Professor Julie Pollock and student in the lab
Kiana Gunn, a 2019 grad, and chemistry professor Julie Pollock work in the lab.

Student scholars break through as published authors

May 30, 2023

Student Experience

Publishing in academic journals is how researchers communicate their process, what they've discovered, and what the research means for the broader world. It’s a crucial step — but it’s rare for undergraduate students to participate. At the University of Richmond, however, publishing is a priority for faculty and students alike.

“Publications are scientific currency,” said Carol Parish, Floyd D. and Elisabeth S. Gottwald Professor of Chemistry and associate provost for academic integration. “Having that experience sets our students apart, because they’ve demonstrated they can take a project from inception to completion. That’s what the industry and graduate schools want.”

Parish’s research focuses on computational chemistry, which isn’t traditionally taught at the undergraduate level, so training initially takes priority over producing results. For students to publish original findings, she said, they must carefully pick projects that interest the chemistry community but are unlikely to be scooped by a major research institution.

That experience sets our students apart, because they’ve demonstrated they can take a project from inception to completion.
headshot of Carol Parish
Carol Parish
Floyd D. and Elisabeth S. Gottwald Professor of Chemistry and Associate Provost for Academic Integration

Her most recent student-published work, however, was an exception. In the early days of COVID, Parish’s students wanted to better understand the virus. Her assistants, Camryn Carter, then a junior who graduated in May, and 2020 alum Justin Airas, studied how the virus’s spike protein binds with human throat cells and how the Omicron mutation affected that interaction. They co-published their findings in the Journal of Molecular Graphics and Modelling in January 2023.

“Camryn and Justin ran the calculations, we did the analysis, and wrote the paper together in six weeks,” Parish says. “That’s just remarkable.”

Hannah Parker, a health studies major and chemistry minor and recent grad, worked in Julie Pollock’s chemistry lab for three years. Parker’s primary project involved developing an interactive tool that maps major pathways in human metabolism overlayed with corresponding genetic disorders.

Last summer, Pollock invited Parker to work with her on a review of medicine called estrogen prodrugs for the Journal of the Endocrine Society. Parker says the experience has proven invaluable as she prepares for her upcoming job as a research program coordinator for the Brain Health Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“I am excited to continue participating in clinical research in psychiatry and neuroscience,” Parker said. “I believe my research experience and publication with Dr. Pollock played an essential role in getting me to this place.”

For rising seniors Israa Draz and Alina Enikeeva, working with computer science professor Shweta Ware was an opportunity to explore the relationship between computing and cognitive science.

In partnership with psychology professor Laura Knouse, Ware's research used participant surveys and an existing research study to see how smartphone data — such as screen time, texting, phone calls, and app use — can be used to screen for ADHD symptoms.

Their latest paper explores the feasibility of using smartphone texting data for ADHD symptoms prediction using machine learning, a type of artificial intelligence. It will be published in UbiComp-ISWC ’22 Adjunct: Proceedings of the 2022 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing Proceedings. Ware presented at the conference in September 2022.

“ADHD diagnoses are expensive and require a lot of effort to complete,” Enikeeva says. “It would be great to allow people to download the app, let it collect text and activity data, and track their mental health.” 

Draz says publishing fostered the confidence to pursue more significant projects and collaborations, as well as an opportunity “to contribute to an innovative field and potentially make a significant impact on the understanding of mental health disorders.” 

While publishing is crucial to advancing scientific research, it also helps undergraduates understand how to explore their own research questions and affirms that they’re on the right path.

Lucien Newton, a rising senior, is an art history and classical studies major who researches issues around Native American culture. Earlier this year, Newton published a paper in the University of St. Andrews’ Arts and Divinity Faculty Journal on the removal of Native American voices from policies that govern the handling of cultural property after it’s excavated.

The paper grew out of an assignment in an Introduction to Archaeology course taught by Derek Miller, assistant director of community relationships and community-engaged learning in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement.  

“Getting published as an undergraduate has shown me that my work does have value and merit and that it has the potential to make a positive impact,” Newton said. “Publication has helped me to continue to feel passionate about my work and research.”