Student publications find niches at Stanford

June 4, 2017, 7:31 p.m.

Stanford has a wide array of student publications on campus, ranging from political reviews to scientific journals to poetry magazines. With new journals cropping up every so often, it can be overwhelming to parse through the wide range of options. An aspiring writer coming to campus may be faced with the question: Which publication should I write for?

A student publication is pressed to find its own niche, a voice that differentiates itself from the crowd. In this feature, The Daily interviewed four student publications — the Stanford Political Journal, The Dualist, Probe Magazine and Fascinate — to get a small glimpse of how these four publications balance student life with running a journal and reaching an audience.

Student publications find niches at Stanford
Student publication Fascinate focuses on popular science writing (Courtesy of Sheridan Rea).

Reaching an audience

Any publication, whether new or already established, often finds itself pressed to create interesting material for its audience but also stay true to its subject matter. Truman Chen ’17, editor-in-chief of the Stanford Political Journal, noted the difficult line his publication must toe between political correctness and engaging dialogue.

Our goal is to make sure that each article intervenes on the existing discourse rather than recycle an argument that has already been made before, but making something as original as it is exciting is not always the easiest task,” Chen said.

Amanda Urke ’19, president of Fascinate, expressed the same concerns in providing original and relevant material catered to a student population already inundated with various media outlets. Fascinate is a science journal born from freshman Introductory Seminar “Science Innovation and Communication,” taught by Francis W. Bergstrom Professor of Chemistry Paul Wender.

“It’s important to differentiate yourself and find your niche among a sea of publications,” Urke said. “That being said, working at the grassroots of something allows you to shape it to fit the personalities of the people involved and make it something unique.”

Meanwhile, Probe Magazine is also a newer online scientific journal that focuses on the intersection of biology with art and technology. Probe was originally in print as Stanford Students for Biodesign (SSB) Journal and was meant to showcase faculty in bioengineering and biodesign as well as science conferences. However, leaders felt that SSB Journal did not reach enough people, so this year they launched an online journal to make their presence more known on campus, said co-editor-in-chief Ariana Barreau ’19.

“Right now, our ultimate goal is to have more articles online; we just launched so we still need a solid reader-base,” Barreau said. “Because right now, when people hear Probe, they aren’t familiar with the name, so we want to expand our presence on campus.”

The writing process

For The Dualist, a well-established philosophy journal on campus in its 22nd year, the review process is extensive and the standards for accepting articles are high, according to co-editor-in-chief Teddy Becker-Jacob ’18. He said the publication only releases several papers each year culled from a starting group of 150 submissions. Finalists revise their papers multiple times based on comments from graduate students and faculty with expertise on the topic.  

“Often each of us will know enough to evaluate papers in a couple of areas with confidence, but we’re each called on to review far more,” Becker-Jacob said. “So we have to take care in balancing our time constraints and especially the time constraints of grad students and faculty with the demands of charitable paper evaluation.”

Chen of the Stanford Political Journal also expressed similar concerns specific to the nature of political writing.

The other difficulty is in producing something thoughtful and complex in a timely manner, especially when a campus issue is seizing the attention of everybody, but it’s not yet immediately clear how one ought to respond in the most effective way,” Chen said. “Balancing timeliness and thoughtfulness is difficult for any political magazine.”

Barreau also expressed the challenge of editing articles while balancing other priorities and being cognizant of how busy the average Stanford student is. Barreau also said that technology helps communication within the publication when students can’t get together in person.

Multiple voices

Leaders of publications said a student publication wants to include a variety of perspectives, whether this means a more diverse writer pool or a greater breadth of topics to prevent static writing.

In philosophy publications like The Dualist, adding minority voices to the dialogue is crucial, according to Becker-Jacob.

“The lack of diversity in philosophy is a problem,” Becker-Jacob said. “This past year we’ve made an effort to prioritize women and POC guest speakers, but we’re still looking for ways to make our organization more inclusive.”

A range of voices is always valued in politics as well, according to Chen.

The first step to writing is of course to figure out what’s being said, but the real thinking comes in figuring out what isn’t being said, whether due to deliberate or accidental exclusion,” Chen said. “I think the best articles that are written carry an imprint of the author that disclose their experiential world in some way.”

Still, according to Probe’s co-editor-in-chief Victoria Wang ‘17,  publications must find a “balance” between revising for a rigorous review process and letting the writers define their own work.

In between balancing deadlines, writers’ voices and ways to engage readers but still remain academically serious, these journals still thrive and find their place on campus — sometimes seeking a voice beyond it.

“We want a sustainable organization at Stanford that writes about issues that affect the global community,” Fascinate President Amanda Urke ‘19 said.  


Contact Fan Liu at fliu6 ‘at’

Fan Liu is a staff writer for the Stanford Daily. She was also a summer desk editor. She is currently studying biomedical informatics.

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