PhD - Read HOW many papers a DAY?

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PhD -- Read HOW many papers a DAY?!

How many papers should a PhD student read each day?

I'm in my first year. I have been told today that I should be reading 3 papers a day. Previously I was told I should be reading 6 papers a day. On both these occasions I was told by a senior professor.

FYI I probably read about 1 or 2 a day on average at the moment, but occasionally I'll read more (especially if there's a report or presentation I need to do -- part procrastination, part desperately trying to fill in the gaps).

Any thoughts here?
 

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  • #2
ZapperZ
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This is a rather meaningless question. You read as many papers as necessary to understand whatever it is that you have to understand!

Zz.
 
  • #3
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Well I'm a geophysicist so I want to understand the Earth. Even if I read all the papers in the world I still don't think I would understand the Earth.

Granted if there's one small thing you want (or need) to understand then read as many papers as it takes to give you a full understanding of that one thing.

I'm talking about trying to understand something bigger, something that has many parts, some of those parts still haven't even been written about!
 
  • #4
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I don't think you're in a unique situation, being a geophysicist and all, though, so I think ZapperZ's comment still applies.
 
  • #5
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OK I take the point. So that means I need to read as many papers each day as is humanly possible, because that's the only way I'll even get close to understanding the scientific progress in all the subdisciplines that apply to the Earth sciences. And I'm not talking about reading EVERY paper either, even if I just stuck to reading the SEMINAL papers and well received reviews published over the past thirty years the sheer volume of material would overwhelm me (I'm a slowish reader).

Something doesn't seem right somehow, how would I find time to do my own research and write my own papers?

There must be some realistic balance that other people have reached. I'm wondering if there is a consensus on this issue, or at least how other people coped with it when they went through the process.
 
  • #6
AlephZero
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Well I'm a geophysicist so I want to understand the Earth. Even if I read all the papers in the world I still don't think I would understand the Earth.
So your PhD thesis title is "Understanding the Earth"? I would give that A+++ for ambition, but Fail for common sense (and I guess you were rather unlucky in your choice of advisor, as well).

I'm talking about trying to understand something bigger, something that has many parts, some of those parts still haven't even been written about!

Right now you are trying to get a PhD. Just focus on that for now. You can move on to discovering the meaning of life, the universe and everything later.
 
  • #7
Pengwuino
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Just be like my adviser when we're looking up recent papers - "Ah this one's only 5 pages, great! I'll download it" :biggrin:
 
  • #8
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So your PhD thesis title is "Understanding the Earth"? I would give that A+++ for ambition, but Fail for common sense (and I guess you were rather unlucky in your choice of advisor, as well).

No. Maybe I need to take a step back -- I think I've taken myself off track. You see my supervisor told me today that I need to "be a sponge", I need to read more, across the subdisciplines. Up till now I have focussed heavily on data processing, which is good, but I need to read more to become an expert in my field.
 
  • #9
Vanadium 50
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You don't want to overdo it.

Who are your top 5 competitors? Have you read everything they have published in the last few years? If not, that's a good start.
 
  • #10
gb7nash
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You see my supervisor told me today that I need to "be a sponge"

I think you're missing the point here. Being a sponge doesn't mean to read every paper that's ever conceived. If you spent all of your time reading papers, you wouldn't have enough time to produce your own results. However, you do want to absorb as much as you can out of papers that are very relevant to your field. You'd be surprised how much knowledge and information you could gain from some short papers.
 
  • #11
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How many do you want to read?

Be your own captain. Read as many as you do or don't want to.
 
  • #12
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Something doesn't seem right somehow, how would I find time to do my own research and write my own papers?

You spend about six months to a year reading everything that has ever been written. Also it's important to read everything you can when you get started since this will tell you want the important problems are and help you figure out a topic for your dissertation.

After a year or so, you'll be able to figure out what to read and what is pointless, and you then have caught up so that you can just read anything that's new. So the first year, you are doing 400 years of catchup. The second+ years, you have already caught up so you are just reading the new stuff.

There must be some realistic balance that other people have reached. I'm wondering if there is a consensus on this issue, or at least how other people coped with it when they went through the process.

Also there are different types of reading. I probably "read" six or so papers a day, but a lot of that reading involves looking at the abstract, thinking "this is not useful" and then finding something else. It's pretty uncommon that I do "deep reading" and that usually involves finding a mathematical algorithm that I need to understand in detail.
 
  • #13
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I read about one paper a month (possibly less), and I can't really say that I feel inferior to my fellow PhD students (whom I don't expect to read much more, either). I couldn't even remember the content of a thousand papers a year; not to mention that properly reading one takes me between a day and a week.
 
  • #14
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On several occasions it has taken way more than a year to really understand a given paper.
And this was when I was already at the postdoc level. So I can't imagine trying to read 3 a day & getting anything out of it.
 
  • #15
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Thanks for the responses everybody.

