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Journal Clubs are Beneficial for Early Career Researchers

By Somefun Dolapo Oluwaseyi | June 16, 2021  | Research skills Journal clubs

Somefun Dolapo Oluwaseyi discusses the benefits of a journal club, the different types of clubs, and some tips for young researchers who want to start their own club. It is possible to be oblivious to other research areas or new methodologies because of information overload and the amount of new knowledge being produced. However, it is particularly important to remain informed with new areas of research and concepts. One effective way of doing this is to join a journal club.

A journal club is an educational reading group where researchers discuss published articles, stay abreast of new ideas and methods, view and evaluate issues from different perspectives by listening to one another’s. Journal clubs are not new in research circles. In 1988, a randomized control trial , found that a journal club enhanced the reading habits of participants. They are usually held in the form of regular meetings among individuals with the same goal of seeking and adding to knowledge. They also sustain opportunities for social interactions among scholars who are working independently and/or apart.

There are various types of Journal club even though almost all have the same aim. There are traditional journal clubs in which senior researchers discuss presentations of younger researchers. Other journal clubs are less formal. Here, researchers can choose any article they want while other members discuss. Nonetheless, journal clubs need not follow a particular structure, provided that researchers can come together with a common goal of reading and appraising papers. Recent approaches to such clubs take advantage of the social media, with examples such as twitter journal clubs  and those organized by capacity building platforms like AuthorAID  This means that there is no one size fits all approach for journal clubs. They could be held virtually or physically.

The key is ensuring that chosen approaches are convenient for the participants. For instance, in the school context, the pandemic has made in-person journal clubs challenging, making virtual types the perfect medium. Virtual meetings can be stimulating with conversations occurring among multiple participants across time and space. In addition, social distancing has been difficult for many. Virtual journal clubs could, therefore, foster social interactions among researchers as they participate in academic conversations.  Still, some students and researchers may not be able to afford internet subscriptions, thus rendering physical meetings necessary. Striking a balance that works for participants, based on interests, needs, and circumstances, becomes crucial.

In the end, an effective journal club should include regular and appropriate timing, high attendance rate (compulsory or incentive-based), nominated chairperson, literature that aligned goals of group members, and participants who commit to reviewing assigned articles.

Personally, participation in journal clubs has facilitated my professional development and I believe that students and young researchers can benefit from it as well. Based on my experience, let me propose some strategies that I believe can help younger researchers develop journal clubs.

Tip 1: Identify participants who will make up the journal club

Identifying committed participants who share the goal of a journal club. It is also important that there is a right mix which allows for enriching discussions. A mixed group would ensure interesting intellectual debates that would be beneficial for all group participants. The participants do not need to belong to the same discipline, but it is essential that they have similar interests. If they decide to include other members in future, all existing members must approve.

Tip 2: Appoint a chair

Journal clubs are more effective if they have a leader. The journal club leader should be responsible for appointing participants that would suggest a paper for discussion. The chair should also be responsible for ensuring the appropriate platform for the meeting, time keeping and order during meetings.  

Tip 3: Ensure that all participants agree to the goals of the journal club

All participants must decide and agree on short and long-term goals for the journal club. This should be reviewed regularly by participants. The aims and goals must be related to the dissemination of knowledge and improvement of certain skills for all participants.

Tip 4: Choose a date and time for regular meetings by all participants

Participants must agree upon the time for meetings. If participants are in different time zones, try to conduct the meetings at suitable times for most participants.   

Tip 5: Suitable location for non-virtual meetings

Some journal clubs are hosted on campus while some clubs take turns at the homes of participants. All members must agree on the location for the meeting. 

Tip 6: Suitable platform (tools/app) for virtual meetings

There are different platforms like Zoom, Twitter, Space, etc. The decision on the platform to use will be based on what is most convenient for the participants.

Tip 7: Define the criteria for selection of an article (or articles) for discussion

This should be decided among the participants. Article could either be discipline based or multidisciplinary but from my experience, it is better if articles are multidisciplinary, to enable participants to view issues from different perspectives.

In conclusion, journal clubs keep researchers informed about new knowledge in an interactive manner that also improves their critical skills. Journal clubs are beneficial to early career researchers and can be formed with peers to facilitate co-learning and professional development – even in times of a distancing pandemic.

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