In 2019, School of Biological Sciences doctoral student Rosario Marroquín-Flores founded an Illinois State University chapter of the Society for Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and started a journal called SACNAS Research Spotlight. But she did not stop there. Marroquín-Flores strives to share student research with the Illinois State University community and the wider public. That motivation inspired her latest initiative: creating the scholarly website PubNavigator, which launched in November 2020.
“Essentially, the goal of PubNavigator is to expand the reach of the existing project,” said Marroquín-Flores.
Marroquín-Flores recognized that not everyone had access to the print and PDF versions of the journal and wanted the featured research to reach a larger audience. She knew she could accomplish this through an online platform.
Marroquín-Flores had a fellowship with the STEM Advocacy Institute, which helped her develop and design PubNavigator’s website.
“PubNavigator is not limited to ISU, so anyone who has published peer-reviewed research can end up on the site,” said Marroquín-Flores. “We’re a little biology heavy right now because I’m in the biology program, but we encourage submissions from a wide range of research backgrounds.”
Fellow School of Biological Sciences doctoral student Kiley Hughes initially contributed her research on Duchenne muscular dystrophy to the SACNAS Research Spotlight journal, and it was then added to PubNavigator. Hughes’ field of study is molecular neuroethology. For her research, she studies a species of microscopic worm called Caenorhabditis elegans to examine how the absence of the dystrophin protein causes neuromuscular disorders like muscular dystrophy.
Hughes said the website helps the undergraduate and high school students she mentors, while also providing the community with an accessible, research-based resource.
“Having PubNavigator as an educational tool to communicate our research to a broader audience has been really helpful,” said Hughes. “The high school and undergraduate students that I mentor can use it to better understand the research that they are assisting us with, and at the same time, people with muscular dystrophy can read about our work in a more accessible way.”
A central objective for Marroquín-Flores and other PubNavigator contributors and editors was for the website to make scientific research more accessible.
“Science publications can be really difficult to understand, so part of this project is to make sure that anyone who wants to learn about this information can do so,” said Marroquín-Flores. “All of our articles are written at or below a 12th-grade reading level so we can help the general public understand the research that we’re doing and what we’re producing.”
Marroquín-Flores also wants to see PubNavigator used in the classroom.
“I really love the idea of teachers being able to use these articles in the classroom, so I tag each article with the reading level, research field, and provide an option for download,” said Marroquín-Flores. “Ideally in the future when I’ve had more submissions, I would have this expansive repository of articles that teachers can look through, and then they can choose what articles are appropriate for their grade level and for the curriculum.”
Marroquín-Flores hopes to continue building PubNavigator following graduation, using the website as a focal point of her postdoctoral research. She is interested in exploring the ways PubNavigator articles can be utilized as a research tool in the classroom and to see whether students improve their writing and critical-thinking skills and solidify their science identities after using PubNavigator. Marroquín-Flores also wants to know if editors and contributors who have participated with the website have increased competency and confidence in science communication.
“I’m really committed to PubNavigator and I’d like to explore ways this can be used and to evaluate the program in general,” said Marroquín-Flores.