6 ways to keep up with scientific literature

So much information, so little time. Living in the digital age means information is easily available at the click of a mouse but it also means having to contend with a flood of news, views and reviews that can be overwhelming and confusing. Relevant scientific news these days not only comes in the form of journal publications but also pre-prints (see bioRxiv, pronounced bioarchives), Letters, blogs, news websites, and even God forbid, Tweets.

I’m ignoring (and secretly hating) the folks who have no problems keeping up, and whose answer to this question would probably just be to “read more”. For those like myself who have non-photographic memories and who tend to easily forget things previously read, I’ve put together a short list of pointers that would hopefully prove useful.

1. Use a citation software/web clipper

Mendeley is great for this, though I’m sure there are others. This allows you to easily download and sort your papers into folders, while enabling easy bibliographical citation. You can tag them with keywords, which adds another level of organization. A highly useful keyword search through the text of all the papers (provided you downloaded a pdf copy) is also available. It takes a while to get used to reading on a computer, but this really pays off in the long run as you don’t accumulate wads of space/tree-consuming paper that often end up unsorted and unread. A fullscreen mode on Mendeley allows you to read with a notes bar on the side that lets you highlight text and add comments.

For non-scientific articles, Evernote is great. Similar to Mendeley, you can sort web articles, photos, all kinds of media really, into folders and tag them with keywords. I love the clip from web function where a button at the top of your internet browser allows you to clip the website in simplified format. Often used when I’m surfing the net for ideas on what to blog about!

2. Create feeds/alerts

I spotted one of my Professors using HighWire for this and its a pretty nice one-stop shop for creating feeds/alerts. You can set up citation alerts that identifies journal articles containing your specified keywords/from specified authors and sends a list of their titles to your email. You can also sign up to receive an electronic table of contents from your favorite journals that allows for a more broader review of the recent literature. Recently, there have been some warnings that HighWire may be discontinued but so far these emails are still coming. I also am trying PubCrawler as a backup. eTOC alert emails can also be done directly at your favorite journal’s website.

Of course this only works if you spend the time to go through these alerts. Often what happens it is all these emails accumulate in your inbox collecting virtual dust. So best to set aside some time in a week to go through them and pick the articles of interest for more in-depth reading.

3. Get on Twitter 

Although I personally have not mastered the art of Tweeting, Twitter is an amazing resource for obtaining real-time insight into what key players in your field of study are talking and thinking about. Follow your scientific idols, and see who they follow, and follow them too. Not every scientist is on it though, but you’d be surprised sometimes at who you may find.

4. ResearchGate

I’m not a big user of ResearchGate, but they offer access to articles that you may otherwise have to pay for which is what drives many to get on it. Its a good way of seeing who has published what, who their closest collaborators are, and enables social interaction via online forums.

5. Write a blog or a literature review journal

Although reading widely is great for keeping up with literature, often it is remembering what you have read that is the challenge. A good way of cementing what you’ve read is by summarizing it and writing this down. It’s one of the reasons I started this blog. Often, I find myself searching and re-reading old posts to recall certain things. Writing a blog not only helps sort through your key thoughts, its a good way of collecting various sources of information into one easy-to-digest article, written in your own hand. If you’re shy about publishing it, create a private one. You’ll find yourself returning to it over and over.

6. Create a journal club

Interacting with people is naturally more memorable than reading something in private. Having a physical discussion about a paper in a coffee house or over food could help in remembering what was said, as odour memory seems to be the most resistant to forgetting. Furthermore, hearing opinions of your peers on the study also widens ones perspective. Even if the discussion is not physical, there are plenty of online forums, webchats and email threads that one can start with a group of people. In addition to the potential for generating new ideas, it’s a great way of keeping in touch!





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