Journal Club Prepares WWU Students for Graduate Study in STEM Careers

May 23, 2017 | Elisabeth Brassington

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs are some of the most popular areas of study at Walla Walla University (WWU). Many students use these programs to form a strong foundation in STEM fields before moving on to medical school, dental school or other postgraduate programs. One way WWU prepares these students for future study in science-related careers is through Journal Club, a course in which students read a science research paper each week and then meet to discuss the paper in an informal format.

“It has become increasingly important for students to become comfortable reading primary scientific literature, and not just superficially,” says David Lindsey, professor of biology and one of the founders of the course. “They need to understand why and how the methods were used, how to interpret the data and how the authors used that data to support their conclusions. They need to understand how the literature is organized so they can use it effectively and develop the capacity to critically analyze and evaluate that literature.”

Each 90-minute Journal Club meeting focuses on one research paper students have read prior to the class meeting. This preparation allows the students to look up the experiments mentioned in the paper and confer with each other to better understand the concepts addressed before they discuss the paper in class. At the meeting, professors review the paper with the students and facilitate discussions about the findings reported in the study.

“For me, Journal Club represents the very best this university has to offer,” says Alex Hartzell, senior biology major. “You learn invaluable skills essential for being a modern scientist. The small class size allows you to learn directly from an expert in a given field. The personal, discussion-based platform allows you to become better acquainted with peers and professors alike. This is college at its best.”

Lindsey was inspired, in part, to implement Journal Club by feedback from those who teach in medical and dental schools, by medical residents and by attending physicians and also because of changes made to the Medical College Admission Test. Journal Club is a common name used by graduate schools for a group that meets to discuss science journal articles. The group may be formed from members of a lab, individuals from multiple labs that meet informally or a group that meets as a formal class for credit.

“A major component of the first graduate-level course is student-led discussions on peer-reviewed articles,” says Jenna Thomas, a WWU alumnus who is now enrolled in graduate school. “This makes Journal Club probably one of the most useful classes I ever took at WWU.”