Last week, I went to my first  Journal Club.  I guess I never went before because I am not a grad student and felt like it would be awkward, boy was that stupid. I’ve been missing out on fascinating presentations and even more fascinating faculty/student, student/student, and faculty/faculty interactions.  Before all this science stuff got started, way back in college-part-1, I was an art major – and I still love a good critique.

Finding (and with any luck properly articulating) flaws in reasoning, methods, process is a favorite past-time. So thank goodness I can direct these energies into science, because they could get pretty destructive on the home-front.

With that in mind, my critique of last week’s journal club presenter is two-fold. Firstly, the presentation involved an obscene amount of  “um”. Now, I prefer “um” to “like” any day, and nerves are nerves. But I did want to scream, “C’mon, just stop with that noise.” Secondly, the research was presented almost as if the presenter was a member of that research group. Pronouns like “we” snuck there way in there when all in the room are fully aware that the presenter was not involved in this research. Improper pronouns aside, there was no critique of methods, analysis, interpretations – no critique at all.

In my relatively unschooled opinion, the lack of critical insights really undermined the presentation. Partly because (so far as I can tell) no research is flawless, and partly because the audience would have been more engaged had the presenter done more than just summarize the paper. Most of the incoming questions were in the form of “Do you know if they or anyone has tried method X?” or “Have you seen analysis Y”, and most of the answers were “No, I haven’t come across that data”. It seemed like the audience wanted more. But the best question, from the head of the grad program (and a woman definitely in the running for best dressed faculty, but that’s another post) asked the presenter to assess the analysis methods used by the researchers. And our presenter nervously came through with a considered assessment, that would have made a much better bullet point  than most of the densely worded points that were dictated to us that afternoon.

Of course, this is in no way designed to insinuate that I could do better. Preparing for my first poster presentation brought me to tears, and promted a faculty member to remind me that “they can smell fear” (though the poster session went well, and was actualy a lot of fun)  – I will certainly make mistakes when my time comes. And I will certainly attend all Journal Club sessions from here on.


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