Friday, August 24, 2012

Successful Group Journal Clubs

Pro tip:
I don't know about everyone out there, but all of the journal clubs that I was part of during grad school and postdocing were INCREDIBLY BORING! Students would choose obscure papers or interesting papers that were completely unrelated to the research program so no one else bothered to read them, turning journal club into a mandatory show and tell. They would cut and paste the figures and essentially say this paper is good. There was very little discussion. The standard predictable questions were why is this interesting and I don't understand X, please explain. I always felt forced to dig up some paper that other group members haven't read yet, which usually meant it was not related to their or my research and therefore on the most basic level a waste of time. The club would meet weekly or biweekly and feel like a chore that satisfied the professor's need to feel intellectual.

Now as faculty myself, I want to make everyone be intellectual, but I don't want to subject them to a journal club. What I tried recently, partly by accident, was to send all of my grad students one of the manuscripts that I agreed to review. I had each of them write up a review and present it at an inpromptu meeting. It was a great success. Everyone had comments about the paper, some students thought it was good, some thought it had major flaws. We really got into the details. They then sent me all of their comments and my review work for that one paper was done.

Of course there is one catch to this. The manuscript has to be relavent to the group's research. In this case, it was very related and I primed it by saying that the results might affect the students' research projects. Not every manuscript will work. Most of the stuff I get for review is only tangentially related to the field, but at least some of the manuscripts are right there. I look forward to doing this again in the future.