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Thursday, June 30, 2005

I... Hate... Journal... Club...

Grrrr. I am sooooo bored right now.

This week it is my turn to present Journal, club having successfully skipped it a few weeks ago.

For those who are unfamiliar with journal club, it is rather like brussels sprouts. Your boss insists that it is good for you - but you would rather feed laxatives to a constipated cat sitting on your head.

Basically, each week a member of the lab chooses a "topical" paper, published within the last few months. The paper is distributed in advance to the rest of the group before Friday when, armed only with a laser pointer and a copy of Powerpoint, you then dissect the paper in minute detail, discussing the importance of the work, its relevance to our work, where the authors have been innovative and where the work could be improved. Coworker's are encouraged to ask questions throughout the talk and then debate it afterwards. You have one hour.

What actually happens is that on Wednesday evening, you realise that it's your turn to present on Friday. You frantically search PubMed for a vaguely interesting paper which might have some relevance to the disparate group of 30 or so research group members. Having chosen one with an impressive-sounding title, you may read the abstract. More likely, you will simply attach the PDF to an email and send it to the group. Having left it so late, you probably have a full day's work planned for Thursday, so you have to frantically re-arrange your timetable.
You then sit down to read the paper. It is at this point, that you realise that not only have you chosen a frighteningly dull paper - actually the work is a bit crap and you only understand about a third of what they are talking about. Even worse, buried in the middle of the results section are 2 full pages of mathematical equations composed of letters that don't even appear in the greek alphabet.

Having manfully read the paper, you now have to read it several more times because you will actually be quizzed on this. You also have to compose a powerpoint presentation, and be familiar with the author's previous work, because (as you quickly realise) the author has saved space by simply repeating the phrase "using the methods previously established by author et al", requiring the reading of at least a dozen other papers to familiarise yourself with the methods used in this study.

When it comes to presenting the paper, the projector usually doesn't work properly. Once it is finally setup and most of the lab are in there, drinking tea (you by the way haven't had time for a cup of tea yet) it is time to start. 5 minutes in, the door bangs open as the Italians arrive, apologising profusely and loudly, before asking everyone to move across a seat. Having restarted, you get 10 minutes in before the eminent Professor arrives. Being the boss (and thus the man in charge of writing references), a chair in the center of the room is promptly vacated and everyone shifts position again. During this, at least one cup of tea is usually spilt.

Restarting, you get to the bit you don't understand. Emminent Prof, who has until this point being snoring quietly, sleepily raises his hand and asks 3 rapid-fire questions regarding why, where and how. You fumble slightly, make a bad joke then admit you have no idea what the paper is even about. The atmosphere is a soporific combination of sympathy and abject boredom. The silence is broken by a soft snore as eminent Prof goes back to sleep.

Finally, you get to the end of the paper. You repeat the authors' conclusions, and ask "any questions?" in your most discouraging manner.

The Spaniards stir. Spaniards are funny buggers. Not only does Spanish itself sound like French spoken by an Italian snake with a speech impediment, (th th th thhhh), both of my Spanish collegaues are borderline autistic in that they actually enjoy Journal club. Seriously. All week they can be heard asking "who's doing Journal Club this week?" and "Have you chosen a paper yet?" and even more scarily, an hour after you have emailed it around the group and 24 hours before you have read it "What did you think of the paper? I thought...". In fact one of them doesn't even have to come to our Journal club - he just turns up because we "pick really good papers".

"How did they normalise their datasets?"

"I don't fucking know! And why do I even care? You've got the bloody paper, and you've read it in far greater detail than I have - why on earth do you think I would know?"
Is what you would like to scream.
"They don't say. I think it is in the supplementary data" you say confidentally.
"It's here on the bottom of page 3" says the other Spaniard. Hijo de puta.

Finally it's over.

We traipse morosely out the door, like Gunatamo inmates stripped of all will to live.

"Put the kettle on" suggets the person who split their tea.
I drag the Powerpoint presentation to the Recycle bin, never to be seen again.



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