I've been attending my lab's journal club for a while, and I'm wondering whether there are better ways out there of conducting a journal club. To make the question more generic, our club seems to have two purposes:

  1. Ensure that the students in the lab are reading papers in the field
  2. Discuss the latest research findings in the field

Regarding goal (1), that's kinda what I'm spending all my time doing; I'm doing research, and much of that involves little more than reading a ridiculous number of papers. Insofar as accomplishing goal (2), I'm not sure we do it the best way possible. The journal club I'm currently attending is run by a professor. In general, one person prepares a presentation, and the professor grills that person on the paper. Other people chime in if they're interested, but more often than not it's an hour of watching the prof duel with the student. If the student is well prepared, I'll learn a lot, but when the kid has clearly not read the paper well, it's just a waste of everyone's time. What successful journal club formats have you encountered?

  • Your question is confusing: do you want to talk about lab meeting formats, or journal club formats? The two are not identical at all.
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 3:06
  • Yeah, good point. My lab meeting was run as a journal club most of the time, which was probably part of the problem :) I'll reformulate the wording to focus on journal clubs, and ask about lab meetings in a separate question.
    – eykanal
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 3:15
  • I would like to help, but I've never been in a successful journal club :(
    – user102
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 16:22

2 Answers 2


This is based on my experience being in some highly unsuccessful journals clubs, and some very successful ones - at least in my mind.

  1. You must have faculty involvement. I've seen more than one journal club that either didn't have faculty members, or had a faculty member or two who just kind of sat back and didn't say anything. That's bad. Faculty members who can contribute, answer questions, and generally provide some context for papers are excellent. They're good for pointed questions we might have missed - I've had faculty members ask a question about a figure that got into an interesting discussion of research ethics, one that led insight into some politics ("The reason that commentary appeared in this journal is Y"), etc.
  2. I prefer to have them separate from lab meetings, and drawing from a wider audience than my specific research group. I find the breadth of experience, diversity of papers, and keeping up with things taking place beyond my narrow little laser-like focus to be both refreshing and more useful than going over a paper half of us already read.
  3. Giving the journal club a greater context. Yes, keeping track of the literature is important. But its importance seems to slide if you know your analysis should be done soon, or something needs to come out of the water bath, or midterms need to be graded. One semester we framed ours as qualifying exam preparation, and another as professional development - the people presenting wrote their critiques like responses to requests for peer review.

Overall, I've found journal clubs to be most useful for mid-level graduate students - they need enough experience to have thoughts, insights and feelings about the paper, but if a JC succeeds, eventually they should need it less and less.

  • 1
    I disagree with point #1. The best journal club I've been part of was one in graduate school that was organized by graduate students and postdocs, with the explicit rule that faculty weren't involved. The idea was to have more "free" discussions, and to avoid the scenario sketched by the OP in which the conversation is simply a grilling of a student by a professor, which sounds terrible. Of course, doing this without faculty or a mandatory structure requires a lot of motivation on the part of the students / postdocs. Thankfully, we had this, and it was stellar. Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:41

Fomite's answer is great. Along the lines of "greater context" - you could form a journal club around a topic, rather than around your laboratory. When I was in grad school for plant biology, a friend of mine in Ag Chemistry formed a photosynthesis journal club. He was able to get his supervisor (photosynth bacteria) and another PI (plant focused) on board as regular attendees, while the student himself proctored the meetings. I participated not because I was studying photosynthesis myself, but because I wanted to learn more about biophysics.

Attendees (including the professors) took turns selecting papers and leading discussions. It ended up being good study for my qualifying exam - and a good way to get face time with others in the department that I wouldn't normally interact with.

This is one way to get around the "students take turns getting grilled by one professor." Take the initiative or find another student who wants to run a club, and find professors who want to participate but not lead. The environment will be different.

  • +1 for choosing the topic instead of the lab. Could be nice to combine with an online journal club, gathering different universities.
    – user102
    Commented Feb 22, 2012 at 17:29

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