Extreme journal club fear


This is embarrassing, but I’ve basically developed an extreme journal club fear. My lab has a journal club with three other labs (so ~ 12 people), someone presents a paper and then there’s discussion etc. My field of research has nothing to do with these other labs, so I find their papers incredibly repetitive and boring anyway. I was due to give my presentation but I feel extremely ill with anxiety (I have an anxiety disorder) and I ended up taking around a week off work due to recover and my presentation was cancelled. I never actually told my supervisor it was the club that was causing a major problem. Since then I haven’t attended and my supervisors visibly getting annoyed with me. I don’t want to go back and I’m due to give a presentation in a few months and its already causing me anxiety. I feel as though as I’m failing as a PhD student as this stuff is expected of me :/. Any advice would be much appreciated xx


really sorry to hear you're going through this. it's not an uncommon, loads of people have anxiety, so you're not the only one. my advice would be to see a counsellor at the university or via your gp if you aren't doing this already, to discuss anxiety and feelings of failure. then to tell your supervisors about the problem - and that you're seeing someone about it. they ought to react in an understanding way. and it's important for them to know this as it might cause further problems during the PhD, you said you needed time to recover and if they know about the anxiety they can support you better.


This sort of interaction and discussion is certainly something you will need to do if you wish to continue in academia - so you will have to address this issue. As per above reply, it's important to utilise the available support. The likelihood is that support via university will be easier and quicker to access.


MissyL, the one thing I would say to you is please tell your supervisor about your anxiety, as otherwise this expectation will keep coming up again and again and they will not have the knowledge they need to support and advise you. I have had a similar talk with my supervisor and it took courage even to do that, but it was worth doing as she offered me lots of support. If something is making you ill then you have to find another way to approach it, but your supervisor really needs to know or you won't get the back-up you need. Feel free to PM me if you would like to, as I have been through a very similar experience.


Hi MissyL,

I would also recommend counselling services etc at the university for support. However, I would be cautious about telling your supervisor... you know your supervisor better than anyone here and will be able to judge whether or not they will be sympathetic. If you have any doubts whatsoever about their reaction, then don't inform them. I speak from experience with a chronic illness and I was honest with my supervisor from the start, but it only ended with him treating me differently throughout the entire Phd. Good luck with whatever you decide, and I hope you can get the support you need from other avenues if necessary.




I understand the fear of presenting something that isn't even your work in front of others - but why have you stopped attending the club? Is it the fear that you will get assigned a new date? The boring presentations?

In our lab, journal club is mandatory, so I understand why your supervisor isn't very happy with your behaviour. Can you choose the paper you have to present on your own or are you limited in choice? I would choose a paper that I am familiar with/feel safe with, analyse it and then train the heck out of the presentation until I can talk about every last bit with confidence. Because this confidence helps you through the presentation - nothing is worse than having to present with extreme anxiety - except extreme anxiety and unsure about the paper/ the data. ;-)

How is the overall climate in your journal clubs? Are the students supportive / ask questions? At least in our journal clubs nobody will kill you for a "bad" presentation where you are so nervous that you can't speak in straight sentences. In fact we had one three weeks ago - the student fought through it and has now a bit more confidence when it comes to talks in front of an audience.

More general speaking, journal clubs should on one hand bring you up to speed with new literature - on the other hand and more important they should train you in analysing papers and ask critical questions about them. This you can even learn with "boring" papers that don't have to do anything with your day to day lab life. Things like statistics, proper controls and overall experimental planing and setup are more or less comparable even between different topics.

For example I am working on 3d cell culture models and had in my last journal club listen to a presentation about the naked mole rat and its unusal methylation patterns - it was nowhere near my topic but I learned a lot about the do's and don'ts in statistics. ;-)


Hi everyone,

Thanks for the supportive messages.

Yes that's exactly why I stopped attending as I was worried about getting another date, which sadly has already happened and I'm due to do it next month!
I am able to chose a paper, however, there are very few interesting publications in my field and you're meant to have recent papers, which really really limits me. I picked a some-what related paper last time, and then after I left my supervisor told my lab mate that it was 'boring', which did heaps for my confidence.
The students don't really speak in the journal club (unless presenting), its the lecturers and post-docs which do all the talking, which makes it even more threatening for me :(


It will get easier every time you attend!

I was absolutely terrified of presenting after a bad experience in undergrad (my fear was so bad that I didn't do a presentation for for BSc project even though it counted towards final mark).

However when it came to PhD interviews there was no getting out of it. The first time I felt sick with anxiety, but it actually didn't go too badly. Each time got less stressful and the third time I presented I was offered the PhD which gave me a massive confidence boost.

If you're nervous about shaking or voice trembling I highly recommend beta blockers. They stop the effects of adrenaline so you don't have any physical symptoms of anxiety :)


Also remember most people aren't even listening. When I looked up during my presentation, one interviewer was looking out the window, one doodling on a bit of paper and the others eyes were glazed over. Maybe I'm just really boring :D


Good point about beta-blockers - I've taken them for important vivas or job interviews and really helped me.