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How to review a journal paper and prepare oral presentation

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The slides are for an about 2-hour lecture to students who each have to review one scientific journal article. There are guidelines on key content, as well as planning, preparing, and delivering an oral presentation. This should be useful to any student preparing for an oral presentation with slides.


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How to Present a Scientific Journal Article

Table of Contents

Finally! You have published your research in that journal you always aimed for. After so much time spent researching, writing, reviewing and being evaluated by professors, experts, and peers, we are sorry to say the effort might not be over…That’s right, it’s time to present it to an audience. Actually, to be invited to talk about your research is a good sign. It means it is generating interest among people, and they want to hear more from you.

But presenting scientific work comes with great responsibility, especially after a successful publication, because there is the expectation to be as good as the published article. It is important to know how to convey your ideas as clearly and concisely as possible, keeping high levels of interest and scientific accuracy at the same time. If you are unsure about performing this task, don’t worry. You are not alone and there is plenty of help available.

Author Services Needed?

Author services, such as what we offer at Elsevier, may just be the breath of fresh air you need. Our professional team of native English speakers, text editors and illustrators can help you come up with the perfect scientific presentation; no matter the audience or context. Because we know that bringing science to people through presentations is part of a successful career, we not only make sure the article publishing process runs smoothly but also how it comes alive to live audiences. You just need to identify some fundamental issues before we take care of all the rest:

See some more tips for giving a good scientific presentation .

Scientific Presentations: the two most common types:

Illustration Services by Author Services:

With the increase of published scientific research, it’s getting harder and harder to get your manuscript noticed. High-quality illustrations within your paper can help you in the submission service, and they engage readers once your paper is published. Academic infographics can help you make an impact with your publication on social media and beyond. With Elsevier’s Illustration services , you can work with our experts. The Elsevier team can turn your ideas into professional illustrations that help you make an impact.

Find more about Scientific illustration

Our Scientific Illustration Services transform your ideas into professional illustrations. And our Academic Infographic Service visualizes your research and helps you share it with a wider audience. With more than a hundred years of experience in publishing, Elsevier is trusted by millions of authors around the world.

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Scientific Presenting: Using Evidence-Based Classroom Practices to Deliver Effective Conference Presentations

Lisa a. corwin.

† Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309

Amy Prunuske

‡ Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Medical College of Wisconsin–Central Wisconsin, Wausau, WI 54401

Shannon B. Seidel

§ Biology Department, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA 98447

Scientists and educators travel great distances, spend significant time, and dedicate substantial financial resources to present at conferences. This highlights the value placed on conference interactions. Despite the importance of conferences, very little has been studied about what is learned from the presentations and how presenters can effectively achieve their goals. This essay identifies several challenges presenters face when giving conference presentations and discusses how presenters can use the tenets of scientific teaching to meet these challenges. We ask presenters the following questions: How do you engage the audience and promote learning during a presentation? How do you create an environment that is inclusive for all in attendance? How do you gather feedback from the professional community that will help to further advance your research? These questions target three broad goals that stem from the scientific teaching framework and that we propose are of great importance at conferences: learning, equity, and improvement. Using a backward design approach, we discuss how the lens of scientific teaching and the use of specific active-learning strategies can enhance presentations, improve their utility, and ensure that a presentation is broadly accessible to all audience members.

Attending a conference provides opportunities to share new discoveries, cutting-edge techniques, and inspiring research within a field of study. Yet after presenting at some conferences, you might leave feeling as though you did not connect with the audience, did not receive useful feedback, or are unsure of where you fit within the professional community. Deciding what to cover in a presentation may be daunting, and you may worry that the audience did not engage in your talk. Likewise, for audience members, the content of back-to-back talks may blur together, and they may get lost in acronyms or other unfamiliar jargon. Audience members who are introverted or new to the field may feel intimidated about asking a question in front of a large group containing well-known, outspoken experts. After attending a conference, one may leave feeling curious and excited or exhausted and overwhelmed, wondering what was gained from presenting or attending.

Conferences vary widely in purpose and location, ranging from small conferences hosted within home institutions to large international conferences featuring experts from around the world. The time and money spent to host, attend, and present at conferences speaks to the value placed on engaging in these professional interactions. Despite the importance of conferences to professional life, there is rarely time to reflect on what presenters and other conference attendees learn from participating in conferences or how conferences promote engagement and equity in the field as a whole. A significant portion of most conference time is devoted to the delivery of oral presentations, which traditionally are delivered in a lecture style, with questions being initiated by a predictable few during question-and-answer sessions.

