On what to read.
here's a practical question for you or your readers.
i'm a grad student. i perform pubmed literature searches daily on the key words of my thesis project. most of my reading, then, is directly related to my thesis project. how do you find or decide which papers to read that are outside your narrow area of focus?
any advice is appreciated.
anon grad student wannabe reader
Thanks for this interesting question, since otherwise I would be tempted to rant today. I am in that kind of mood.
In the interest of being more interesting, here's my advice.
Read about things tangential to what you work on.
They can be tangential in the sense of, homologs of your protein or analogous appendages in other species.
They can be tangential to your technique. Let's say you work on a protein that has no known homologs, but it would be really helpful if somebody could find one. Read about homology searching algorithms. Read about structural biology, since there might be a structural homolog even if there's no a sequence homolog. Think about why there might not be one, evolutionarily speaking.
They can be tangential to your pathway. Let's say you work on why hair is curly (I'm making this up, I know nothing about how that works!). Maybe hair is curly due to changes in the stem cells at the root of the hair follicle, or due to hormonal changes, or genetics (?). Read about those things, even if it's just at the level of Scientific American reviews.
Read about neat new stuff, even if it's totally unrelated to what you do right now. I'm very excited about the possibility of having wireless laptop charging by development of new technology to transfer electricity through the air! Read about how astronauts adjust to low gravity. Give yourself permission to daydream a little on a daily basis!
Read about science that affects your daily life, like the science of food (nutrition, agriculture?) or about additives they put in shampoo or to remove wrinkles from your skin.
Read widely, and I promise you will have new ideas. If nothing else, it will help you decide what to make for dinner!