When I was a graduate student (and onward), some of my best “learning moments” happened during journal club. I don’t know how journal club works in your lab, but in our department there was a rotation of presenters and each week, one person from a group of 25 would be scheduled to pick a paper, distribute it to the group and present the background, methodology, results and related information. At first, all figures were photocopied to acetate and presented on an overhead projector. For those readers of a younger generation, here’s what an overhead projector looks like:
Thanks to Wikipedia for the image.
As time progressed and my graduate degree dragged on, PowerPoint came into vogue and we were encouraged to give our presentation using a fancy LCD projector. Approximately 40 to 50 people would attend the presentation including fellow graduate students, lab techs and PIs and the discussion period that followed was considered “no holds barred.” Typically, the PIs would get into a heated debate regarding the validity of experimental controls and graduate students would fret that their work was futile and that they were about to be scooped. What I learned the most from these gatherings was the importance of critically evaluating a paper, discussing one’s findings with like-minded people and to never consider the written word sacrosanct.
Over the last number of years, social media has revolutionized the journal club experience. Open access journals such as PLoS have allowed for more relaxed publication rules while encouraging a more interactive review process from an engaged scientific community. Then there are sites such as ResearchBlogging.org and ScienceBlogs that provide a voice to scientific bloggers wishing to express their opinions on a variety of scientific subjects while leaving the door wide open for anyone who wants to join in on the public debate. I like to think of these sites as journal clubs on steroids.
One of the most recent additions to the world of the online journal club is the neuroscience journal club The Third Reviewer. The Third Reviewer presents a brief abstract of a study appearing in a respected journal such as Cell, Nature or Neuron and allows readers to comment and debate the merits of the paper. One very nice feature of this system is that it allows the study’s authors to respond to comments made by readers which provides a beautiful 360 degree view of the paper which is a much higher educational format than the long-gone days of acetate and overhead.
I encourage readers of this blog to read DrugMonkey‘s review of some of these sites (and more) which I found quite informative and helpful.
One of our stated goals at The American Biotechnologist is to serve as a place for PIs, grad students and lab techs to network and discuss issues that are important to the general community. I’d be curious to hear how online journal clubs and scientific communities have affected your research and reading habits. Are there any great sites that you would recommend to The American Biotechnologist community?