In this essay, we discuss how you can use a backward design approach and scientific presenting strategies to overcome three key challenges to effectively presenting to diverse conference audiences. The challenges we consider here include the following:

At conferences, learning and advancement of a field is paramount, similar to more formal educational settings. Thus, we wrote these presenting challenges to align with the central themes presented in the scientific teaching framework developed by Handelsman and colleagues (2007) . “Learning” aligns with “active learning,” “equity” with “diversity,” and “feedback” with “assessment.” Using the scientific teaching framework and a backward design approach, we propose using evidence-based teaching strategies for scientific presenting in order to increase learning, equity, and quality feedback. We challenge you , the presenter, to consider how these strategies might benefit your future presentations.


How will you define the central goals of your presentation and frame your presentation based on these goals? Begin with the end in mind by clearly defining your presentation goals before developing content and activities. This is not unlike the process of backward design used to plan effective learning experiences for students ( McTighe and Thomas, 2003 ). Consider what you, as a presenter, want to accomplish. You may want to share results supporting a novel hypothesis that may impact the work of colleagues in your field or disseminate new techniques or methodologies that could be applied more broadly. You may seek feedback about an ongoing project. Also consider your audience and what you hope they will gain from attending. You may want to encourage your colleagues to think in new and different ways or to create an environment of collegiality. It is good to understand your audience’s likely goals, interests, and professional identities before designing your presentation.

How can you get to know these important factors about your audience? Although it may not be possible to predict or know all aspects of your audience, identify sources of information you can access to learn more about them. Conference organizers, the website for the conference, and previous attendees may be good sources of information about who might be in attendance. Conference organizers may have demographic information about the institution types and career stages of the audience. The website for a conference or affiliated society often describes the mission of the organization or conference. Finally, speaking with individuals who have previously attended the conference may help you understand the culture and expectations of your audience. This information may enable you to tailor your talk and select strategies that will engage and resonate with audience members of diverse backgrounds. Most importantly, reflecting on the information you gather will allow you to evaluate and better define your presentation goals.

Before designing your presentation, write between two and five goals you have for yourself or your audience (see Vignettes 1 and 2 for sample goals). Prioritize your goals and evaluate which can be accomplished with the time, space, and audience constraints you face. Once you have established both your goals and knowledge of who might attend your talk, it is time to design your talk. The Scientific Presenting section that follows offers specific design suggestions to engage the audience in learning, promote equity, and receive high-quality feedback.

Situation: Mona Harrib has been asked to give the keynote presentation at a regional biology education research conference. As a leader in the field, Mona is well known and respected, and she has a good grasp on where the field has been and where it is going now.

Presentation Goals: She has three goals she wants to accomplish with her presentation: 1) to introduce her colleagues to the self-efficacy framework, 2) to provide new members of her field opportunities to learn about where the field has been, and 3) to connect these new individuals with others in the field.

Scientific Presenting Strategy: Mona has 50 minutes for her presentation, with 10 minutes for questions. Her opening slide, displayed as people enter the room, encourages audience members to “sit next to someone you have not yet spoken to.” Because her talk will discuss self-efficacy theory and the various origins of students’ confidence in their ability to do science, she begins by asking the audience members to introduce themselves to their neighbors and to describe an experience in which they felt efficacious or confident in their ability to do something and why they felt confident.  She circulates around the room, and asks five groups to share their responses. This provides an audience-generated foundation that she uses to explain the framework in more detail. For historical perspective, she relates each framework component back to prior research in the field. She ends with some recent work from her research group and asks participants to discuss with their partners how the framework could be used to explain the results of her recent study. She again gathers and reports several examples to the whole group that illustrate ways in which the data might be interpreted. She then asks the audience to write a question that they still have about this research on note cards, which she collects and reviews after the presentation. After reviewing the cards, she decides to incorporate a little more explanation about a few graphs in her work to help future audiences digest the information.

Situation: Antonio Villarreal is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, who has recently been selected for a 15-minute presentation in the Endocytic Trafficking Minisymposium at the American Society for Cell Biology Annual Meeting. He has attended this conference twice, so he has a sense of the audience, space, and culture of the meeting. In his past experiences, he has found that the talks often blur together, and it is especially difficult to remember key ideas from the later talks in each session.

Presentation Goals: With a manuscript in preparation and his upcoming search for a faculty position, Antonio has the following three goals for his presentation: 1) to highlight the significance of his research in a memorable way; 2) to keep the audience engaged, because his presentation is the ninth out of 10 talks; and 3) to receive feedback that will prepare him to give professional job talks.

