Better Grad Student

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40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 17

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When you first start learning about a new topic, and particularly when you’re learning about your research field, you should spending a large portion of your time reading. The challenge with reading several scientific papers in a row is that it can become monotonous. At some point, you may find yourself reading the words on the page, but not comprehending the meaning. This isn’t an unexpected phenomenon, but if you don’t adjust your behavior when you recognize this happening, then you’re doing yourself a disservice by wasting time and energy attempting to read something from which you will gain nothing.

One cool trick I found to make reading a bit more interesting is to read the article backwards. By backwards I don’t mean read sentences and words in the reverse order. Instead, I mean that you should switch up the flow of the paper. Most journal articles are written in several sections: Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion/Conclusion. Starting from the beginning every time can be a slow going because of the necessary review of the topic that every paper does. In some cases, it might be more interesting to start with the discussion, the go back to the results to see how they got there. If something piques your curiosity about how they obtained a set of data, then go check it out in the methods. Then, if the paper has given you some really good ideas to think about, it’s probably worth it to read the intro. This active form of reading will encourage you to be more engaged in the manuscript and it will definitely keep your interest longer than just reading straight through from the beginning to the end. Give this method a shot and if you notice a difference, let me know about it in the comments.

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!


Written by Taylor M.

March 28, 2011 at 9:28 pm

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