Journal Clubs, common in most leading academic groups, drive discussions and a deeper understanding of current research topics. Following this norm, FABI runs numerous Journal Clubs. Importantly these have continued to meet during the COVID-19 lockdown, albeit using virtual platforms. Some of these ‘gatherings’ have needed to address a challenges such as lack of access to quality internet connections by coming up with novel solutions. 

Dr Nicky Creux runs a journal club focused on plants and their environment in her Crop Floral Biology and Environments research group. Prior to the lockdown, they met weekly. Realising that not everyone has access to a quality internet connection, it was decided to shift to a written format.For this, the publications under discussion are distributed and a Google Doc is set up with questions regarding the different figures or results.  Different members of the journal club are then requested to respond to the questions. They consider what elements of the publication are particularly useful to each of the research projects and whether they thought the study was strong or weak and why this was so. Nicky reported that this approach was “great at helping the group stay engaged with the research and actively looking for new papers, even under lockdown!”

Dr Michelle Schröder’s Entomology Journal Club has met every two weeks. Membersof the group take turns to present a journal article, a popular news article and information about the authors of the journal article. The articles selected can be anything that the presenter wishes to share with the group as long as it concerns ab insects and has been published relatively recently. The entomology group is rather diverse including FABI students and postdocs working in various disciplines of science including chemical ecology, biological control, molecular biology and ecology. The journal club therefore encourages members to read  beyond their own projects  or  research interests. Michelle says that this is also a great way for new students to get to know the other entomology students at FABI.  She reports that since the lockdown started, they have had their journal club meetings online using Zoom. These meetings have continued as normal with the exception of only discussing the journal article. The popular news article and author information is now shared on e-mail and, where time permits, a few comments are shared regarding these. 

The Plant Pathogenic Bacteria research group under the leadership of Prof. Teresa Coutinho has continued to meet once a week after the regular FABI Thursday Morning Seminars (these are now also presented using Zoom). The 12 members of the Journal Club have met using Zoom and weekly discussions alternate between two themes:  plant bacteriology (specifically phytopathogenic fungi) and current trends in Science.

Professor Dave Berger’s Molecular Plant-Pathogen Interactions (MPPI) research group have also continued with their regular Journal Club held on Monday mornings. Fortunately everyone in the group has Zoom access, although some only join by audio, which could be, according to Dave, is “either due to bandwidth restrictions or that members are still in pyjamas!”  To prevent the sometimes boring Journal club style where a paper is dissected in great detail, they allocate two lab members to set up questions for discussion about the paper focused on the research questions, aims, innovations and main findings of the paper.  “Thanks to the suggestion by Dr Nicky Creux, we dissect just one Figure in detail. We also look for limitations or criticisms of the paper, and how the content can add value or new ideas to projects in the group,” explains Dave.

Professor Berger also adds that FABI is very grateful to the University of Pretoria Department of Library Services for providing online access to almost all the papers FABIans need, and to many authors today that publish their work with open access in the highest impact “expensive” journals.