Staying on top of literature can be a time-consuming chore. These habits can help you speed through that ever-growing pile of papers and just maybe enjoy yourself along the way.
- Dedicate a specific time to reading. I know, I know. Everyone says it. Be it once a week, twice a month, or a short burst every day, habitual reading ensures you are never behind on developments in your field.
- Define what to monitor and find the important journals, keywords, and authors in your field. Start with people and papers from your own lab, your collaborators’ labs, and especially your competitors. If a new name starts to appear as a co-author, add it to your list! If certain papers were important to you, setup an alert for any new papers that cite it!
- Use email alerts and RSS feeds to stay current without manually performing Google Scholar or PubMed searches. Many peer-reviewed journals and publications such as GEN have focused feeds for each section and topic (e.g., www.genengnews.com/news-by-subject).
- Set limits. You can’t read every new paper. Sometimes just the titles and abstracts may suffice.
- Record notes—not just comments on certain points, but a short summary of what you learned—to avoid forgetting what you read in two weeks. Memories lost are hours wasted.
- Organize papers by the way(s) you need to find them later—by project, concept, organism, etc. File folders can suffice for some time, but large collections are best kept using tools like EndNote, ReadCube, and Papers, which let you group papers and save your notes, too.
- Get help. It’s often easier to understand material after a more seasoned expert explains the big (and little) stories. Attend seminars or talks held by your department, join a journal club, or seek out online resources if your personal network doesn’t include the right people. Many science forums offer opportunity to find helpful peers. Good places are the F1000, the BioTechniques’ Molecular Biology forums, EpiExperts, LinkedIn groups, and even ResearchBlogging.org.
- Talk to your labmates! They might have a great insight on a recently published result. You can even try sending a paper and your notes to a colleague. He or she will probably appreciate the favor and will likely return in kind. Now you have them doing some of your work for you!