Scientific Presenting Strategy: Antonio took a class as a postdoctoral fellow about evidence-based practices in teaching and decides he would like to incorporate some active learning into his talk to help his audience learn. He worries that with only 15 minutes he does not have a lot of time to spare. So he sets up the background and experimental design for the audience and then projects only the two axes of his most impactful graph on the screen with a question mark in the middle where the data would be. Rather than simply showing the result, he asks the audience to turn to a neighbor and make a prediction about the results they expect to see. He cues the audience to talk to one another by encouraging them to make a bold prediction! After 30 seconds, he quells the chatter and highlights two different predictions he heard from audience members before sharing the results. At the end of his presentation, he asks the audience to turn to a neighbor once again and discuss what the results mean and what experiment they would try next. He also invites them to talk further with him after the session. The questions Antonio receives after his talk are very interesting and help him consider alternative angles he could pursue or discuss during future talks. He also asks his colleague Jenna to record his talk on his iPhone, and he reviews this recording after the session to prepare him for the job market.


Presenters, like teachers, often try to help their audiences connect new information with what they already know ( National Research Council, 2000 ). While a conference audience differs from a student audience, evidence and strategies collected from the learning sciences can assist in designing presentations to maximize learning and engagement. We propose that the scientific teaching framework, developed by Handelsman and colleagues (2007) to aid in instructional design, can be used as a tool in developing presentations that promote learning, are inclusive, and allow for the collection of useful feedback. In this section, we discuss the three pillars of scientific teaching: active learning, diversity, and assessment. We outline how they can be used to address the central challenges outlined earlier and provide specific tips and strategies for applying scientific teaching in a conference setting.

Challenge: Engagement in Learning

Consider the last conference you attended: How engaged were you in the presentations? How many times did you check your phone or email? How much did you learn from the talks you attended? Professional communities are calling for more compelling presentations that convey information successfully to a broad audience (e.g., Carlson and Burdsall, 2014 ; Langin, 2017 ). Active-learning strategies, when combined with constructivist approaches, are one way to increase engagement, learning, and retention ( Prince, 2004 ; Freeman et al. , 2014 ). While active-learning strategies are not mutually exclusive with the use of PowerPoint presentations in the dissemination of information, they do require thoughtful design, time for reflection, and interaction to achieve deeper levels of learning ( Chi and Wylie, 2014 ). This may be as simple as allowing 30–60 seconds for prediction or discussion in a 15-minute talk. On the basis of calls for change from conference goers and organizers and research on active-learning techniques, we have identified several potential benefits of active learning likely to enhance engagement in conference presentations:

While a multitude of ways to execute active learning exist, we offer a few specific suggestions to quickly engage the audience during a conference presentation ( Table 1 ). In the spirit of backward design, we encourage you to identify learning activities that support attainment of your presentation goals. Some examples can be found in Vignettes 1 and 2 (section 1), which illustrate hypothetical scenarios in which active learning is incorporated into presentations at professional conferences to help meet specific goals.

Active-learning strategies for conference presentations

Similar to giving a practice talk before the conference, we encourage you to test out active-learning strategies in advance, particularly if you plan to incorporate technology, because technological problems can result in disengagement ( Hatch et al ., 2005 ). Practicing presentation activities within a research group or local community will provide guidance on prompts, timing, instructions, and audience interpretation to identify problems and solutions before they occur during a presentation. This will help to avoid activities that are overly complex or not purpose driven ( Andrew et al ., 2011 ).

Challenge: Equity and Participation

Consider the last conference you attended: Did you hear differing opinions about your work or did the dominant paradigms prevail? Who asked questions; was it only high-status experts in the field? Did you hear from multiple voices? Did newer members, like graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, engage with established members of the community? In classroom settings, equity and diversity strategies improve learning among all students and particularly support students from underrepresented groups in science by decreasing feelings of exclusion, alleviating anxiety, and counteracting stereotype threat ( Haak et al ., 2011 ; Walton et al ., 2012 ; Eddy and Hogan, 2014 ). Likewise, in a conference setting, strategies that promote equitable participation and recognize the positive impact of diversity in the field may help increase equity more broadly and promote a sense of belonging among participants. Conference audiences are oftentimes even more diverse than the typical classroom environment, being composed of individuals from different disciplines, career stages, and cultures. Incorporating strategies that increase the audience’s understanding and feelings of inclusion in the professional community may impact whether or not an individual continues to engage in the field. We have identified three central benefits of equity strategies for presenters and their professional communities:

Equity strategies for conference presentations (as presented in Tanner, 2013 )

Many strategies discussed in prior sections, such as using active learning and having clear goals, help to promote equity, belonging, and access. In Table 2 , we expand on previously mentioned strategies and discuss how specific active-learning and equity strategies promote inclusiveness. These tips for facilitation are primarily drawn from Tanner’s 2013 feature on classroom structure, though they apply to the conference presentation setting as well.