Actually, I've realised that I'm quite fortunate in that my area is relatively new so there is not that much stuff published relative to some other fields (that's not to say there's not a lot of reading to be done), the problem I have is with the scope of the material. It's difficult for me to read a new paper talking about spin transitions in Fe at lower mantle pressure temperature conditions and to relate that to what it is that I'm looking at (seismology). And that's an important part of the puzzle so I need to know about it. But easy a PhD never was supposed to be, so I guess I'll have to knuckle down and try to get the basics under my belt.
 
  • #16
Choppy
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I might just add that when you start out in particular, is not so much about the quantity of reading as the quality of reading. Sometimes it can take time to digest a given paper, to really understand what's going on. Your superviser can help you in identifying which papers you should be spending your time on really digesting. Once you understand the keystones, you can skim through the other ones pretty quickly, but whne you start out, it's important to establish a frame of reference.
 
  • #17
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Sorry for the noob question, where exactly are you finding these papers? I'm an undergrad student.
 
  • #18
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The general resource for looking up papers is Google Scholar. arXiv has quite a few one that do not require a university account for free access (but you find the arXiv papers via Google Scholar, too). Then, there is field-specific search engines. And in principle, you could directly go to journal websites and look around there, but I don't think many people do so.
 
  • #19
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Google also includes journals if you search. I was once looking for a good level scheme of a few nuclei and when searching in Google it gave me the original papers.
 
  • #20
Pyrrhus
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Univeristies' Libraries websites have access to journals, and thus you can use them to search for papers. Although, Some can be calibrated to work with your Google Scholar, so you can search in google scholar (much better), and just click on papers and have direct access.
 
  • #21
G01
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I think it's useful to implement a leveled reading system. Every paper I read has to "go up through the levels." Each level involves more and more in depth reading. Here's what I do.

1. Cursory- I read the title and abstract, and possible the introduction. If it seems relevant to what I do, it moves up to level 2. If not, into the "circular file."

2. Brief skim of contents- I try to get the main point and main results out of the paper. I re-read the abstract and introduction. Then I read the first sentence of every paragraph, study the figures in depth, and read the conclusion. Usually this is enough to know if it will possibly be useful to me. If it passes this test, the paper moves to level 3.

3.Paper is related and potentially useful- I need to figure out if I can use it. So, I read the whole paper, every word, and go through it "with a fine toothed comb." If it turns out to be useful for me, I try to repeat their simulation results or fill in the steps in their derivations. If lucky, I can expand upon this paper with work or experiments of my own.

The pros to this system is that it weeds out non-relevant crap. You do end up reading some papers multiple times, but if the system works, then they are the papers you should be really focusing on anyway.

The cons are that this is hard to do if you're just starting out in the field, and probably don't know what's important. However, if you have some senior grad students around or a good adviser, usually they can tell you whether something will be useful if you aren't sure.
 
  • #22
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I think it's useful to implement a leveled reading system. Every paper I read has to "go up through the levels." Each level involves more and more in depth reading. Here's what I do.

1. Cursory- I read the title and abstract, and possible the introduction. If it seems relevant to what I do, it moves up to level 2. If not, into the "circular file."

2. Brief skim of contents- I try to get the main point and main results out of the paper. I re-read the abstract and introduction. Then I read the first sentence of every paragraph, study the figures in depth, and read the conclusion. Usually this is enough to know if it will possibly be useful to me. If it passes this test, the paper moves to level 3.

3.Paper is related and potentially useful- I need to figure out if I can use it. So, I read the whole paper, every word, and go through it "with a fine toothed comb." If it turns out to be useful for me, I try to repeat their simulation results or fill in the steps in their derivations. If lucky, I can expand upon this paper with work or experiments of my own.

The pros to this system is that it weeds out non-relevant crap. You do end up reading some papers multiple times, but if the system works, then they are the papers you should be really focusing on anyway.

The cons are that this is hard to do if you're just starting out in the field, and probably don't know what's important. However, if you have some senior grad students around or a good adviser, usually they can tell you whether something will be useful if you aren't sure.

This seems like a good system, but not something that applies globally. I think that a certain amount of "non-relevant crap" can actually be a good thing.

I would probably adopt this system for 8 or 9 out of 10 papers I read. Let a few slip through the net just to add a bit of the unexpected into the mix, who knows, perhaps in the long run this "non-relevant" reading could evolve into a more focused thing in its own right and help you to carve out your own scientific niche?
 
  • #23
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This seems like a good system, but not something that applies globally. I think that a certain amount of "non-relevant crap" can actually be a good thing.

I would probably adopt this system for 8 or 9 out of 10 papers I read. Let a few slip through the net just to add a bit of the unexpected into the mix, who knows, perhaps in the long run this "non-relevant" reading could evolve into a more focused thing in its own right and help you to carve out your own scientific niche?

during my research internship, the best ideas came from discussions with fellow interns who had different research focuses. my supervisor, and the papers he suggested, provided little help ;)
 

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