Evolutionary Biology Online Journal Club

EvoBio Journal Club: First season in review, and what to expect from next season


Hi Everyone!

So I figured now would be a good time to sit back and review how this Fall 2012 season of the #EBJClub went, and ponder about how we should do things in 2013. So here are some cool numbers:

  • The EBJClub page had a total of 29 posts which brought 3,529 views and 112 comments. Not bad – and I still think we could have gotten even more, but unfortunately our most heated discussion, which prompted a post to keep it going, only came by the end of the semester, when everyone was swamped!
  • We met a total of five times, with the videos available for future reference. The youtube videos have attracted 223 views.
  • An average of eight people joined in for each discussion. As expected, numbers started high in the first couple meetings and steadily declined, but we were still strong and steady with six participants on the last couple meetings, which were great discussions!
  • This is the statistics I am most proud of and happy about: Participants included undergraduates, masters students, PhD students, and postdocs from four different countries and about 10 different states – and that’s not counting the text-only participants!

Therefore, I think it was a very successful experiment! I learned a lot and enjoyed as much, and hope you guys share the enthusiasm. I loved it and hope we can keep it going for the next semester!

But wait – the best is yet to come!

We have some special ideas for the “next season” of the EBJClub which, if pan out, will make it an even more interesting experience overall! So now is the time to start thinking about putting things together and planning how we think it will work best. As I said above, I think it was a very successful experiment, but an experiment nonetheless. Some things worked great, others not so well. So now is the time I’d like to hear from you! What did you think? How can we make it even better? Are you in for next semester? Here are a couple things I have in mind:

  • I think it will work better if we change the way we choose papers. The voting-every-week-from-a-couple-suggestions was nice, but I think we may have missed on some cool papers to discuss (for example those that came out after we made our list) and passed on some nice readings from our own list. Also, it was a lot of work to manage on my own. So we can either change the system, or take some volunteers to help out on the organization.
  • One suggestion was to have one person responsible for choosing each week’s reading. I think it’s a nice suggestion, but I fear it might make people uncomfortable to join in mid-season. Also, it would require a certain “commitment” from a core group of people to participate throughout the entire season.
  • Another suggestion was to choose a specific topic/book to read over the semester. This works really well for ournal clubs, and personally I quite like the consistent-readings format. But we are a very diverse group – one of our strong points, IMHO -, and it will be hard to find something everyone is interested in for a whole-semester commitment.
  • Should we maintain an every-other-week meeting schedule? Meet more often? Meet less often?

So, hope everyone’s as excited as I am! Who’s in for Evolutionary Biology Journal Club Season 2? What are your suggestions on how to make it even better?


Author: Rafael Maia

Postdoctoral fellow at the University of Idaho, studying the development and evolution of iridescent colors in birds.

24 thoughts on “EvoBio Journal Club: First season in review, and what to expect from next season

  1. Thanks for putting this up Rafael,

    Here’s my 2c:

    I really like the idea of exploring on Big Idea in evolutionary biology, as you say the hard part is deciding the idea, but from there it would probably be easy to find papers that attack that idea from different angles and allow different people’s prespectives to help us all.

    I also like the idea of each week assigning someone to decide on a paper, and having that person take some responsibility to lead the discussion. That prevents the “well, we all thought it would be a good idea, but none os us really had time to read it so…. what’s it about again?” intro that occurs in lots of JCs.

    Will be interested to hear other people’s opinions.

  2. Hi, Here’s my 2c as a person who just saw this post and thinks that this is a spectacular idea:

    I am currently taking Introduction to Genetics and Evolution through Coursera, so perhaps a discussion on the impacts of online education could be interesting if taken from a researched point of view.

    From listening to This week in Virology (or perhaps it was something other than TwiV, like TwiM or TwiP), it sounds like finding some sort of incentive, like giving a grade, is good for making the club more active. Perhaps we can make some sort of embarrassment incentive e.g. posting something embarrassing to our facebook. Would like to hear more opinions about incentives. Also, having some discussions on a paper with informative figures could be interesting, each person could pick a figure then explain it to the rest of us.

  3. Thanks for getting things going, Rafael! I think last semester was a really great start to the club and I’m really looking forward to the next round!