An overarching goal of conferences is to help build a thriving, creative, inclusive, and accessible community. Being transparent about which equity strategies you are using and why you are using them may help to promote buy-in and encourage others to use similar strategies. By taking the above actions as presenters and being deliberate in our incorporation of equity and diversity strategies, we can help our professional communities to thrive, innovate, and grow.

Challenge: Receiving Feedback

Consider your last conference presentation: What did you take away from the presentation? Did you gather good ideas during the session? Were the questions and comments you received useful for advancing your work? If you were to present this work again, what changes might you make? In the classroom, assessment drives learning of content, concepts, and skills. At conferences, we, as presenters, take the role of instructor in teaching our peers (including members of our research field) about new findings and innovations. However, assessment at conferences differs from classroom assessment in important ways. First, at conferences, you are unlikely to present to the same audience multiple times; therefore, the focus of the assessment is purely formative—to determine whether the presentation accomplished its goals. This feedback can aid in your professional development toward being an effective communicator. Second, at conferences, you are speaking to a diverse group of colleagues who have varied expertise, and feedback from the audience will provide information that may improve your research. Indeed, conferences are a prime environment to draw on a diversity of expertise to identify relevant information, resources, and alternative interpretations of data. These characteristics of conferences give rise to three possible types of presentation assessments ( Hattie and Timperley, 2007 ):

Though a lot of feedback at conferences occurs in informal settings, you can take the initiative to incorporate assessment strategies into your presentation. Many of the simple classroom techniques described in the preceding sections, like polling the audience and hearing from multiple voices, support quick assessment of presentation outcomes ( Angelo and Cross, 1993 ). In Table 3 , we elaborate on possible assessment strategies and provide tips for gathering effective feedback during presentations.

Assessment and feedback strategies for conference presentations

a We suggest these questions for a simple, yet informative postpresentation feed-up survey about your presentation: What did you find most interesting about this presentation? What, if anything, was unclear or were you confused about (a.k.a. muddiest point)? What is one thing that would improve this presentation? Similarly, to gather information for a feedback/feed-forward assessment, we recommend: What did you find most interesting about this work? What about this project needs improvement or clarification? What do you consider an important next step that this work might take?

Technology can assist in implementing assessment, and we predict that there will be many future technological innovations applicable to the conference setting. Live tweeting or backchanneling is occurring more frequently alongside presentations, with specific hashtags that allow audience members to initiate discussions and generate responses from people who are not even in the room ( Wilkinson et al ., 2015 ). After the presentation, you and your audience members can continue to share feedback and materials through email list servers and QR codes. Self-assessment by reviewing a video from the session can support both a better understanding of audience engagement and self-reflection ( van Ginkel et al ., 2015 ). There are benefits from gathering data from multiple assessment strategies, but as we will discuss in the next section, there are barriers that impact the number of recommended learning, equity, and assessment strategies you might chose to implement.


Though we are strong advocates for a scientific presenting approach, there are several important barriers to consider. These challenges are similar to what is faced in the classroom, including time, space, professional culture, and audience/student expectations.

One of the most important barriers to consider is culture, as reflected in the following quote:

Ironically, the oral presentations are almost always presented as lectures, even when the topic of the talk is about how lecturing is not very effective! This illustrates how prevalent and influential the assumptions are about the expected norms of behavior and interaction at a scientific conference. Even biologists who have strong teaching identities and are well aware of more effective ways to present findings choose, for whatever reason (professional culture? professional identity?), not to employ evidence-based teaching and communication methods in the venue of a scientific conference. ( Brownell and Tanner, 2012 , p. 344)

As this quote suggests, professional identity and power structures exist within conference settings that may impact the use of scientific presenting strategies. Trainees early in their careers will be impacted by disciplinary conference norms and advisor expectations and should discuss incorporating new strategies with a trusted mentor. In addition, incorporating scientific presenting strategies can decrease your control as a presenter and may even invoke discomfort and threaten your or your audience’s professional identities.

