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Reading papers

  1. May 3, 2009 #1
    So my summer research adviser asks me to read a bunch of papers, and I am just a freshman, so I don get like 85% of the stuff in the papers.. what should i do? what does he expect me to get out of it? thank you.
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  3. May 3, 2009 #2


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    Maybe the point is to spark your interest? do you get at least the general picture??, do you go to the library to read about the math or physics you don't understand??
  4. May 4, 2009 #3


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    What he expects you to get out of it is really more a question you should be asking him. I'm not sure I would expect a freshman to get much out of an academic paper because at that level one generally does not have the background to appreciate the common concepts in the field that are usually glossed over as 'assumed knowledge.'

    That being said, if you are serious about being a researcher, you might as well dive in. Look up all concepts that you don't understand and try to develop at least a conceptual framework for the paper. Ask your advisor about key points to make sure you're on the right track.

    Something that I find that helps is to go through the paper as if you were asked to referee it. Critique it. Look for flaws in the physics or in the methodology. Look at the presentation. Could any of the information be made more clear? Has anyone done anything like this before? What is unique about this work?

    Another tip: the reason author contact information is listed in the paper is so that readers can contact the authors with any questions. Obviously you don't want to abuse this, but it is an avenue worth pursuing if there is something specific you don't understand and can't look up.
  5. May 4, 2009 #4


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    Of course, the first person I would ask questions about the papers (except maybe here of course :wink:) would be your advisor himself. After all, the whole point of this is to give you some background to what you're going to be doing this summer, right? So he's in the best position to make the connections between what you're trying to read, and what you're going to be doing.
  6. Jul 18, 2010 #5
    The most important thing I can say is don't feel intimidated by the things you don't understand, and don't feel dumb if you're missing even 90%. Just try to learn what you can, find some interesting tidbit that you think you might be able to crack, and look into that further. If you're not getting anything out of it, skip that section or find a different paper. You don't accomplish anything by sweating over a paper for 5 hours with no clear question or goal in mind.

    Of course asking your advisor is the best thing. But aside from that, I would say try to focus on becoming familiar with the primary techniques that the people used, or the basic concepts. If there is some involved mathematical analysis or detailed experimental section, don't spend a ton of time trying to figure out the specifics, because you probably won't be able to, even if you go to the library.

    Unless your advisor is someone who is just generally out of touch, his main goal is probably to get you familiar with reading research papers. It's a general skill that takes a lot of practice.

    If this helps you, then great. But I don't agree with this. Critiquing a paper is a much harder thing. I just finished my first year of grad school, and I would say I'm still not very good at doing this.
  7. Jul 18, 2010 #6


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    Tell your advisor this, that you are not understanding most of what you are reading. If you don't approach him, he will simply assume that you are having no problems.

  8. Jul 18, 2010 #7
    Tip: Look at the list of the references in the paper,, at least one of them should be at a basic level, or if the topic is more specific, then try to find a "review" article, those typically include the basics of that specific field and it points the reader to the appropriate literature in the field.
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