Why journal clubs matter (Corina Modderman and Carol Reid)

Emma MacDonald (La Trobe Rural Health School, Bendigo), Sire Camara (La Trobe Arts program, Shepparton), Nicole McGill (Charles Stuart University), Carol Reid (Judith Lumley Centre, Bundoora), Suzanne Muntz (Shepparton Research Network / Librarian, Shepparton), Corina Modderman (La Trobe Rural Health school, Albury/Wodonga), and Dr Phuc Nguyen (Business School, Shepparton campus)

Rurality and developing reflexive interdisciplinary research skills can make for an incongruous situation!

Researchers need skills in critical thinking, debating, and learning through discussion across multidisciplinary contexts. Living rurally means this occurs through either virtual platforms or involves long travel distances. Rural PhD candidates often find themselves appraising, thinking, reflecting and writing in isolation; we talk to ourselves (A LOT).

Regional and rural campuses present opportunities to come together to address academic isolation, having a purpose to connect help make these opportunities real. Introducing a journal club at the La Trobe Shepparton campus offered exactly such a reflective, regional research space.

In June 2019, after we partnered in a successful Intellectual Climate Fund (ICF) application, the inaugural Shepparton La Trobe Journal club was launched. Its aim was to provide regional and rural Higher Degree Research candidates (regardless of university) with a purpose and setting to come together. We felt it was important to create these interdisciplinary opportunities to network in our region. The La Trobe Shepparton campus is a thriving university environment; small in size but big on atmosphere. The research culture on campus just keeps growing. The modern, physical buildings cover a corner block in the centre of this regional town in North-East Victoria. The people (the psychosocial culture) create a cosmopolitan feel where a meeting, lunch table or lecture has representation from any or all of Shepparton’s over 45 diverse cultural groups.

The journal club was modelled on the format from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the Judith Lumley Centre, Bundoora. Carol previously participated in this collegial activity of selecting and discussing a journal article using a structured appraisal tool. The Shepparton journal club was scheduled bi-monthly at lunchtime, knowing the work/study/travel/family life juggle of our target participants. In particular, we were thinking of the busy Allied Health clinicians at Goulburn-Valley Health who are undertaking PhD studies. The funding allowed us to provide coffee and a light lunch from the on-site café. We each knew of a few people to invite from our wider networks. We also thought about other gaps in the needs for rural and regional researchers, particularly the impact of isolation in masters and doctoral studies. So, at alternate meetings, we planned to invite a guest speaker.

The scheduled meetings ranged in attendance from eight to four people; there were six meetings held over during the second half of 2019. The participants were all at different stages in their PhDs, from various discipline orientations and with research topics that varied greatly. Critically appraising an article from a single person’s discipline or research perspective or interest may not have suited everyone’s needs. The ‘common ground’ was the opportunity to discuss the research journey and learn from other’s experiences. We factored in a roundtable discussion at the start of each meeting for casual, incidental learning. The guest speakers added significantly to this evolving format.

The first speaker was from the Shepparton Campus was Dr Phuc Nguyen, who is a Lecturer in Management (La Trobe School of Business). Phuc shared her expertise on grant applications and building a research narrative through collaboration. Dr Lucinda Aberdeen, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, spoke about writing as an enjoyable exercise and one to be embraced during the journey of undertaking a higher degree by research. She commented afterwards:
I found the participants at the Journal Club meeting hungry for knowledge about effective academic writing and the complexities of publishing in journals. It was a privilege to engage in such a lively intellectual dialogue with a group of emerging scholars on the Shepparton campus, whose dedication is contributing to the research culture of both the campus and the region.
Our final speaker was an external guest from the University of Melbourne, Ms Kaye Ervin from the Rural Health Academic Network (RHAN). RHAN are part of a hub and spoke model where rural researchers are co-located at small rural health services to build research capacity. Kaye discussed predatory journals and gave her insights into scholarly publishing. Her feedback on the session was:
 I was surprised the Shepparton La Trobe Journal Club was such a relaxed event. Journal clubs can become boring and routine unless you are willing to adapt. I enjoyed sharing with the group and learning about other local research.
The Journal Club was a success because we considered purpose, participants, and best fit for context.

We encourage others to start with assessing existing models before setting up something similar, not only for a Journal Club but any researcher activity. Be courageous to adapt these models to be multi-purpose. The introductions, catching up on news and informal chats were just as important as the critical review of the journal, along with (of course) coffee and food.

Overall, we found a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t necessarily meet rural and regional PhD candidate’s needs. We also thought about sustainability. As a rural locality we have a small pool to draw from, so our top tip would be to change it up quickly and be reflexive to meet dynamic needs.

This year we plan to continue growing the research vibe for both academics and PhD candidates at the Shepparton campus with support of the Shepparton Research Network, led by Lucinda (who is the Academic and Graduate Regional Research Coordinator).

We would like to acknowledge the support from the Rural Health School (particularly the Graduate Research coordinators) and Dr Lucinda Aberdeen in helping us develop the ICF application, and the GRS and RED team for awarding us the funding.


Corina Modderman is a Lecturer and Course Coordinator in social work and social policy at the La Trobe Rural Health School, Shepparton campus. She identifies as a Dutch Frisian woman who grew up on flat country surrounded by waterways. 

Corina has over 18 years of experience in child protection having worked in a variety of senior leadership roles across the world. From a social work background, she positions herself within a strong social justice, progressive standpoint. Corina is in the final stages of being a PhD candidate, investigating the lived experience of transnational social workers in an Australian child protection system. She tweets from @corinamodderman.

Carol Reid is a PhD candidate with the 'Healing the Past by Nurturing the Future' project. Carol travels weekly to the Judith Lumley Centre at the La Trobe Bundoora campus. She lives and works across the Goulburn Murray Region and is committed to promoting the strengths and resilience of rural and regional communities. 

Carol’s background is nursing, social work and evaluation. Her PhD topic involves primary health care and understanding trauma-informed care service models for complex trauma.


The Intellectual Climate Fund (ICF) scheme opens next week! With the advent of COVID-19, working from home, and physical distancing, the challenges and opportunities for developing intellectual climate are heightened. While face-to-face events are no longer feasible, let’s test our creativity and see what initiatives we can generate!

If you're an academic staff member rather than a graduate researcher, the Research Culture Fund (RCF) provides funding for activities that enhance research culture.

Both schemes open on 6 April, and close on 4 May.