stack-of-papersBy Claire

No matter how many papers I read, the pile of literature that I “should” read never seems to get smaller. I am currently preparing for a trip overseas to collaborate with some palaeoclimate modellers. In preparation, I need to read the papers of these collaborators to make sure I’m familiar with their work. I thought I had read most of their papers. Turns out, I haven’t.

The problem I find with keeping up with the literature, is that even if I had read every relevant paper on my topic up to now, new papers are being published every week in more journals that I can list. Unless you manage to conduct a new literature sweep every week, even the most up-to-date reader will inevitably fall behind over time. 

My problem feels more overwhelming because I am actually doing my PhD in a different field to my undergrad and honours. This means that not only do I need to keep up with new literature, I am constantly finding new old papers that I didn’t know existed.

Then there is reference lists. Every new paper I read yields a new pile of papers that I haven’t yet read, found cited in the text of said paper.

It just doesn’t end!!

I have done some pro-active things lately to try and keep on top of new literature. I have subscribed to the Nature and Science email list, which means I get sent a copy of the table of contents for each journal each week. That way I can see if anything new and exciting has come out in my field. (You do need a subscription to these journals in order to sign up to their mailing lists).

I also set up “alerts” on Scopus to look for certain keywords in new publications and send me an email when something fits my search criteria. I do find that most of the papers I get sent by Scopus alerts aren’t that useful, and about something irrelevant related to “tropics” and “climate”.

Every paper I read, I enter into End Note, which is a really useful way of organising and citing the papers that you have read. It also gives you a tally of the number of entries within the library. After reading three papers this morning, my total number of papers read in my PhD ticked over to 270. And I am still far from well read in my field.

Oh well. I guess I had better get back to paper number 271…

How do you go about keeping up with the literature in your field?