Monday, September 20, 2010
It can be said that my graduate program had, perhaps, the world’s worst journal club. Basically, it came down to Wednesday’s at noon one of us would get up and give a presentation on a paper that was super-specific to our discipline, there would be very few questions, and those would come from ass-kissing faculty, we’d eat some crappy pizza and then go back to lab.
At the start of every semester, there would be a general meeting, and we’d all bitch about how there wasn’t any talking. In fact, Jackass and I were notorious for taking our laptops to journal club (so that we could see the color pictures) and google chat. (I was once told by the head ass-kisser that we couldn’t do this anymore, and I told him that I thought it was wrong for me to come to Journal Club topless. He didn’t question me any more.) We’d try assigned topics, faculty mentors, no PowerPoint, all sorts of things, but what it really boiled down to was that people weren’t going to do anything that required talking, and people were going to pick articles that were close to their research.
This similarity to research was mostly upper level students, so in 16 weeks of JC, as we called it, we’d have 14 papers on HIV, 1 on Dendritic Cells, and 1 on Herpes. You’d think that all the HIV people would be able to muster a conversation. So one week, I thought that I was going to inspire discussion, and I chose a paper on how Adenovirus 36 makes people fat. After all, this had implication for Public Health and Virology.
This wasn’t a very good paper. It was poorly written, had only 4 or 5 figures, and it’s conclusions were very broad. I admit this. I wasn’t picking this paper because it was the pinnacle of all science; I chose it so that we could inspire discussion. I didn’t care if all people just bashing the paper, I just wanted to not get the blank stares.
The entire department was a little dumbfounded as to why I chose this paper. Even after I had explained that I picked it to inspire discussion, they were still confused. It was a failure. In fact, after the little discussion that it did inspire, all that could be said to me was “interesting” by the chairperson.
They’ve tried other things to inspire discussion. One was only papers from the top 3 journals in the field, there were a few others that evade me now.
The thing is, every time they reference the worst paper ever presented; it’s that Ad36 paper. I guess we get punished for trying to make things better.
An aside: The only time that JC was entertaining, was when the chair would let go with some sort of non-sequitur. One of these, and perhaps my favorite, was when someone was presenting a paper on genetic sharing between bacteria. The chair, during a moment of silence, says “Sex Bubbles”. We all stare at him. He continues, “Sex Bubbles, you know, sex bubbles.” Jackass and I are losing it over google chat at this point, we are eluding to foam parties. The chair keeps saying it over and over again, because in absence of any explanation, we are all suddenly going to get what he means if he just repeats it. Finally, someone figures out what he means, and explains it to the rest of us. It was one of those times where you look at the person that’s leading you, and think, “I’m nuts for being here.”
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