Is your inbox getting regular email requests to peer review a paper in your field? Has it increased since the pandemic? It certainly has for me, and I’m sure for many. Peer reviewing manuscripts is a key part of our work, and I’m always mindful that if I don’t accept a request that’s within my area, then the authors may wait around for longer to get their decision. So, I’m hoping there is a bit of Karma that if I review papers, hopefully other researchers commit some of their precious time too and make sure the whole machinery of peer review keeps on running.
But what about peer reviewing a paper when it’s already published? Also known as the good old Journal Club. I attended my first Journal Club during my PhD at Manchester, but as my very applied neuropsychology PhD was unfortunately situated in a neuroscience department, the Journal Club was hard to follow and had no relation to my PhD.
So a couple of years ago I rallied the Liverpool Dementia troops and set up our own Journal Club. And at least for me, it’s been only positive, for many reasons. Whilst I read more than a paper a month of course, it is good to have that allocated time for reading and knowing that you will discuss a paper with your peers afterwards. What’s more, we don’t only discuss the paper – say about trust and mistrust during the COVID-19 pandemic in people with dementia and carers from minority ethnic backgrounds. We also discuss the wider topic. So depending on each paper, we may discuss the different barriers people from minority ethnic groups may face in accessing dementia care. Or we chat about the social care workforce, or what a diagnosis of dementia brings with it. All different topics surrounding care.
Looking at our Journal Club, we are a bunch of academics, including @alysgriffiths_  and @DrWizWaz , postgrad students and interns including @Jmswats  and @FrancesChaisty , as well as a regular presence of the Alzheimer’s Society. How is the Journal Club run? Each month, we have a different presenter who is giving a 10-15 minute talk and summary of the paper. It’s a nice way to hear more about the paper, and allows anyone who has not been able to read it to catch up with it (Of course, we are all always supposed to have read the paper….).
The (virtual) floor is then open for discussion. What did people think about the paper? Is it relevant and timely? What did we think about the methods – are they suitable, is the sample size adequate, is the analysis rigorous? Do the authors consider the limitations of their work? What about the big ‘So what?’ question? Is that considered? Do we agree with their interpretation of the findings as they are presented? Or do the authors underestimate/ overestimate their findings?
In the discussion that follows, we pick up on these questions and pose more, and try and learn from good papers, but also from those where maybe some things could have been a bit clearer. The nice thing is that the Journal Club is an environment now where we all feel comfortable to sometimes be Reviewer 2 (where relevant!), but also discuss the positives of a paper and really engage with a paper. So, it’s not only a great learning environment about what’s good and possibly bad about a study, but also enables us all to keep up-to-date with research and discuss areas that we may otherwise not read about perhaps.
If you are thinking about setting up a Journal Club, make sure you’ve got enough interested people on board. If it’s only a handful, it might be a lot of work for everyone having to present regularly. And I suppose a final thought, Journal Club is all about taking the stress away from research and making it a sociable, engaging, and dare I say somewhat fun environment. Well, that’s at least what I think about our Liverpool Dementia one, and it’s always a nice breather in between lots of meetings!
If you’re attending your first journal club… here are 5 top tips we borrowed from a blog by Lucy Bauer  – 1. Know the background material 2. Make your presentation concise 3. Simplify unfamiliar concepts 4. Ask yourself questions about the paper before you present 5. Ask specific questions to the members of the journal club. Read the full blog on the NIH Website. 
Dr Clarissa Giebel  is a Research Fellow at the University of Liverpool and NIHR ARC North West Coast. Clarissa has been working in dementia care research for over 10 years focusing her research on helping people with dementia to live at home independently and well for longer, addressing inequalities that people with dementia and carers can face. Outside of her day work, Clarissa has also organised a local dementia network – the Liverpool Dementia & Ageing Research Forum, and has recently started her own podcast called the Ageing Scientist .