Depending on your boss, in the laboratory in which you work there might be a tradition of dedicating some of the lab meetings to holding journal club sessions.
In journal clubs, one or two members of the lab pick what they believe to be an interesting recent paper, and they talk about it to the rest of the group. People tend to choose something in their area of expertise or a subject that they believe can be of interest to the other group members. Some other times, their chosen article could be a piece of research a bit more distant from the lab expertise, but that shows a recent scientific breakthrough that is worth learning about.
In our laboratory, we believe that the most effective way to present the article is to transform it into a series of Powerpoint slides. This makes it easier for the presenter to share the authors’ work.
Journal clubs are important: here is why
There is generally a hate-love attitude towards journal clubs. The sessions can be tough and long to prepare, and they can sometimes be perceived as a waste of time by the speaker, above all if the orator is a newly acquired student in the lab.
The difficulty in the preparation of a good journal club session comes mainly from the fact that you are going to speak about the research that someone else did. Papers are usually very specific, sometimes cryptic in the description of the experiments and it can take a long time to decipher and summarise them into an hour-long presentation for an audience that might not be expert in that particular topic.
However, I believe that journal clubs are worth the effort for so many reasons:
- The most important aspect is that you will, no matter the paper you choose to present, learn something new about the research of somebody else. If you select the paper well, it is likely that you will gain information that can potentially be applied to your own research
- You will learn the art of synthesis and to make a complicated matter simple for a non-expert audience. This is what a science communicator has to deal with every day. And who knows? Maybe you will enjoy this so much that you will want to become a science communicator, one day.
- You will learn how to feel confident in speaking in front of an audience of peers. This is a skill that is essential for a scientist. Not only it will prepare you for conference presentations, but it will also make you more comfortable about presenting your data in front of your group when the moment comes.
- While some papers are very well written and free of mistakes, you will find many others that contain inaccuracies, or that draw conclusions that you might not agree with. This is your occasion to share your opinion with others, to gain insights into how to be a good critic, a potential reviewer of someone else’s work.
- You will be asked questions by your colleagues that might make you feel out of your comfort zone. This makes for a good exercise because it will prepare you for what might happen when you present your work at an international conference. If this happens, you will know that there is no reason to panic and that great discussions can develop from uncomfortable situations.
All this is why I believe journal clubs to be constructive, entertaining and very useful. If you are part of a laboratory where journal clubs are not on the agenda, maybe you should propose to adopt them.
If journal clubs are part of your routine, I hope I gave you a different perspective that could make you dislike journal clubs a bit less, or maybe love them even more!