5 simple steps to organizing a virtual journal club

By Kim Gonzalez Hohlt '17: An easy way to keep up with your peers and stay in the know about your research area is to start a virtual journal club!

5 simple steps to organizing a virtual journal club

As grad students, we sometimes find ourselves wanting to learn more about our field yet outside of our specialty. At other times grad students gathered to learn because free food would call us out of our research nooks. The combination of needs is what we called a journal club; a place where grad students could gather and discuss and critique relevant primary literature. But in the days of social distancing, grad students might be craving socializing more than food. An easy way to keep up with your peers and stay in the know about your research area is to start a virtual journal club!

1. Gather a group

Miss seeing your fellow grad students and discussing your craft? Try having a virtual journal club! Find people who also want to meet up and discuss interesting or recently published literature in your field. Once you have a group of people who opt-in, find a space on Slack/Zoom/Google or even on a wiki for group communications.

2. Pick a meeting time

Even though everyone is working from home, not everyone can meet up at the same time! So poll the group for availability using a tool like when2meet. After everyone answers, pick the most convenient time! Have too many people (more than 10) and no clear meeting time? Split the group into 2 or 3 groups!

3. Determine a speaker order

Ask the group members to pick a week to present and determine a calendar or speaker order. Manage this with tools like a simple google sheet, Slack, Signup Genius, etc. Don’t forget to integrate with your favorite calendar!

4. Speakers choose article (or discussion topic)

Speakers choose an article to present! Make sure you pick the article and share it to give the group enough time to read it before you present! An alternative option is to moderate a discussion topic. Some may even want to discuss how their field is thinking about the coronavirus pandemic, any coronavirus research/trials in their field, or how the coronavirus affects their field.

Examples: Economists might decide to discuss how this will or will not affect U.S. or foreign economies. Psychological Scientists and Anthropologists could discuss how people are reacting and compare that to previous crises, STEM students could discuss biomedical innovations, or lack of infrastructure in the U.S. and the ability of the world to be prepared. Humanities students could dive into comparisons with previous pandemics, the ethics of how the ill are treated, and how life has and has not changed for all of us. So many thesis topics will come out of this crisis!

5. Speaker presents to group and answers questions

Log on to the video-conference site. The host/speaker will share their screen to present their slides. Discuss with the group! Be sure to use the hand-raising features if a lot of folks want to comment at once. You can look at the advice we give virtual thesis defenders and apply it to the virtual journal club! Happy discussing!

Further Reading:

Six strategies for staying motivated during COVID-19 pandemic

Finding work-life balance in grad school during COVID

Tips and tricks for virtual thesis defenses

About the author:
Dr. Kim Gonzalez Hohlt is a native Texan and earned her Ph.D. from Rice University's Biochemistry and Cell Biology program. She was advised by Dr. Bonnie Bartel and used genetics, cell biology, and biochemistry to decipher the roles of key peroxins in peroxisomal functioning in Arabidopsis. Prior to attending grad school at Rice, she graduated cum laude with a B.S. in Genetics from Texas A&M University. Whoop!