    My opinions:

    I too like the idea of having a theme for the semester, where we can focus on a broad topic. What if we came up with a list of a few topics in a post on the blog, then have one last vote to choose a topic? Then each of us would be responsible for finding one paper, we compile a list, and then we choose a paper at random for each meeting. We can do the whole selection in advance, so we know what we are reading for the whole semester. Then, if your paper is picked, you should be prepared to lead the discussion, but in a pretty informal way.

    I appreciate your comments Sarva, but I have to say I pretty strongly disagree with any sort of system that would embarrass people. One of the best things about this club is that even though most of us don’t know each other, we are able to share opinions and expose our weaknesses in our knowledge, and post it all online for anyone to see. I think that is brave enough for us all to do, and I would be pretty hesitant to participate in a group that gave some sort of grade or tried to embarrass the participants.

    Looking forward to seeing what others think!

  4. You can definitely count me in for “season 2” of the journal club.

    In terms of picking papers, I’m not sure what the best method is for a group that changes composition. In past groups I’ve been involved with, participants usually volunteer 1-2 weeks ahead and send out the paper with about 5 days lead time. Personally, this is important. You want some time to digest a paper. Additionally, volunteering from within the current participants means that you’ve been an active member of at least one discussion. This type of paper selection can lead to the following week’s paper building off the current discussion (a chain of discussions). When the topic is resolved, a new one can emerge based on the the interest of the group.

    Reading an edited volume is a great way to discuss a diversity of ideas. I just finished doing that a my local institution with “the Adaptive Landscape in Evolutionary Biology”. One book that has been on my shelf for a few years that I always thought could help a discussion group would be “Big Questions in Ecology and Evolution” by Sherratt and Wilkinson.


    Finding the right book is a bit hard though. It also potentially requires some non-trivial monetary investment.

    I like the every other week format.

  5. Chandra’s points are absolutely spot-on. I say we do exactly that.

    A broad theme (emphasis on “broad”) should be the best way to go. For example, I’m think speciation is a good theme–speak up if you think this is too broad/narrow.

  6. Of course I didn’t refresh my browser for too long and didn’t see Devin’s post, which is also a great idea. I do think we should end every meeting by deciding on (or at least reminding everyone of) the next discussion–who is leading it, what the paper is/might be, what direction everyone is interested in going in.

    I think every other week is a good format to stick with as well.

    • PLUS, the reminder at the end of the video recording would do well to pique the interest of subsequent viewers–viewer watches video 1, hears about the topic to be discussed in video 2, thinks, “Hey, that sounds interesting!”, and watches video 2.

  7. MEETING TIMES: As for this, I don’t think there’s a perfect (or even great) solution. We are all busy, stressed-out academics with crazy schedules, and we all live in different time zones (I would say I liked the 5pm EST time but of course I’m biased because I live in that time zone!). No matter what times we settle on, some of us will always be left on the sidelines (e.g. Steven Hamblin, perhaps the primo brain-child of #EBJClub, could only participate in one session last year!).

    The idea of alternating meetings between two times sounds appealing, but I’m worried it might cause confusion (“Hey, I thought we were meeting 3pm today?!” “No, we met yesterday at 5pm. Sorry you missed it.”). That said, I think it would be well-worth the risk of confusion to give more people a chance to join in, but we at least need to make sure a solid core of a few of us are able to make both times.

  8. So… other comments out there? I liked 5pm EST too, but probably so did everyone who was able to actually make the hangouts before Christmas. Yes to every other week. Could we get it together to start the week after next? Or the week after? I would love a speciation theme, but Devin’s suggestion is a good one too…

  9. Thanks everyone for the really thoughtful comments. It seems a more targeted, topical approach sits well with everyone. Perhaps a speciation / evolutionary radiations topic might be of interest to all? If so I’ll go ahead and suggest Kevin de Queiroz’s “The general lineage concept of species, species criteria, and the process of speciation” as a first read. It’s quite long but will probably raise a bunch of questions and thoughts that can help guide the meetings from that point forward.

    I’ll leave this thread going until Monday to see if we get any other input; then I’ll check if the topic seems good and put up a calendar so we can check for the best time for everyone!

