5 tips on keeping up with the literature

By Steven Burgess

As a postdoc I often feel that there are never enough hours in the day, there is always a long list of things to get done and I have to prioritize. Keeping up with the literature is so important, but it is one aspect of my job that always seems to suffer. As a result, I have been left wondering how on earth people manage to stay on top of the latest developments with so many good papers coming out each week

One of the things I have learnt over the last few years is ‘if in doubt, reach out to the Twittersphere’, I got some great tips so I thought I would share some of them with you below. I’ll definitely be giving them a go!

  1. Block out time in your diary
    This excellent advice which forms part of many an effective time management strategy, came from Prachee Avashti, who suggests “Set aside time every day to scan new papers. I do this first thing in the morning when I receive pubmed/bioRxiv alerts. Note ones to deeply read later if needed.”
  2. Use apps
    Leveraging software to make your life easier was a point made by several people. Emmanuel Escobar advised “for mac users the is great (Papers3), there’s a desktop version too. You can edit while reading and sync across multiple devices. Organise papers into playlists, just sorting them is fun. Also can write notes down and export.”  Other apps that were suggested include   (thanks (@IF91) !) and for those using Slack, Prachee suggested “a Friday slackbot reminder for the lab to share what they learned from a new paper so they get in at least 1.”
  3. Use deadtime
    Every piece of time is precisious, so make sure you make the most of it. Emmanuelle Vire uses the “Long commute on delayed trains…lunchtimes…” and has a pro-tip when working in the lab “I always have a paper on the corner of my bench, for incubation times, even when small they add up.”
  4. “Journal club, journal club, journal club!”
    @oilcanoyler pointed out that lab journal clubs can be a great way to keep up, by having a dedicated time you ensure that the paper is read. Further, depending on the format of your club, the workload can be spread by rotating who presents each week.
  5. Take advantage of summaries
    We are all busy as scientists, there is a growing number of places offering paper ‘digests’ which summarise the most interesting research in a given field. Mary Williams highlighted the Plantae series ‘What we are reading this week‘ for plant scientists, and preLights is good source that summarises preprint articles.

If you have any tips of your own I’d love to hear from you below, otherwise you might also find personal stories from academics published in Science helpful to you too.

Happy reading!

Image is reproduced from wikipedia [By John Tenniel – optimization of Image:De Alice’s Abenteuer im Wunderland Carroll pic 02.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4562812%5D

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