Balance between content delivery and active engagement presents another potential barrier. Some may be concerned that active learning takes time away from content delivery or that using inclusive practices compromises the clarity of a central message. Indeed, there is a trade-off between content and activity, and presenters have to balance presenting more results with time spent on active learning that allows the audience to interpret the results. We suggest that many of these difficulties can be solved by focusing on your goals and audience background, which will allow you to identify which content is critical and hone your presentation messaging to offer the maximum benefit to the audience. Remember that coverage of content does not ensure learning or understanding and that you can always refer the audience to additional content or clarifying materials by providing handouts or distributing weblinks to help them engage as independent learners.

Physical space and time may limit participants’ interaction with you and one another. Try to view your presentation space in advance and consider how you will work within and possibly modify that space. For example, if you will present in a traditional lecture hall, choose active learning that can be completed by an individual or pairs instead of a group. By being aware of the timing, place in the conference program, and space allotted, you can identify appropriate activities and strategies that will fit your presentation and have a high impact. Available technology, support, and resources will also impact the activities and assessments you can implement and may alleviate some space and time challenges.

As novice scientific presenters dealing with the above barriers and challenges, “failures” or less than ideal attempts at scientific presenting are bound to occur. The important thing to remember is that presenting is a scientific process, and just as experiments rarely work perfectly the first time they are executed, so too does presenting in a new and exciting way. Just as in science, challenges and barriers can be overcome with time, iterations, and thoughtful reflection.


Although presenters can opt to use backward design and incorporate scientific presenting strategies, they do not control other variables like the amount of time allotted to each speaker, the size or shape of the room they present in, or the technology available. These additional constraints are still important and may impact a presenter’s ability to use audience-centered presentation methods. Conference organizers are in a powerful position to support presenters’ ability to implement the described strategies and to provide the necessary logistical support to maximize the likelihood of success. Organizers often set topics, determine the schedule, book spaces, identify presenters, and help establish conference culture.

So how can conference organizers affect change that will promote active engagement and equity in conference presentations?

Although scientific teaching has increasingly become standard practice for evidence-based teaching of science courses, there are potentially great benefits for transforming our oral presentations in science and science education by incorporating the rigor, critical thinking, and experimentation that are regularly employed within research. The strategies suggested in this paper can serve as a starting point for experimentation and evaluation of presentation and conference efficacy. Using scientific presentation strategies may expedite the advancement of fields by increasing engagement and learning at conference presentations. Equity strategies can increase inclusion and community building among members of our research areas, which will help research fields to grow and diversify. Finally, regularly incorporating assessment into our presentations should improve the quality and trajectory of research projects, further strengthening the field. Both individual presenters and conference organizers have a role to play in shifting conference culture to tackle the challenges presented in this paper. We urge you to consider your role in taking action.


We thank Justin Hines, Jenny Knight, and Kimberly Tanner for thoughtful suggestions on early drafts of this article.

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Why your scientific presentation should not be adapted from a journal article

David Rubenson is the director of the scientific-communications firm No Bad Slides ( nobadslides.com ) in Los Angeles, California.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

In 20 years of coaching biomedical researchers on presentation techniques, I have continually been frustrated by scientists trying to make presentations as comprehensive as journal articles. Their thinking is understandable: “Better too much than too little, and more detail will demonstrate rigour and reliability.” But the usual result is a confused audience, befuddled by rapid-fire speaking, too much data and too many opaque slides.

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doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-03300-6

This is an article from the Nature Careers Community, a place for Nature readers to share their professional experiences and advice. Guest posts are encouraged .

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Journal Club: How to Prepare Effectively and Smash Your Presentation

A man covered in notes and paper indicating under preparedness for journal club

Journal club. It’s so much more than orally dictating a paper to your peers.

It’s an opportunity to get a bunch of intelligent people in one place to share ideas. It’s a means to expand the scientific vocabulary of you and the audience. It’s a way to stimulate inventive research design.

But there are so many ways it can go wrong.

Poorly explained papers dictated blandly to an unengaged audience. Confusing heaps of data shoehorned into long presentations. Everybody stood awkwardly outside a meeting room you thought would be free.

Whether you are unsure what journal club is, are thinking of starting one, or simply want to up your presentation game—you’ve landed on the ultimate journal club guide.

The whats, the whys, and the hows, all in one place.

What Is a Journal Club in Science?

A journal club is a series of meetings in which somebody is elected to present a research paper, its methods, and findings to a group of colleagues.

The broad goal is to stimulate discussion and ideas that the attendees may apply to their own work. Alternatively, someone may choose a paper because it’s particularly impactful or ingenious.

