Evolutionary Biology Online Journal Club

Thoughts for improving our meetings


Now that we have had our first meeting I thought it would be good to start a post about what we thought worked well and what could be improved. Here are my thoughts:

Google + Hangouts:

If you are new to Google Hangouts here is a short intro video.

If you are having trouble joining the Hangout read this.

Hangout Pros:

  • Video chat worked well
  • Recorded session creates a great record of our discussion
  • “Lower Third” app is a great way to add your name and institution to your video window

Hangout Cons:

  • Limited to 10 people
  • There seemed to be some issues with the queuing system
  • Sound quality affected for whole discussion if headphones are not used or microphone is too loud

How can we improve?

1. Headsets:

For those who do not own a headset, look into getting one. Try to find one that has noise-cancelling microphone. There are good headset options that are inexpensive. I picked up a Microsoft LifeChat LX-3000 headset for $15 at Walmart on Monday and I found that it worked quite well. Lots of other options are available including wireless headsets.

2. Lower Third:

Install the Google Hangout “Lower Third” app. This lets people know who you are and where you are from. Also, this provides a great professional-looking nameplate on the video when that can be seen when the recorded chat is posted online.

3. Invite the paper’s Authors!

Let’s consider inviting one or more of the authors of the paper we plan to discuss. Corresponding authors invariably provide a contact e-mail on the first page of their article, and most have their own webpage anyway. I think there is a lot of value-added here. With an author present we can ask for clarification on points that we don’t fully understand, and we can get broader insights about the paper’s significance from an expert in the field! I think we could all benefit from some clarity about the topic and the analyses used. There is also great networking opportunities to be had here, not to mention the added promo for our group! If they don’t have Google + then we could always invite them to our Hangout via telephone.

4. Google Chat:

Don’t forget to open the chat window on the left during the Hangout! People might be making some interesting points about the paper in the chat window, don’t miss out!

What did you think? How did it go? How else might we improve our discussions?


Author: hossiet

PhD student at Carleton University. I study predator-prey interactions. My current project examines the ecology and evolution of caterpillar eyespots.

20 thoughts on “Thoughts for improving our meetings

  1. After the meeting on Wednesday, I was thinking if there is anything keeping us from running parallel streams when we reach the 10 people limit in the Hangouts. I know that this is not ideal, but until we find a feasible solution to accomodate more people, perhaps, this is an alternative. So once the EBJ hangout is maxed out, the next person in the cue could start a second hangout. I reckon that with the amount of people and a little bit of stochasticity, the parallel streams will be composed of different people during each week’s meetings.

    If, for example on the next meeting we have two streams, at the end of the meeting, each group could upload a summary of their discussion (or we could just have a look at each others videos).

    Just a thought!

    • There is something very important I forgot to tell you, don’t cross the streams…it would be bad. Could lead to total protonic reversal!

      Really though, parallel streams! What a great idea. I agree that we should record and post all the sessions. I think there is a lot of value to doing a short write-up to summarize the main points discussed in each session.

      • at first I thought you meant starting a parallel hangout, and people in the first stream would open their stream and we’d try to integrate both streams in a single discussion. That could be a problem because the video streaming has a ~10sec delay… But if you’re talking two independent discussions that could work!

      • @Rafael: I was talking about two independent discussions, running at the same time. I just don’t know how this could be set up. I guess that one of the people waiting to join the first discussion would have to take lead and open a new hangout. They could name it EBJClub-room2 or something and then invite other participants. I think this is something that we could try out if there are enough people during the next meeting.

  2. Thanks for the post Tom, those are some good ideas. I’m not sure how I feel about inviting the authors, though… It would certainly add value to the discussion, and the networking aspect of it is nice. But I also fear it may become an “interview”, with people focusing on clearing their questions with the authors instead of actually discussing it. Also, people might shy out of their negative comments, which in a journal club can raise a lot of interesting discussion… so I have mixed feelings! Thoughts?

    • I agree. I had mixed feelings too at first, but the benefits seemed greater to me. It doesn’t have to be every session either (assuming we could even get an author every time anyway ha!). I think it is worth a shot at least, but you’re right we should try actively to keep it a “discussion” rather than disintegrating into an “interview”.

  3. Good points Tom. With regard to the queuing “problem” I don’t think there was one. I went back and checked, and it was actually counting the total number of people who had joined (the 10 at a time plus David who dropped out early), not that there were 11 at any one moment. Why Rafael couldn’t get back in, I donno, but I suspect it was because he as the original host had dropped. Hopefully it won’t be a problem to get people in and out in the future.

    I also agree with Rafael about not necessarily inviting authors to join (if they find it and join on their own, that’s great). I really don’t think people will voice their concerns the same way if they know that the author (who may or may not be a big wig) is sitting right there. I can certainly see the perks of having an author there to explain their work, but I think the con is larger than the pro in this case. But, you never know, I may be completely wrong about this (I dare you to point out the errors in my thinking :P).

    • Maybe you’re right that people might be wary of voicing concerns, but I would hope that we could have reasonable discourse with an author, even if we are criticizing them. Journal clubs occasionally disintegrate into article trashing sessions, instead of being a constructive discussion of the pros/cons of the paper. Perhaps not every week, but inviting an author once in a while would be refreshing IMO.

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