Keeping up with the literature is almost always the first thing to fall by the wayside for all of us when we get busy. Usually this is because there are few overt short-term consequences of letting it slide. However, there are massive gains in stimulating ideas and experimental course correction that come with regular reading. Our lab also has quite a few new people and others trying to ramp up their background knowledge so I’ve been thinking about how to encourage everyone to maintain consistent reading habits. Some of the things we already do:
  •  We have a #recommended_reading channel in our lab Slack where I post things I think are of outstanding interest. I post several things here every day.
  • We have a #365_papers Slack channel in which anyone can post what they’re reading each day to help others discover helpful information.
  • We do an in-depth journal club at least once per month.
  • A new addition this week: I’m having an automated Slackbot message sent to the lab every week in the #365_papers channel asking what’s something new they learned from a paper they read this week. I’m having this sent out in the very early afternoon on Fridays so that if they didn’t get a chance to read something, they might be able to skim something as they wrap up loose ends for the week or make it a priority on their schedule for the upcoming week. When I did this last week, I posted two papers of particular interest I had read and wrote what I had learned.
I’ve also seen on Twitter that Dr. Baucom’s lab has a great summer reading challenge. It’s a fantastic idea I’d like to try one day but we have a different ongoing summer challenge that I hope to post about in a few months!
While I do want to increase the rate and efficiency with which everyone goes through papers, right now I’d like to focus on comprehension. To that end, I’ve assembled a short list of questions that are eachgeared towards a specific skill I’d like to emphasize. I’m hoping that using these as a worksheet at first might ensure a minimal depth of understanding for each paper. Hopefully the questions can eventually help each person develop a running critical internal dialogue as they ramp up their reading volume. While somewhat overlapping, this list is intentionally meant to be a bit different and more succinct than those I use to teach students about peer review and rigorous evaluation of papers. I hope my lab and perhaps yours finds these helpful.
Literature reading comprehension worksheet:
  1. What are the hypotheses or goals of the study? What is the motivation for the work?
  2. In your own words, what is the take home message of this paper? i.e. what do you hope to remember about this work?
  3. List 3 things you learned that you didn’t know before. These can be about background, methods, or anything else.
  4. List something or a few things you didn’t understand about the paper (so you can follow up).
  5. What’s the most important or interesting thing you saw in the supplemental data?
  6. Are the data presented in a manner that allow you to interpret them? Is any relevant information missing? Are images clear and/or quantified?
  7. If you look at the data alone, do you reach the same conclusions as the authors do? Do the data suggest an alternative explanation*?
  8. Suggest at least one orthogonal experiment not in the paper that might strengthen the results or might have been included instead.
  9. Does this paper make you think differently about your own project or experiments? If so, make note.
  10. What topic did this paper make you want to read more about?
*Thanks to Arjun Raj for the suggestion on the second part of this question.
Categories: Pro-tips

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