What are Journal Clubs?

Journal Clubs are typically defined as a group of individuals with common academic interests meeting to discuss and review academic literature. While most common in academia, they are also prevalent in industry and are a fundamental tool in moving research forward.

But there is no set recipe for a journal club. There might be tips, guidelines, or best practices formed in response to the challenges of a particular subject area. For STEM-Away, the Journal Club will be a place where teams can freely discuss and review existing literature while simultaneously getting feedback and clarifications from mentors.

The core principle is that each Journal Club will be centered around a specific publication that is to be read ahead of time. While reading through the selected paper, several prompts will be provided to spur potential areas to focus on for review.

  • For example, a prompt may be to specify the software stack used in the paper. During the pre-reading phase, participants can then take notes on instances of software used.
  • Another prompt may be to sketch a process diagram for the pipeline, starting from the raw data inputs and ending with the final results and outputs specified in the paper. During pre-reading, every time there is a new process (for example, data cleaning), an element can be added to the process diagram sketch.

Every team member will then come to the journal club armed with a foundational understanding of the paper. It’s an open forum to ensure that every team member is on the same page with understanding why the research was done in the first place in addition to how the research was actually implemented. Areas of confusion, surprise, frustration, or excitement should be brought to the Journal Club.

The first step is reaching a common understanding of the selected literature, but journal clubs are also meant to be springboards for new ideas or alternative takes on design decisions that were made for the original paper. For each particular instance of the Journal Club, it will be expected that every team member cover some aspect of the paper or share some thoughts on the research itself.

If you have thoughts that are not related to pre-specified prompts, even better. Journal Clubs are most useful when a diverse set of experiences and perspectives communicate with each other; so regardless of your level of understanding, the Journal Club is a place where you can make valuable contributions and set the tone and tempo for the rest of your internship. By asking questions, you will both solidify the understanding of those that are also confused and strengthen the understanding of those who may know the answer but have to communicate it clearly.

Due to the unique design of STEM-Away, the mentors will be able to guide the overall Journal Club discussion, ensuring that all questions are addressed and all individuals get a chance to contribute. Engaging in these kinds of discussions and deconstructing complex research will prove invaluable for your future STEM careers.