Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session

What is Journal Club?

Journal Club meets once each week during the semester. At the first club meeting, groups of students will select a set of topics (typically 3-4) relevant to our professional interests in bioastronautics, human space exploration, aerospace physiology, human factors engineering, and space policy. Student teams will then propose 2-3 suitable journal articles in each topic for the group to read, one per week.

This year, students selected four topic areas:

  • Operator Performance and Fatigue
  • Extravehicular Activity (EVA) and Active Materials
  • Human Automation Interaction
  • Vision and Intracranial Pressure (ICP) Changes in Long Duration Spaceflight

Prior to each weekly meeting, everyone critically reads the same article. A pre-designated "presenter" and a "discussant" lead a group discussion of the main points, and conclude with a summary of the paper's strengths, weaknesses, and potential importance to our field. Everyone is expected to participate in the discussion, and attendance is taken.

Participation in Journal Club provides important background that will help you write your thesis. In most cases, the thesis you write will resemble a journal article or detailed technical report. Over a period of several semesters, Journal Club provides students with experience critically and efficiently reading journal articles, the habit of doing so regularly, confidence that you can read in areas beyond your immediate area of expertise, practice in oral presentation and scientific discussion, and some understanding of generic issues, such as scientific experiment design and written exposition of results. Meeting weekly, we all get to know one another better, and develop a sense of who "we" are professionally.

The papers chosen should be research papers or review articles that each can reasonably be read in less than an hour, and which contain sufficient testable hypotheses and data to be worthy of a detailed discussion. We generally avoid papers over 20 pages. Even an 8 page article can be too long if it is "dense". Occasionally, it makes sense to distribute supplemental background reading to be skimmed, but this reading is optional.

We never choose papers authored by any of the Club participants — this way discussion does not have to be polite! The selection teams shouldn't select a paper just by its title, authors, abstract, or journal reputation. It is essential that at least one member of the paper selection team have actually read the paper, and can vouch for its quality, appropriateness, and readable length. If in doubt, ask another member of the selection team to read it as well. In the past we've sometimes found that though the abstract seemed appealing, to everyone's sorrow — and the embarrassment of the selection team — the group concludes that the paper is actually scientifically or technically weak.

Presenters and discussants for each paper are designated by the topic selection team. Everyone who is registered for credit is expected to present one paper and discuss a second one. This may require coordination between selection teams.

What is Expected?

All Man Vehicle Laboratory (MVL) graduate students (RAs, fellows, etc), Bioastronautics Medical Engineering and Medical Physics (MEMP) students, MVL postdocs, core faculty and research staff are expected to participate regularly, unless you have an unavoidable academic conflict. Everyone is welcome, but it is essential they have done the reading in advance. Don't invite a guest unless they are prepared to do the reading.

Graduate students may register for 2 units of academic credit under 16.459, up to a maximum of four terms, and receive a letter grade. Attendance, engagement in the discussions, and performance as Presenter and Discussant are all factors in determining the grade. Those registered for credit are permitted up to two absences per term in order to qualify for an A grade.

Experience teaches that it is often best NOT to read a journal article in serial fashion from beginning to end. Try reading the abstract, introduction, and then jump ahead to the conclusions, so you have a sense of both the setting and thrust of the work. Then look over the methods, figures, results, and discussion, in that order, trying to sort the main points from the detail. Are the conclusions definitive or speculative? Suppose you had been given this article in manuscript form for a critical review. What good things and bad things would you have to say about it?

Some people are naturally more conversational and confident about participating actively, but if you're silent the whole hour, everyone will assume that you haven't done the reading. But the converse isn't necessarily the case: If you haven't read the paper, verbosity usually won't camouflage it when the discussion gets deep. The faculty keep notes on who participates in the discussion, and for those registered for credit, consistent participation in discussion is a prerequisite for an A grade.