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I've been attending my lab's journal club for a while, and I'm wondering whether there are better ways out there of conducting a journal club. To make the question more generic, our club seems to have two purposes:

  1. Ensure that the students in the lab are reading papers in the field
  2. Discuss the latest research findings in the field

Regarding goal (1), that's kinda what I'm spending all my time doing; I'm doing research, and much of that involves little more than reading a ridiculous number of papers. Insofar as accomplishing goal (2), I'm not sure we do it the best way possible. The journal club I'm currently attending is run by a professor. In general, one person prepares a presentation, and the professor grills that person on the paper. Other people chime in if they're interested, but more often than not it's an hour of watching the prof duel with the student. If the student is well prepared, I'll learn a lot, but when the kid has clearly not read the paper well, it's just a waste of everyone's time. What successful journal club formats have you encountered?

1 Answer 1

This is based on my experience being in some highly unsuccessful journals clubs, and some very successful ones - at least in my mind.

  1. You must have faculty involvement. I've seen more than one journal club that either didn't have faculty members, or had a faculty member or two who just kind of sat back and didn't say anything. That's bad. Faculty members who can contribute, answer questions, and generally provide some context for papers are excellent. They're good for pointed questions we might have missed - I've had faculty members ask a question about a figure that got into an interesting discussion of research ethics, one that led insight into some politics ("The reason that commentary appeared in this journal is Y"), etc.
  2. I prefer to have them separate from lab meetings, and drawing from a wider audience than my specific research group. I find the breadth of experience, diversity of papers, and keeping up with things taking place beyond my narrow little laser-like focus to be both refreshing and more useful than going over a paper half of us already read.
  3. Giving the journal club a greater context. Yes, keeping track of the literature is important. But its importance seems to slide if you know your analysis should be done soon, or something needs to come out of the water bath, or midterms need to be graded. One semester we framed ours as qualifying exam preparation, and another as professional development - the people presenting wrote their critiques like responses to requests for peer review.

Overall, I've found journal clubs to be most useful for mid-level graduate students - they need enough experience to have thoughts, insights and feelings about the paper, but if a JC succeeds, eventually they should need it less and less.