Ajay Subramanian first saw “Catalyst,” Rice’s undergraduate science research journal, at an activity fair when he visited the university for Owl Days. He knew then he needed to be involved with it.
“It was this bright red science magazine — and it was completely made by undergraduate students. I thought that was so cool!” he said.
When he matriculated, the junior materials science major sought out the group behind the magazine, wanting to contribute.
“I’ve been heavily involved since freshman year,” he said of his experience with the publication. “I started as a staff editor and then was asked to be a co-editor-in-chief as a sophomore. It was a big jump in responsibility, but I really loved the organization, so I said ‘sure.’”
Now, he’s in his second year as editor-in-chief and he’s made it a point to help the journal expand its reach, even as it stays true to its mission of being an activity through which undergraduates learn to be effective communicators and showcase their research.
“We started doing outreach to high schools, working with students from start to finish on their own research journal articles,” he said. “We walk them through how to find topics, how to look for and cite sources, how to write the paper, and how to be a constructive editor. And we culminate all of their work in their own journal, Eureka.”
“Catalyst” has also added a blog where, Subramanian said, students can offer up a different kind of science writing than that seen in the magazine. The blog, dubbed “Discoveries,” hosts articles that are more approachable than their more technical counterparts. He said the “Catalyst” team has also started a podcast, making the publication a multi-platform one.
“We wanted to find all the ways we could to showcase and reward exceptional science communication,” he said. “The best scientific idea doesn’t mean anything if I can’t tell you why it matters and what it does.”
Working with “Catalyst” has been an opportunity for Subramanian to improve his own communication and leadership skills. And he’s steered the journal into a place where science discoveries of all stripes are sought out and welcome. So, he said, readers can find articles from engineers and natural sciences majors, as well as research done by social scientists.
“The science community today is a huge network,” he said. “And it’s great to have people in different disciplines contributing. To me, that is such an accurate reflection of the kind of community Rice is. So in “Catalyst,” alongside an article on climate change, you also can find one on linguistics. I love that.”
More than 100 students are involved in the publication, which comes out each Spring. “Catalyst” is divided into four main sections: Attractions, Breakthroughs, Connections and Discoveries.
Subramanian said the “Attractions” section is aimed at a general audience, while “Connections” are peer-reviewed student research and reviews.
“Breakthroughs are sort of in the middle,” he said. “Those stories are highlights of current research done at Rice. We connect our Breakthroughs writers with different faculty, and then they interview them and write a sort of special interest story on their research.”
Throughout his involvement with the magazine, Subramanian has not only learned more about publishing, he’s grown as a leader. One of the biggest things that strikes him each issue, he said, is how much work comes from so many places.
“We have such dedicated writers and editors and bloggers,” he said. “And our design team — they are really the unsung heroes of “Catalyst.” They are all so incredibly talented.”
He said that sometimes being an editor presents challenges.
“You have to work to get everyone on the same page, to help them see how their piece fits in with the whole,” he said. “And the deadlines. There’s always a deadline.”
He’s proud of the growth the publication has had.
““Catalyst” has grown so much over the last few years,” he said. “It’s not just a journal. It’s an outreach program. It’s a multimedia platform. It’s an educational organization. It’s a whole scientific network with a diversity of faculty and staff who assist both me and all of the students who are involved.”
Although Subramanian will be stepping down from the editor-in-chief role next year, he knows he’ll stay involved with the organization. After all, it was one of the first things he noticed about Rice.