    • I have a great story to share about this paper, well, kind of funny at least. So I’m happy to talk about it 🙂

      • not a “this paper is crap” story, is it? I’d hate to see that happen to one of my paper suggestions again, haha

      • No! I really like it, it just got me in trouble once…

      • So… I didn’t actually share this story. Which is perhaps not “great” as “mildy amusing” but here goes…

        de Queiroz has published quite a few papers on the GLSC, expanding it or examining the ideas in different contexts. So, a couple of years ago when another one came I tweeted something like “I really like the GLSC, but how many times can de Queiroz pusblish the same idea?”

        Meant to be a joke of course, and a claim of scientific fraud. A guess a couple of pople thought it was funny, as it was retweeted a few times. I didn’t think anything more of it until the next day, when I got up, opened my email and found

        Sender Subject
        de Queiroz, Kevin Your tweet

        He was actually very nice, explained why he reiterates the key points and before each paper launches into new ground, was really offended by what I’d said. But, for a second I really thought I’d made myself a powerful enemy (and of someone whose work I really like!)

      • hahaha that’s fantastic! Never underestimate the spread of a tweet 🙂 But wait, did you say he did get offended?

        I have a “3 degrees of Kevin (Bacon)” connection with Kevin (de Queiroz), since he’s married to my girlfriend’s advisor (also, we share a last name :P). Met him a couple times and he seems like a really great guy, very approachable and nice. Not at all reluctant to speak his mind when discussing science, always with really sharp, interesting and thoughtful comments! Wonder if we could have got him to join us 🙂

    • Ha, sorry, he was _not_ offended but what I’d said 🙂

  10. Hello Everyone,

    I’m still very keen to participate. I though last term was really fun and interesting. The 5pm EST timeslot worked great for me too, but I’m open to changing it up. I agree that a standardized timeslot for the term works the best; its just easier for everyone to remember. The Twitter #EBJClub hashtag has been working great I think. I think it would be great to try and actively continue or discussions on this blog (like the ongoing “What is a Novelty” discussion). This could add a lot of worthwhile content, plus its has greater longevity than posting additional thoughts or related papers to Twitter.

    I really like the idea of reading a book and the “Big Questions in Ecology and Evolution” by Sherratt & Wilkinson would be a one to read (Full disclosure: Sherratt is my supervisor!). That book addresses a pretty wide range of ideas. The main downside to reading book chapters is that its harder for people to jump in and out of sessions (i.e., ppl can’t really just join halfway through or when they are available).

    I think selecting papers at the beginning of the term and then making a schedule from that list worked really well. Sure we might miss the occasional new paper that comes out after that list is made, but we can always save it for the next term! As far as matching up papers then voting, I think that worked well because closer to the date it gave those who are still participating more say in what we are actually going to read. I also agree that a rotating moderator should be designated for each week. So whoever chose the paper, or was assigned a chapter can be the authority and start the discussion.

  11. I like the book idea a lot, and the ‘Big Questions’ book sounds perfect, but I am leaning towards sticking to papers for this semester. I think a book would work really well, but we should decide at least a month in advance if we are going to do that, to give people the chance to order it, and make sure enough people are on board. I don’t think we want to wait much longer to get going, so, I suggest we stick to papers this term, and perhaps plan to do a book the next time around? I just think it is too short of notice. As I said previously, I’m keen for a speciation (/radiations) theme!
    Tom, I totally agree with you about keeping the conversations going. Good job on the novelty topic, I got sidetracked, but should have participated. But I’ll pledge to help out with keeping it going more this term!

    • Hmm… as everyone else probably already knew, that book is available online as PDF. So, this makes most of my last comment pretty irrelevant. I’d be up for reading this or a series of papers, either way!

  12. where can you find the PDF for the book? so I can link it in the next post

  13. hmm… didn’t even consider that. I guess I can’t delete the link now that I’ve posted it.

    Disclaimer: Posting of the above link does not imply any endorsement of using this link by either the author of the post or by EBJClub.

  14. Fine way of explaining, and good piece of writing to take data about my presentation subject, which i am going to present in academy.

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