Usually, the presenter alternates per a rota, and attendance may be optional or compulsory.

The presenter is expected to choose, analyze, and present the paper to the attendees with accompanying slides.

The presentation is then followed by a discussion of the paper by the attendees. This is usually in the form of a series of questions and answers directed toward the presenter. Ergo , the presenter is expected to know and understand the paper and subject area to a moderate extent.

Why Have a Journal Club?

I get it. You’re a busy person. There’s a difficult research problem standing between you and your next tenure.

Why bother spending the time and energy participating in a series of meetings that don’t get you closer to achieving your scientific goals?

The answer: journal club does get you closer to achieving your scientific goals!

But it does this in indirect ways that subtly make you a better scientist. For example:

It also provides a platform for people to share ideas based on their collective scientific experience. And every participant has a unique set of skills. So every participant has the potential to provide valuable insight.

This is what a good journal club should illicit.

Think of journal club as reading a book. It’s going to enrich you and add beneficially to the sum of your mental furniture, but you won’t know how until you’ve read it.

Need empirical evidence to convince you? Okay!

In 1988 a group of medical interns was split into two groups. One received journal club teaching and the other received a series of seminars. Approximately 86% of the journal club group reported improved reading habits. This compares to 0% in the group who received seminar-based teaching. [1]

Journal Club Template Structure

So now you know what journal club is, you might wonder, “how is it organized and structured?”

That’s what the rest of this article delves into. If you’re in a rush and need to head back to the lab, here’s a graphical summary (Figure 1).

A summary of how to organize, prepare, and present journal club.

Nobody likes meetings that flounder around and run over time. And while I have no data to prove it, I reckon people take less away from such meetings. Here’s a basic journal club template that assumes you are the presenter.

Introduce the Paper, Topic, Journal, and Authors

Let your audience know what you will be talking about before diving right in. Remember that repetition (of the important bits) can be a good thing.

Introducing the journal in which the paper is published will give your audience a rough idea of the prestige of the work.

And introducing the authors and their respective institutes gives your audience the option of stowing this information away and following it up with further reading in their own time.

Provide a Reason Why You Chose the Paper

Have the authors managed to circumvent sacrificing animals to achieve a goal that traditionally necessitated animal harm? Have the authors repurposed a method and applied it to a problem it’s not traditionally associated with? Is it simply a monumental feat of work and success?

People are probably more likely to listen and engage with you if they know why, in all politeness, you have chosen to use their time to talk about a given paper.

It also helps them focus on the relevant bits of your presentation and form cogent questions.

Orally Present Key Findings and Methods of the Paper

Simple. Read the paper. Understand it. Make some slides. Present.

Okay, there are a lot of ways you can get this wrong and make a hash of it. We’ll tell you how to avoid these pitfalls later on.

But for now, acknowledge that a journal club meeting starts with a presentation that sets up the main bit of it—the discussion.

Invite Your Audience to Participate in a Discussion

The discussion is the primary and arguably most beneficial component of journal club since it gives the audience a platform to share ideas. Ideas formulated by their previous experience.

And I’ve said already that these contributions are unique and have the potential to be valuable to your work.

That’s why the discussion element is important.

Their questions might concur and elaborate on the contents of the paper and your presentation of it.

Alternatively, they might disagree with the methods and/or conclusions. They might even disagree with your presentation of technical topics.

Try not to be daunted, however, as all of this ultimately adds to your knowledge, and it should all be conducted in a constructive spirit.

Summarize the Meeting and Thank Your Audience for Attending

There’s no particularly enlightening reason as to why to do these things. Summarizing helps people come away from the meeting feeling like it was a positive and rewarding thing to attend.

And thanking people for their time is a simple courtesy.

How Do You Organize It?

Basic steps if you are the organizer.

Okay, we’ve just learned what goes into speaking at the journal club. But presenter or not, the responsibility of organizing it might fall to you.

So, logistically , how do you prepare a journal club? Simply follow these 5 steps:

Apart from point 5, these are fairly self-explanatory. Regarding point 5, feedback is essential to growing as a scientist and presenter. The easiest way to seek feedback is simply to ask.

Alternatively, you could create a form for all the meetings in the series and ask the audience to complete and return it to you.

Basic Steps If You Are the Speaker

If somebody has done all the logistics for you, great! Don’t get complacent, however.

Why not use the time to elevate your presentation to make your journal club contribution memorable and beneficial?

