Monday, April 16, 2007

Notes from Science Land: typical meeting types

Someone wrote it asking what Journal Club is for.

Basically, there are two types of meetings that the uninitiated might find unfamiliar.

1. Lab meeting.

There are different ways to do this. Most groups do it once a week.

Usually depends on the PI being in town.

Then there are two common ways to conduct it, and variations thereof.

Type A:
Each person presents a 5-10 minute update on their progress.

Most common in smaller labs, or labs where the PI can't be bothered to meet with everyone individually, but wants to be up to date on the latest gel ASAP.

Type B:
One person presents each week.

More common in larger labs, particularly those with lots of postdocs who don't need or expect a lot of guidance from the PI, but who get the most useful feedback from their peers.

Sometimes exploited for kiss-ass types to show off how much they know, both in their own presentations and while criticizing their fellow lab members.

Also useful as a practice ground for job talks and thesis presentations.

These vary from lab to lab. Sometimes no one says anything, except for the presenter and the PI. In other labs, each slide is interrupted by a question from lab members, which can be productive but also lead to very lengthy meetings.

2. Journal Clubs

These vary from within the lab, to multi-lab, to topic-specific multi-lab.

Typically, someone picks a paper or three and sends these out in pdf format (nowadays... I remember when we used to xerox them all, ugh).

Then there are two main variations on this.

Type A:
The person who picked the papers gives a presentation.

This usually consists of:

-A summary of relevant background (this is the part that, in my experience, varies the most in quality)

-Going through the figures, usually in order, explaining what was shown and how believable it is, and if not, then why not, and what they should have done differently to make it more convincing.

-Usually starts with a statement on why this paper was chosen over all the other possibilities that week/month/year.

-Usually concludes with a statement basically summarizing the consensus of whether it was a good example of how to write a paper, or how this is an example of something really provocative that will change the way we think... or why it's most likely crap.

Every once in a while, someone will get riled up enough to write a letter to an editor saying that the paper is obviously crap and here's our data showing why. I'm always entertained by that.

Type B:
The group discusses the papers, with the person who picked them acting as moderator. This is the format usually used in grad-level classes where students learn to (ahem, SHOULD learn to) read papers critically.


Recently, I've noticed a number of disturbing trends with Journal Clubs.

Here are some of the most egregious:

1. Using Journal Club as a platform to present your own work (mentioned in last post). In case you're wondering, that's what lab meeting is for.

(Thanks for all the comments, I was amused.)

2. Picking only papers from collaborators (egoism next to godliness).

3. Picking only papers from Nature journals.

4. Getting rid of Journal Club altogether because nobody can be bothered to read papers, much less discuss them.

5. Picking way too many papers (on the order of 5 papers).

6. Picking papers based on the least number of figures (as if those are easier to present. HINT: THEY'RE NOT.)

7. Not bothering to prepare a presentation or look up unfamiliar jargon before showing up to give Journal Club. Then when the audience asks you, the moderator, to explain the paper, you can't, because you didn't do your homework.

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At 5:47 PM, Blogger navigating academia said...

Hi YoungFemaleScientist, thanks for posting this. In my current group, we don't have a scheduled, regular group meeting primarily because the group is pretty small so research updates are done on one-to-one basis but we occasionally have group meeting when a group member has to give departmental or conference seminar, etc. However, in fall I will be joining another research group (this time as a postdoc) and they do have group meetings (type B in this post). It will be a new experience to me!

At 7:54 PM, Blogger ScienceWoman said...

In my journal club we've tried to limit papers to 10 pages in an attempt to get people to actually read the paper before we meet. It's moderately successful. People usually at least feel guilty enough to read the intro, conclusions and figure captions!

At 9:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you required to go to Journal Club? It would seem to me that you would just skip it if you weren't interested in hearing someone present their work. Did this person send out a paper and then not talk about it?

At 1:09 AM, Anonymous JaneB said...

Problem 4 is very disturbing and very common - I have a very small group (trying to build one but struggling with funding) and two colleagues who work in closely related areas who also have small groups, so we should be all set for journal club, right? Wrong - the other PIs have BOTH told me that their people shouldn't 'waste their time' reading any papers not directly relevant to their work. So much for a learning community! Sigh...

At 3:09 AM, Anonymous Lou said...

In our lab, we use the Journal Club mainly for journal club, but also to present a poster or a short talk before the person goes to a conference (for critical feedback). Very rarely it turns into a lab meeting, because in our group we don't have a data-presenting lab meeting per se.
But that's all understood, unlike in your situation.

You know, I hate Nature and Science journals. They pack so much in in 3 pages that it takes so long to read through. I hate EMBO Journal papers, because they are 20 pages long.
And I hate it most when it's always the postdocs who turn up, and the Ph.D. students CHOOSE when they want to attend, depending on the topic...grrrr!!

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

navigating academia,

I think it's a bad idea for people to just meet with the PI and never have group meeting. Ideally everyone has time to do both, but in practice I know this can be difficult to manage.


This person did send out a paper, which should have been discussed in detail, but used it as a jumping off point for presenting other work, which ate up a lot of time we should have spent on the paper. And yes, attendance is required.

At 4:38 AM, Blogger Sophster said...

I like journal clubs but no one else around here is bothered/interested in them. We don't even have seminars in the department half the time. It's totally lame for trying to broaden horizons and find out new stuff.

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Jenny F. Scientist said...

We have Journal Club From Hell weekly at 8:30. Everyone has to present a paper. In 7 minutes or less. For an hour and a half. You missed this style! It's the 'Book Report for the PI so he doesn't have to read the papers' format.

In my first few years, I would actually fall asleep at the table.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger downstatedermresident said...

We use an on-line journal club, that all are welcome to join!


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