Checklist for slide review

Whether you are getting ready to review somebody’s presentation, or you are presenting your slides to a supervisor or a friend for feedback, here is a handy check-list of questions you should be able to answer.

First, some organizational questions:

  • When is the presentation?
  • How much time you will be given? (total talk time, Q&A time)
  • Will it be in front of live audience, broadcasted, or both?
  • What is the aspect ratio of projector you will be using?
  • Who is the audience, how close are they to you professionally? (Think general public vs collaborator)
  • Will you presentation be interrupted with questions or you have solid block of time?

Now more about the content:

  • What is the main product you presenting?
  • What is the problem you are trying to solve with your work?
  • Why is this problem important?
  • What existing solutions did you consider?
  • What are the key benefits and shortcomings of those solutions?
  • Which particular gap your solution fills?
  • What are the limitations of your solution?

Considerations about the style and information density:

  • Does every title sound like a message? Bad example: “Comparing medications A and B for blood pressure“, good example: “Medication B is not different from A for blood pressure
  • Do labels occupy as much space as possible?
  • How many slides have more than two plots? Is it really necessary?
  • Have you considered that each pixel costs you money? Can you reduce number of blank pixels?
  • Do you have a “graphical abstract” at the end of the slides that summarizes findings and showcases few results while using minimal text?

Run Journal Club as a project meeting

A lot has been written about Journal Club meetings in academia and medicine. It mostly boils down to something like “10 ways to kick-ass at journal club presentation” or similar. There is not much discussion on how to make Journal Club an effective tool.

This stems from the fact that nobody treats Journal Club meetings as business meetings. Journal Club becomes a “discussion” in a terrible sense: there are no quantifiable goals, no concrete questions to be answered, no tangible results that can be recorded. Perhaps one exception is clinical journal clubs where the concrete question is whether given research paper helps us to treat patients better.

In academic circles goal of the Journal Club is often “to keep up with the recent research” or “sharpen debate skills and critical thinking”. This is nebulous, unmeasurable, ultimately, unachievable in any progressive fashion. The goal of this article is to offer tools that would make JournalClub meetings more productive by specifying set of goals.

First, person in charge of the Journal Club (the main stakeholder in the group) should state clearly goals of the meeting. For example, PI can say:

I want us to read papers and learn what experiments we can do better than others using our awesome technology

Or perhaps, we want to learn new statistical methods; or new optical techniques; or new model organisms. Or we want to borrow experimental approach; or compare our approach to another group’s one. That doesn’t matter, what matters is trying to be precise in the language.

That naturally allows for deliverable at the end of the meeting. For example:

  • List of statistical methods, that were used properly, and should be learned
  • A comparison of published experiment with potential experiment achievable with technique available in your lab
  • A published experiment that we should do with another transgenic line or animal model
  • An engineering trick that can be borrowed or improved
  • List of mistakes authors made, including wrong methods or strong assumptions
  • Critique of the figures for clarity and information density; how figures can be improved

When the goal is set precisely, the meeting turns into a work meeting to achieve a goal, and not a discussion. Participants now have a sense of purpose, common goal, and at the same time responsibility. Members of the team know when the meeting is “done”, that is when the goal is reached.

Journal Clubs are often seem to be a terrible way to spend time, and we would argue that is because the goal-setting is too abstract or even never provided. The public and loud statement of the goal from the senior managers would provide concrete reason for everyone to be in the room and simple checklist-style way to know that meeting is a success.