Thursday, December 20, 2007

On what to read.

Anonymous said...

ok, msphd,

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

Dear Anonymous,

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!

Labels: ,


At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the inspiration.

glad i could postpone your rant, if only for one post.

anonymous reading question poster

At 12:15 PM, Blogger Lucy said...

I like reading Tables of Contents for Nature, Science, Cell, Current Biology etc, since they cover a range of topics. The articles I usually find most interesting are generally way outside my field (Current Biology is especially good for getting away from the molecular level for a bit).

Anonymous, you should set up Pubmed Alerts so you they'll send you an email when anything new shows up, without you typing in the search every day. You can subscribe to the ToCs, too. I'd forget to read them if they didn't arrive in my inbox automatically.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger EcoGeoFemme said...

I get the tables of contents emailed to me for most of the journals I read. It helps so much to keep on top of the literature without having to remember to look them up or do frequent searches. I download and read whatever papers seem interesting and I am pretty confident I'm getting good coverage of most of my field. During periods when there are fewer really relevant papers, I'll read more that are farther from my specialty.

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Eric said...

More ideas:

-- Go to conferences, find people giving interesting talks and read their papers. Attend talks peripheral to your area, as suggested in Ms. PhD's original post.

-- Some journals publish review articles. Find interesting ones and read them.

-- Consider who are the big names in your field. Find their most highly cited papers and read them. It's a good way to learn about the background of your field, and usually everybody assumes you've read those papers already. (If you object to big names: then the first point above applies. Conferences are a good way to learn who might be younger and doing interesting work.)

I often pick papers for a journal club and these are some of the things I do when I'm at a loss for what to read.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Drugmonkey said...

are they still teaching you kids to, I dunno, read the papers cited in the paper in your "narrow area of interest"?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home