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Jan 12 2012

Reading Scientific Papers

(1) Students and post-docs should be reading shitte tonnes of papers. But the vast majority of them should be from outside the zone of perceived direct relevance to their own work.

(2) Lab heads should be reading essentially no papers themselves.

(3) The above two principles follow from Comradde PhysioProffe’s Axiom of Leverage–every scientist should continuously and ruthlessly judge their activities in terms of how much scientific leverage they are providing and swap out low-leverage for high-leverage activities–and the Lemma of Seniority–what activities are low-leverage versus high-leverage changes dramatically along the scientific career trajectory.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Katiesci

    So the students and post-docs should be informing the PI of all the new work in the field? Or writing his/her grants because he/she isn’t up to date on the field? I’m confused.

  2. 2
    Namnezia

    Your Axion would indeed work well for maximizing scientific output of a lab in an efficient manner. But if you’re the least bit curious about your field and enjoy learning new things, reading papers and (gasp!) performing some of your own experiments might be beneficial, even if they are low-leverage activities.

    Plus, how can you think deeply about a topic if you do not read a shit-ton of papers?

  3. 3
    BBBShrewHarpy

    The PI reads the titles/abstracts of all new papers and assigns the papers to the students/postdocs for reading and reporting to the group. Journal Clubs FTMFW!

  4. 4
    lylebot

    I read (or skim) papers in review in my roles on program committees and editorial boards. I go to conferences and seminars and see talks. I talk to people. That’s how I keep up with the field. I find the utility of reading actual published papers is comparatively pretty low.

  5. 5
    BugDoc

    That would be a terrific plan for a PI to maximize their efficiency…unless you actually enjoy reading papers.

  6. 6
    anon

    LAME, CPP. I find it disappointing that you choose to keep yourself so ignorant. Some (not all) of the scientists I know who are among the top in their field are voracious readers of the scientific literature and know the shit well enough (in fact, thoroughly) to see when their students/post-docs/colleagues are talking out their asses.

  7. 7
    Comradde PhysioProffe

    know the shit well enough (in fact, thoroughly) to see when their students/post-docs/colleagues are talking out their asses

    Where the fucke do you get the cockamamie idea that I don’t know the scientific literature? In fact, I have an extremely deep and broad knowledge of the literature in a number of fields.

  8. 8
    anon

    “Where the fucke do you get the cockamamie idea that I don’t know the scientific literature?”

    From this:

    “Lab heads should be reading essentially no papers themselves.”

    Did you not write that statement in your own post? Please explain what I, and some other commenters here seem to be missing.

  9. 9
    Sam N

    I find talking to whoever is doing the research (or heading the lab doing the research) gives me a thorough understanding of what’s going on in the field in a much shorter time than the papers, which only tend to be necessary when I want to verify the claim or need to look up very specific details. Of course this requires that you’re at an institution with a high volume of people in yours and related fields flowing through, giving talks, and enough conference visits to fill any gaps.

  10. 10
    Genomic Repairman

    We do a lit discussion monthly where we all pick papers and you have 5 minutes to sell us on why we should read it. Seems to work well and is a benefit to the PI on what papers are popping up.

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