Initial idea- reading lessons for scientists
A couple of years ago, I started a Science Journal Club for students. The idea is that students read a recent scientific paper in advance of the meeting, and we get together to discuss it. I wanted to help students find out about “real” research, and to teach them how to read scientific papers.
Ben Rogers highlighted in this post how important it is to be able to read scientific literature, but he also showed how few scientists were taught to do this at school (or even at university).
Access to papers (and researchers)
Our school is in Norwich, which is a university town, so where possible we have read papers by local researchers. This means we have been able to get hold of the papers (by emailing the authors directly), and often one of the authors themselves will come in and talk to students.
This is the first paper we read. It was widely reported in the media, so we were able to compare how different the news reports were to the original research paper. Johannes Laube (the first author on the paper) came in and talked to us about the science behind his research, explained how scientific papers are put together, and told us what it was like to be interviewed for Today on Radio 4.
STEM careers are varied, and can take a range of paths
One of the aspects of Journal Club that I hadn’t originally anticipated was that, at times, it acts as a bit of a STEM careers session. It really drives home the point that STEM careers are really varied and, generally, if you have a good grounding in science, the world is your oyster!
For example, Dan Brewer came to visit us. He studied Physics at Imperial College, but now works in Bioinfomatics for the Cancer Research Institute at UEA Medical School
And Nicola Gist (aka… me!) studied for a degree in Chemistry and did a Phd in Atmospheric Chemistry, but then went on to work as a Marine Biogeochemist for 3 years.
One of my proudest moments from Journal Club was earlier this month, when we had quite a few year 12s attending, who hadn’t come along last year. I asked one of the year 13s to explain to them how she reads scientific papers.
Her method and instructions were so clear (abstract, intro, conclusion… look up words I don’t understand…. look at the diagrams… try and work out how they relate to the paper), it was evident that she’d really gained a great deal from a year or so of reading “real” research papers.
Not just papers
Last year, one of my colleagues heard The Life Scientific on radio 4 with Nick Lane. He lead one of the sessions, and took pupils through the ideas laid out in his books.
Well worth doing
I aim to put Journal club on about once a month, although it’s sometimes less frequent when other things get in the way. It’s been a really nice outlet for those students who are curious and just want to find out more. And it’s been a very pleasant way to spend my lunch hours. I’d really suggest that it’s worth giving something like this a try.