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Reading papers is part of the job, but keeping up with the literature can feel overwhelming sometimes. If you’re developing a sense of dread for that stack of papers on your desk, it’s time to learn some shortcuts that will get you up to speed.
This week, we answer a listener question about keeping up with the literature:
Hello, Hello PhD
I know that scientists are supposed to have the trait that they critically read academic papers. However, I cannot stand reading papers. I find no interest or curiosity in even reading Science or Nature, let alone anything else. My best avenue of scientific reporting comes from IFLscience.com. Any tips (besides “read more and keep reading”) to overcome this?
First off, we have to dispel the myth that all scientists just LOVE to read papers. The truth is, literature is a tool and you need to learn how to use it to best effect.
There are many reasons you might want to read a paper, and that reason should define your approach.
Are you trying to learn a new technique? Just read the Methods section.
Checking out a rotation lab or mentor? Focus on the abstract and introduction for an overview of the field.
And if only one or two other labs study your protein of interest, skip the intro and go over the rest of their paper with a fine-toothed comb.
If you’re still struggling to find the motivation to read, pause for a minute and think about the things you’re already reading for fun. We’re more likely to enjoy a paper on a topic that piques our curiosity, and using that intellectual attraction can help steer you toward a new lab or research field.
Bottom line: reading papers is a tool to help you with your research, not an obligation or burden. Use the tool to build your knowledge, and don’t worry about consuming every word on the page.
Show us your Strawberries!
To celebrate Mardi Gras, we enjoy some Abita Strawberry Harvest Lager from Abita Springs, Louisiana. It’s apparently a winter tradition for residents of LA, and very difficult to get outside the state. We’ve got a connection, and the flavor is Strawberrific!
Now if only we could figure out how Lousiana is harvesting strawberries in January…