Reinventing journal clubs by designing them using a similar process as research experiments

By Leah Mann

Madhvi Venkatesh, assistant professor of biochemistry and curriculum director for the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, recently set out to reconceive the concept of the scientific journal club. She offered a proposed framework, “Reimagining journal clubs for inclusive scientific training,” in Trends in Cell Biology in 2023.

Madhvi Venkatesh

In a collaborative effort with Taralyn Tan, assistant dean for educational innovation and scholarship at Harvard Medical School, Venkatesh sought to create a blueprint for journal clubs to “enhance their efficacy as a training tool and to use them as an approach for promoting inclusive and equitable training.”

Journal clubs typically involve one member presenting a scientific article as a few others contribute with questions and opinions. While recognizing the significance of traditional journal clubs, Venkatesh and Tan contend that new approaches to implementation could be greatly beneficial.

“This article provides an accessible and user-friendly guide for scientists at all career stages to intentionally structure journal that maximize the learning benefits and promote equity in science,” Venkatesh said. “Implementing these strategies can meaningfully transform scientific training in classrooms and laboratories.”

To explain the reframing of journal club planning and execution, they compare the steps of planning journal clubs to those involved in planning research experiments to make it easily accessible to scientists.

Accordingly, they introduce four sets of questions and answers to outline the four phases of “reinvented” journal clubs, which are summarized below:

  1. Journal club planners must identify the objectives of the meeting just as investigators must determine the research question.
  2. Organizers should develop methods to establish if the objectives have been met just as scientists collect data to answer their primary inquiry.
  3. Facilitators must choose articles that allow participants to meet the objectives just as researchers select methods to effectively study the intended question.
  4. Organizers need to effectively structure the meeting to encourage active participation from every member just as scientists must follow all steps of a protocol to achieve success.

Following these stages, a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow, or primary investigator can plan and run a valuable journal club. Venkatesh and Tan provide sample approaches to accomplish each phase along the way, ultimately leading to greater engagement during the discussions and more effective learning from participation.

Carrying out these steps can also promote equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging by considering participants’ interests and identities when designing goals and probing participants’ feelings of inclusion following meetings. Moreover, facilitators can highlight research from under-represented groups and structure meetings in ways that inspire engagement by all participants regardless of background.

Venkatesh is hoping to work with labs and course instructors across Vanderbilt and the country to implement this framework and evaluate how it impacts training outcomes for participants.