Thinking of starting a journal club?

journalA journal reading club is a group of researchers that meet periodically to discuss the content and presentation in different journal papers. We asked the Water Debate Group, for their top tips and here are their views on why theirs is successful.

So what are the benefits to members of such a group?
• Improved understanding of what makes good/bad research, papers and styles of presentation.
• Broader understanding of the research area
• Learn new techniques
• Improve critical debating and active listening skills (valuable at conferences and when defending a thesis or paper)
• Better understanding of how expertise is distributed in the research group
• Learn about others’ work

So what do you need to do to make them successful?
• Engender a welcoming environment.
• Provide everyone with the opportunity to talk. (Academics are not invited to allow PhD students and PDRAs to speak freely.)
• Ensure discussion stays on track and is not only of interest to a minority without shying away from discussing detail.
• A chair person that makes sure all this happens.

How do you organise these meetings?
All members are invited to nominate a paper of interest; this could be:
• A paper on a domain / technique that the nominee would benefit from discussing with the group;
• A prize-winning paper or paper from a top journal that demonstrates how to successfully communicate excellent research;
• A draft paper for which a member the group would like feedback;
• A good example of a particular type of paper e.g. a review or methods paper.

Ideally papers should be of interest to more than just a couple of members. If multiple papers are proposed for a particular meeting then members are invited to vote (via a Google Form) on the paper they are most interested in.
Once a paper has been chosen then a meeting room is booked for around three weeks later, giving members plenty of time to read the paper.

What happens at the meetings?
At each meeting the nominee starts the meeting by stating why the paper is of interest to them and what they hope they and the rest of the group will gain from discussing it. The nominee then chairs the group discussion, perhaps posing pre-drafted questions to direct the debate towards issues areas of interest.
At the end of the session the paper is scored by the group on content, communication of ideas and aesthetics.
A summary of the discussion is then posted to the (Google Group) mailing list for the benefit of those unable to attend the session.

Have you any plans for future development?
• Allow people to remotely participate in meetings via a Google Hangout as a number of group members are based outside Sheffield (e.g. at water companies) and presently somewhat isolated from the rest of the Pennine Water Group. We therefore need to make sure we hold meetings in rooms with a decent microphone and speakers. Screen-sharing may also be useful here.
• Collate for posterity information on what we discussed at each meeting (paper metadata, summary of discussion and scores) using e.g. a Google Site.

If anyone has any questions on how to go about setting up a journal paper club or any other comments/suggestions who can they contact?
The Water Debate Group is part of The Pennine Water Group, who are a cross-faculty research group. Dr Will Furnass a research associate in the group will be happy to answer any enquiries.

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