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A #thread about promoting scientific literature in graduate students, while having fun, and generating results. I hope this is helpful for some, and feel free to Retweet. #WSUEntomology #sciencetwitter #scicomm #scichat #phdlife #phdchat #GradSchool #readingcommunity #science
Many faculty are often frustrated that students seem to have a poor understanding of the literature, or are surprised when students don’t know the “big names" in their field. However, one must realize it is easy to get “pigeon-holed” while you are focusing on your MS/PhD
Reading groups are one way to address this issue – meet weekly or bi-weekly and read literature in a given field. However, too often reading groups are dominated by faculty/postdocs with more experience and students are afraid to speak up for fear of ridicule or embarrassment.
At #WSUEntomology we have tried a unique approach the last two years. We created a weekly reading group, but with a set goal in mind. The goal: over the course of the year the group would read papers weekly, and submit either a review paper or meta-analysis by the end.
In the Fall, the group (around 10-15 students, postdocs, and yours truly) started to meet weekly for 1 hr. For 6 weeks we paired up students and asked each pair to provide two articles. They could cover any topic the students chose, as long as it hadn’t been discussed before.
In turn, over the first six weeks we read and discussed papers in many fields including behavior, ecology, evolution, physiology, disease ecology, and sustainable agriculture. Other groups would have other topics that are suited to their particular make-up.
At the end of six weeks, the group decided on a topic that we thought was ripe for a review paper or meta-analysis. In our group, we chose a topic on Sustainable Agriculture. Over the next two weeks we read papers on meta-analyses and outlined a paper we wanted to write.
For the remainder of the Fall semester, we read articles that we thought would be cited in the Intro or Discussion of our paper. During this time we created an annotated bibliography. All of the students contributed, and in many ways it was like a typical reading group.
As we transitioned into Spring, we developed a detailed work plan. We continued to meet weekly to read articles, but also worked a bit outside of the group to collect data for our meta-analysis. Having a group of 10-15 students made data collection easier than for a single person
Over the course of the spring, we continued to read papers every week, while at the same time writing our paper. This teaches students the essential nature of the scientific process: how can you build on the shoulders of giants and make your own novel contribution?
By the end of the first year, we submitted our first paper. This was in 2018, and it is now in revision at PNAS. The students also got to learn what rejection (with review) from Nature Sustainability and rejection (without review) from Nature Communications felt like :)
We repeated the process in 2018-2019 on a different topic, and that paper is in review in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. All told, in two years we have submitted two papers and the students have probably read 50+ articles, with most outside of the students' primary field.
Of course, such a group has challenges, including the need to herd cats, scheduling conflicts at times, and the need to maintain momentum, but with strong student leadership it can succeed and be widely effective. Some pros/cons of the process:
Pros: (i) increased scientific literacy and breadth, (ii) promotes collegiality, (iii) builds teamwork and communication skills, (iv) students publish a paper a year outside of their normal thesis/dissertation (think about 4-5 extra papers from your PhD or 2-3 from your MS)
Cons: (i) it takes time and effort, (ii) not all students/postdocs/faculty always pull their weight, and you need to deal with this, (iii) it requires diligence to make sure you don’t coalesce around a topic you already know, and challenge yourself to do something fun and novel
Overall, the pros outweigh the cons, and we think such goal-oriented reading groups have many benefits over a standard weekly journal club. We hope to continue this for many years, and would love to see this spread to other departments. We'd love to hear about similar efforts!
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