third issue scheduled to be published in June, the journal is on the eve of its first birthday. Submissions already include an article from a professor at the University of Missouri, and researchers from as far away as British Columbia have expressed interest in publishing their work in the journal.

Despite professional outside interest, Jackson said the editorial staff will try to preserve it as a forum for student work.

"Their minds are still open and fresh," Jackson said. "It's that fresh perspective that we want. What we're trying to do with MEHB is give students the mic."

To manage over more than 100 submissions, Buran, Rais-Bahrami and Jackson created an anthropology independent study course. This semester about 20 students signed up for the class to evaluate entries and select about 10 essays for the final journal.

In their essays, students generally apply their knowledge of human biodiversity to issues that affect them personally.

"These are not research articles, rather they are designed to discuss or bring personal opinions to research that has already been done," Buran said.

MEHB has covered genetic diseases, menopause and criminal biological anthropology. Buran, who is deaf, wrote a piece analyzing the culture of the deaf community.

Since the material is peer-reviewed, published and available online, students at other universities could easily cite student work through the journal.

Although the MEHB's focus is on human biodiversity, its mission as a forum for student-authored analysis is a new concept that can be applied to any discipline.

Colleagues at this university have already commented on the educational value of publishing student work in journal format, Jackson said.

After graduation Buran and Rais-Bahrami plan to continue to run the journal as editors in chief from their new campuses next year.

Buran will be investigating auditory neurobiology and pursuing his doctorate at a joint program between Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rais-Bahrami will attend Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

© The University of Maryland Diamondback