I Hate Journal Club

Not really. I just don’t like what journal club has become. It has become a boring recitation of a paper. Period.

Without any general overview of the subject and context from other related literature.

Without any enthusiasm for the subject, or understanding whether or why the topic is important.

Without explanation of important terminology and jargon- indeed sometimes without the understanding of the presenter of what the jargon means.

Without participation and discussion from the non-faculty in the audience.

Without the audience coming prepared by reading the paper… and gosh, we don’t even have to go to the library and photocopy it ourselves anymore.

I’m sick to death of it, and I’m not taking it anymore.

First, for all of you that are making an effort, I applaud you. Seriously. This goes for presenters and active participants alike. It is tough to get up there in front of an audience and present something that maybe isn’t your primary area of interest, give the background, learn the jargon- explain someone else’s work in a coherent and constructively critical way. You are only at the beginning of your training, your business is going include doing some permutation of these tasks every single day of your research career. Good on you for embracing this opportunity.

Second, for those of you that just show up- you have taken the first step and I applaud you for that- but journal club is yours to improve and learn from. You need to take the next steps now- READ the paper and ASK QUESTIONS.  Now don’t even tell me you were too busy to read the paper- you won’t find any sympathy from me on this one. I’ll bet you a million bucks that you and I don’t even measure busy on the same scale, and I read the paper in advance, and I looked up the jargon. This REALLY is not that time consuming, you could probably fit it in between PCR reactions.

Third- there is this issue of participation. I know you all are frightened to look like fools in front of the rest of the audience- but you are going to have to get over this one. Journal club is a fairly friendly, audience restricted venue- if you can’t test your participation skills here- where the hell can you test them?? At a Gordon Conference… or maybe at a Cold Spring Harbor meeting…?  Trust me on this one and test the waters of active participation at journal club at your home institution in a more limited venue.

And what is the absolute worst that can happen if you do participate?? You could get slapped down once or twice?! I KNOW that this is hard, and it feels bad… but I promise you that it is extremely likely that tomorrow no one except you will remember whatever thing you said- and you’ll be one question closer to confidence in this area.

Finally- don’t do this because you ‘have to’ or because I told you to. Show some intellectual curiosity about your chosen field…


15 thoughts on “I Hate Journal Club

  1. So far that is the opposite of journal club meetings in my lab! We’ve been working hard at doing those things you listed in blue. And especially at critically ripping apart the figures to make sure we understand them and can assess whether they support the claims they are trying to support.

  2. Yeah, when j club works it’s the best thing ever, and when it doesn’t it’s dreadful. Disagree that all participants need to read the paper ahead of time–in fact once I’ve read a paper I’m less likely to want to spend anothre hour on it–but if everyone pays attention it’s not a big deal. Presenter MUST do more than just present the figures though! Rather have some inaccuracies in the background info than no background at all.

  3. Amen!! Earlier this year I used my time slot in the “Modern Methods” lecture series for our new grad students to instead talk about how to present a scientific paper because I’ve gotten so sick of sitting in these things and being bored out of my mind. We’ll see if it made an impact…

  4. This is why we stopped presenting papers in journal club. We found that when someone presented the paper, people didn’t need to read it to follow along. So we stopped presenting the paper. Instead, we just meet and discuss. People who haven’t read the paper are lost. People who have read the paper get to have a great discussion. Pretty quickly, people who are too lazy to read the paper don’t come anymore. The rest of us have a great discussion.

  5. qaz- Nice idea. I wonder if there are ways to keep the presentation aspect- like maybe randomly rotate figure presentation duties to individuals in the audience…?! That way people have to read the paper…

  6. I totally feel you on this one. I even prepared a set of suggestions to improve Journal Club, but was told I should not send it, as the person in charge might not take it well. Sad that I had to save one person’s ego at the expense of a younger generation of grad students actually LEARNING something.