Don’t worry about the “hows” because we’re going to elaborate on these points, but here are 5 things you can do to ace your presentation:

Regarding point 1, giving yourself sufficient time to thoroughly read the article you have chosen to present ensures you are familiar with the material in it. This is essential because you will be asked questions about it. A confident reply is the foundation of an enlightening discussion.

Regarding point 3, we’re going to tell you exactly how to prepare effective slides in its own section later. But if you are in a rush, minimize the use of excessive text. And if you provide background information, stick to diagrams that give an overview of results from previous work. Remember: a picture speaks louder than a thousand words.

Regarding point 4, engagement is critical. So carry out a practice run to make sure you are happy with the flow of your presentation and to give you an idea of your timing. It is important to stick to the time that is allotted for you.

This provides good practice for more formal conference settings where you will be stopped if you run over time. It’s also good manners and shows consideration for the attendees.

And regarding point 5, as the presenter, questions are likely to be directed toward you. So anticipate questions from the outset and prepare for the obvious ones to the best of your ability.

There’s a limit to everyone’s knowledge, but being unable to provide any sort of response will be embarrassing and make you seem unprepared.

Anticipate that people might also disagree with any definitions you make and even with your presentation of other people’s data. Whether or not you agree is a different matter, but present your reasons in a calm and professional manner.

If someone is rude, don’t rise to it and respond calmly and courteously. This shouldn’t happen too often, but we all have “those people” around us.

How Do You Choose a Journal Club Paper?

Consider the quality of the journal.

Just to be clear, I don’t mean the paper itself but the journal it’s published in.

An obscure journal is more likely to contain science that’s either boring, sloppy, wrong, or all three.

And people are giving up their time and hope to be stimulated. So oblige them!

Journal impact factor and rejection rate (the ratio of accepted to rejected articles) can help you decide whether a paper is worth discussing.

Consider the Impact and Scope of the Paper

Similar to the above, but remember, dross gets published in high-impact journals too. Hopefully, you’ve read the paper you want to present. But ask yourself what makes this particular paper stand out from the millions of others to be worth presenting.

Keep It Relevant and Keep It Interesting

When choosing a paper to present, keep your audience in mind. Choose something that is relevant to the particular group you are presenting to. If only you and a few other people understand the topic, it can come off as elitist.

How Do You Break Down and Present the Paper?

Know and provide the background material.

Before you dive into the data, spend a few minutes talking about the context of the paper. What did the authors know before they started this work? How did they formulate their hypothesis? Why did they choose to address it in this way?

You may want to reference an earlier paper from the same group if the paper represents a continuation of it, but keep it brief.

Try to explain how this paper tackles an unanswered question in the field.

Understand the Hypothesis and Methods of the Paper

Make a point of stating the  hypothesis  or  main question  of the paper, so everyone understands the goal of the study and has a foundation for the presentation and discussion.

Everyone needs to start on the same foot and remain on the same page as the meeting progresses.

Turn the Paper into a Progression of Scientific Questions

Present the data as a logical series of questions and answers. A well-written paper will already have done the hard work for you. It will be organized carefully so that each figure answers a specific question, and each new question builds on the answer from the previous figure.

If you’re having trouble grasping the flow of the paper, try writing up a brief outline of the main points. Try putting the experiments and conclusions in your own words, too.

Feel free to leave out parts of the figures that you think are unnecessary, or pull extra data from the supplemental figures if it will help you explain the paper better.

Ask Yourself Questions about the Paper Before You Present

We’ve touched on this already. This is to prepare you for any questions that are likely to be asked of you. When you read the paper, what bits didn’t you understand?

Simplify Unfamiliar and Difficult Concepts

Not everyone will be familiar with the same concepts. For example, most biologists will not have a rigorous definition of entropy committed to memory or know its units. The concept of entropy might crop up in a biophysics paper, however.

Put yourself in the audience’s shoes and anticipate what they might not fully understand given their respective backgrounds.

If you are unsure, ask them if they need a definition or include a short definition in your slides.

Sum Up Important Conclusions

After you’ve finished explaining the nitty-gritty details of the paper, conclude your presentation of the data with a list of significant findings.

Every conclusion will tie in directly to proving the major conclusion of the paper. It should be clear at this point how the data answers the main question.

How Do You Present a Journal Club Powerpoint?

Okay, so we’ve just gone through the steps required to break down a paper to present it effectively at journal club. But this needs to be paired with a PowerPoint presentation, and the two bridged orally by your talk. How do you ace this?

Provide Broad Context to the Research

We are all bogged down by minutia and reagents out of necessity.

