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Preparing and Presenting a Journal Club

Journal clubs are a great time to catch up on current literature in your field, but when prepared poorly or presented hastily, they can often lead to confusion.  Here are some simple guidelines for presenting a clear, concise paper summary.

1. Provide background

Before you dive in to the data, spend a few minutes talking about the context of the paper: what did the authors know before they started this work? how did they formulate this hypothesis?  why did they choose to address it in this way?  You may want to reference an earlier paper from the same group is this is a continuation of previous work; or, explain how this paper tackles an unanswered question in the field.  Make a point of stating the hypothesis or main question of the paper, so everyone understands the goal of the study.

2. Explain the logical progression of the work

Present the data as a logical series of questions and answers.  A good paper will already have done the hard work for you: it will be organized carefully so that each figure answers a specific question an

d each new question builds on the answer from the previous figure.  If you’re having trouble grasping the flow of the paper, try writing up a brief outline of the main points.  The titles of the section or figure legends are often a great guide here.  Feel free to leave out parts of the figures that you think are unnecessary, or pull extra data from the supplemental figures if it will help you explain the paper better.  Use circles, boxes, and arrows to highlight important parts of figures, and add a flowchart or diagram to explain an unfamiliar method.

3. Sum up important conclusions

After you’ve finished explaining the nitty-grity details of the paper, conclude your presentation of the data with a list of significant findings.  If you’ve made an outline of the paper as suggested above, you’ve already done the work.  Every conclusion will tie in directly to proving the major conclusion of the paper; it should be clear at this point how the data answers the main question.

4. Provide a critique of the methods and significance

Finally, offer your audience an analysis of the quality of the paper and what it means for you and your lab.  Anyone can read a paper, but the value lies in understanding it and applying it to your own research and thought process.  Talk about whether the methods and questions applied to this study were the right ones, and how they could have been improved.  Explain what this paper means for your lab, and if it will change anything you are doing.

What are your tips for delivering an effective journal club?

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