  7. we have a lab Journal club where everyone presents 1-2 figures every week. This way we all have to read the paper, plus we get great discussion about accuracy, validity of the experimental design, whether there is over interpretation or not. I LOVe our journal club. We’ve gotten so much out of it. Plus the lack of a formal presentation really lets people know its meant to be a learning environment. Oh and we always have beer/wine.

  8. Scicurious- Let’s see your list!!

    ScientistMother- I know of a journal club that is run this way, and the PIs in the group have a friendly critical back and forth that sets the tone. They have to deny admission it is popular.

  9. SciC@”Sad that I had to save one person’s ego at the expense of a younger generation of grad students actually LEARNING something.”

    Ain’t that the truth. And the person who told you not to send it was a chicken shit.

  10. “I’m sick to death of it, and I’m not taking it anymore.”

    If you’re talking specifically about departmental JC, then vote to can it. Seriously, I think Dept. level JC is redundant unless it’s an unusual department in which the majority of staff are working in the same field.

    It’s instructional utility to students has in many cases been superseded by undergraduate and graduate course material that, I think, tend to provide a better environment for students to build their confidence in presenting and challenging the papers. ime, faculty have a tendency to dominate JCs without much consideration as to whether the students assembled can follow the discussion at the pro level, which is intimidating and leads to a notoriously silent fraction of the audience. And in terms of honing presentation skills, there is absolutely no substitute for having them presenting and defending their own data as soon as possible and as frequently as possible (once a year in front of the Dept isn’t nearly sufficient, imho, it should be at least twice annually, regardless of whether the student has accumulated no more than one figure with an n of 2).

    The knowledge utility of the big JC is increasingly redundant as a result of internet search engines and because labs have their own JCs, or collaborator JCs with field-related labs that are much more likely to yield productive discussions. And undergrads/grads are a lot more likely to contribute to these smaller group JCs, I find. In addition, JCs are starting to slowly migrate to the interweb, where very large pool of interested contributors are always going to be available.

    Basically, if you have to cajole more than half the audience of a Dept JC with rulez and a bullwhip, then I think it’s safe to say that it’s time to ditch the program.

  11. Im in charge of our deparmental journal club and it is like pulling fucking teeth to get any involvement. With some notable exceptions, both faculty, students, and post-docs are non-contributing wastes. Intellectual curiosity? That died many years ago, its all specialization specialization specialization. If it is not about what you specifically work on it must be a waste of time. Thanks for getting me all POed again!

  12. Lorax- Intellectual curiosity? That died many years ago, its all specialization specialization specialization.

    This is absolutely the thing that kills me the most. A sense of wonder about the natural world will take you such a long way.

  13. The journal club at my new post-doc department is piss-poor. I am not kidding. Spending an hour brushing my hair would be a better use of my time. In fact, it is so horrible I’ve quit attending. However, I do think journal club (both attending and participating) is valuable and I hate to stay away from it for too long. The guilt of not going has prompted me to read more papers, but they don’t span broad topics like journal club. I’m actually getting to the point where I’m considering attending the journal club down the street at my old grad institution.

  14. A number of people here are talking about a “departmental journal club”. Is this a journal club for everyone in your department? How big is your department? Doesn’t it span many fields? My department has more than thirty faculty with fields ranging from the molecular to the cognitive. I don’t think all the students and faculty would even fit in the same room.

    And anyway, isn’t this not the point of journal club? I think of journal club as a means of really pulling the meat out (and cracking the bones) of a paper, which is something you can’t do too far outside a field. For departmental level discussion, I would think speaker series (both internal and external) are better mechanisms for cross-field discussion.

    My department has (at last count) something like 5-10 journal clubs, each of which is attended by those who are really interested in the article being discussed. I’m trying to wrap my head around the concept of a mandatory, departmental journal club.

  15. qaz- Ours is attended pretty much from people within the same discipline, we have multiple JCs as well though. Some work better than others.

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