Being bogged down is research. But it helps to come up for air. Ultimately, how will the research you are about to discuss benefit the Earth and its inhabitants when said research is translated into actual products?

Science can be for its own sake, but funded science rarely is. Reminding the journal club audience of the widest aims of the nominated field provides a clear starting point for the discussion and shows that you understand the efficacy of the research at its most basic level.

The Golden Rule: A Slide per Minute

Remember during lectures when the lecturer would open PowerPoint, and you would see, with dismay, that their slides went up to 90 or something daft? Then the last 20 get rushed through, but that’s what the exam question ends up being based on.

Don’t be that person!

A 10-15 minute talk should be accompanied by? 10-15 slides! Less is more.

Be Judicious about the Information You Choose to Present

If you are present everything in the paper, people might as well just read it in their own time, and we can call journal club off.

Try to abstract only the key findings. Sometimes technical data is necessary for what you are speaking about because their value affects the efficacy of the data and validity of the conclusions.

Most of the time, however, the exact experimental conditions can be left out and given on request. It’s good practice to put all the technical data that you anticipate being asked for in a few slides at the end of your talk.

Use your judgment.

Keep the Amount of Information per Slide Low for Clarity

Your audience is already listening to you and looking at the slides, so they have a limited capacity for what they can absorb. Overwhelming them with visual queues and talking to them will disengage them.

Have only a few clearly related images that apply directly to what you speaking about at the time. Annotate them with the only key facts from your talk and develop the bigger picture verbally.

This will be hard at first because you must be on the ball and confident with your subject area and speaking to an audience.

And definitely use circles, boxes, and arrows to highlight important parts of figures, and add a flowchart or diagram to explain an unfamiliar method.

Keep It Short Overall

The exact length of your meeting is up to you or the organizer. A 15-minute talk followed by a 30-minute discussion is about the right length, Add in tea and coffee and hellos, and you get to an hour.

We tend to speak at 125-150 words per minute. All these words should not be on your slides, however. So, commit a rough script to memory and rehearse it.

You’ll find that the main points you need to mention start to stand out and fall into place naturally. Plus, your slides will serve as visual queue cards.

How Do You Ask a Question in Journal Club?

A well-organized journal club will have clear expectations of whether or not questions should be asked only during the discussion, or whether interruptions during the presentation are allowed.

And I don’t mean literally how do you soliloquize, but rather how do you get an effective discussion going.

Presenters: Ask Questions to the Audience

We all know how it goes. “Any questions?” Silence.

Scientists, by their very nature, are usually introverted. Any ideas they might want to contribute to a discussion are typically outweighed by the fear of looking silly in front of their peers. Or they think everyone already knows the item they wish to contribute. Or don’t want to be publicly disproven. And so on.

Prepare some questions to ask the audience in advance. As soon as a few people speak, everyone tends to loosen up. Take advantage of this.

Audience: Think About Topics to Praise or Critique

Aside from seeking clarification on any unclear topics, you could ask questions on:

How to Keep It Fun

Make it interactive.

Quizzes and polls are a great way to do this! And QR codes make it really easy to do on-the-fly. Remember, scientists, are shy. So why not seek their participation in an anonymized form?

You could poll your audience on the quality of the work. You could make a fun quiz based on the material you’ve covered. You could do a live “what happened next?” You could even get your feedback this way. Here’s what to do:

Use Multimedia

Talking to your audience without anything to break it up is a guaranteed way of sending them all to sleep.

Consider embedding demonstration videos and animations in your talk. Or even just pausing to interject with your own anecdotes will keep everyone concentrated on you.

Keep It Informal

At the end of the day, we’re all scientists. Perhaps at different stages of our careers, but we’ve all had similar-ish trajectories. So there’s no need for haughtiness.

And research institutes are usually aggressively casual in terms of dress code, coffee breaks, and impromptu chats. Asking everyone to don a suit won’t add any value to a journal club.

Your Journal Club Toolkit in Summary

Anyone can read a paper, but the value lies in understanding it and applying it to your own research and thought process.

Remember, journal club is about extracting wisdom from your colleagues in the form of a discussion while disseminating wisdom to them in a digestible format.

Need some inspiration for your journal club? Check out the online repositories hosted by PNAS and NASPAG to get your juices flowing.

We’ve covered a lot of information, from parsing papers to organizational logistics, and effective presentation. So why not bookmark this page so you can come back to it all when it’s your turn to present?

And if you present at journal club and realize we’ve left something obvious out. Get in touch and let us know. We’ll add it to the article!

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