Acing that journal club presentation

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If my Instagram post has led you here then you’re probably looking for advice on how to ace that journal club presentation. Everyone has a different way of working so what might work for me may not work for you but it’s great that you’ve found yourself here and want to learn, and hopefully this helps you in some way!

Journal clubs are quite common in academia. The main purpose is to review the current literature and present it to your peers. As a PhD student, this will be something you have to do and if you haven’t done one before it can be pretty daunting. I know when I first presented a journal, I felt like I didn’t know enough and I struggled to convey the work and make my own interpretations. That’s totally normal, it’s a learning process and in time, the more you do it you become better and more comfortable with it. Reviewing the literature is vital during PhD study, you need to be able to pick out the useful and relevant information and make your own interpretations of the work and that’s where journal clubs come in. 

The first step to journal club is finding a paper to present, I’m going to do an entire blog post about finding papers and find “the one” to present for your journal club, watch this space. So my workflow I’m showing you is on the basis that you’ve already found your paper or you’ve been assigned a paper to present (this is quite common in the early days of being part of a journal club).

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Here’s how I get ready for a journal club presentation (preparation is key):

  1. Print your paper. I really struggle to read from a computer screen, I feel like I can’t take anything in and I need to annotate!
  2. Read your chosen paper, making notes as you go along. Try to refrain from googling whilst you’re reading as it will take so much longer, it will distract you and every time you switch tasks it takes about 25 mins to get back into the original task. Keep note of what you’re unsure of and don’t understand – you can always go back and check later. Sometimes I find the further you read, that thing that you’re unsure of may get answered in the text. The notes I tend to make are:
    • Further information for my own understanding
    • What are the limitations?
    • What’s missing?
    • What would I do differently?
    • Key figure/info/methods that are relevant to me
  3. When reading, try to make your own interpretations of the data. To do this I tend to avoid reading the in-text results section and go straight to the figures to allow myself to make my own interpretations. This is hard, particularly if you’re new to this, but keep going!
  4. After the first read, research anything you’re unsure of. For me, it’s usually any methods or data formatting that I’m not familiar with. I’ll spend some time trying to understand areas that I’m unfamiliar with and make notes (common theme here).
  5. Read AGAIN with a better understanding. Add more notes as you go along, if necessary (you’ll find something new the more you read it).
  6. After this second read, consolidate your notes. I type up my notes onto OneNote – I use this for any paper summaries, journal club reviews and a listing papers to read (never-ending).
  7. Read it AGAIN! You’re probably thinking this is quite excessive but this works for me. Sadly I’m not one of these people that can read something once and retain the information (#cry).
  8. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the paper. You want to be sure that your notes, what you want to say to guide everyone through the paper are clear and that you have a clear understanding of the paper. This is almost like practising for a presentation, practice does make perfect.

In the research group I’m in, we don’t tend to make PowerPoint presentation as such, everyone brings their own copy of the paper, having read it and we go through the paper giving the background info, discussion about the methods then going through figure by figure but every group will do this differently. The same principles apply.

If you need to do a PowerPoint presentation, here’s how I’d approach it:

  • I’d typically start this as I go along, most likely after the first read.
  • Start by summarising the background info, why this paper is relevant, where it fits in the current literature and how it is relevant to your project.
  • Next summarise the methods, giving more detail to the methods that are relevant to you and your group.
  • Then make sure you have a slide for each figure. You can break this down however you like it really is personal preference. For me, I like to go through it figure by figure, I wouldn’t have a slide per graph/data per se.
  • In the presentation, after each figure, I will summarise what the data has told me and then introduce the next figure (I try to link the two figures because the authors are trying to tell a story so it’s important to identify the links).

I’m going to do a blog post on acing presentations in general, whether that’s departmental seminars, conferences or just presenting your work to your peers.

In the meantime, here are some tips for presenting your journal in your journal club:

  • Speak clearly and try not to speak too quickly (this is hard if you’re nervous but just take it slow and remember to breathe)
  • If you’re unsure of something – don’t blag it just say, it’s always better to be honest. You’re learning and this is all part of the experience 
  • Depending on the format, if your journal club is anything like mine it might be interactive where your peers ask questions and comment as we go through the paper. This can throw you off course a little bit but don’t worry, the paper or your presentation will prompt you to get back on track. I used to hate this in the early days but I kinda like it now and if you think about it, the point of the journal club is to discuss the paper.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and found it somewhat useful. Everyone learns and does things differently, so if this method doesn’t work for you, then no sweat. Keep going until you find one that works for you. I didn’t come up with this overnight, it took me some time to figure out what’s best for me when it comes to journal club presentations. If you’re presenting a journal club soon, then I wish you the best of luck and don’t forget, try to enjoy it!

Thank you for reading.

Stay safe,

Beth x

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