Keeping up with the literature in your field – the constant flow of papers detailing new work and reviewing coherent groups of results – is a cardinal part of being a scientist. Making this a habit that readily integrates into your workflow is hard; below, I detail how I’ve structured doing it, both to point folks to ways that may work for them and to gain some insight about ways to do it better.
I subscribe to the RSS feeds for the journals that I’m interested in – broadly, those that cover nanoscience, nanoscale biology, applied physics, neuroscience and similar fields. Having pointed this deluge at my RSS reader, I aggressivly skim the titles and author lists, looking for folks I know, authors whose work I follow, and topics and results I’m interested in. This culls the ~1000 items per day into 20 or so full papers to read. This is far too much for a day’s reading – I do have other things to do, like experiments to run and folks to follow up with. Of these 20 papers, I skim the bulk but read and pick apart at least two.
In-depth or not, when I read a paper, I use the following mnemonic to think about how to structure my reading:
C: Charachters – Who are the authors? Where are they – what institution? What else have the published? With whom are they working? What fields do they span? Where did they come from?
H: Hypothesis – What are these guys testing? What are they looking to improve on? What fundamental question does this paper set out to answer? Where does this hypothesis lie in the field these folks work in? How does it advance the research frontier, and in what direction?
E: Experiments: What experiments do they do to back their hypothesis? What calculations do they carry out to defend their theoretical thesis? What guides the experimental design? What unique capabilities are they leveraging to facilitate doing these experiments?
W: Weaknesses: How does the presented data fit an ideal defense of the thesis? What enginerring compromises have been made to realize the experiments? What experiments haven’t been done? What experiments have been done, but may be difficult to repeat?
This takes less than an hour a day. I’ve found that it’s a fantastic way to keep up with what folks are doing and where they are going? This approach may now work as well for review papers, but they are means to be read at a more leisurely pace anyway – integrating a series of results over a more substantial period of time.