Sunday, December 7, 2014

The art of reading papers

Working on our final design project has taught me many things, like what an ROC curve is, and that Google Slides has very unattractive slide themes. But I think the most valuable skill that I've picked up through this project has been reading papers. I have approximately 15 tabs open in Chrome right now about Tuberculosis, biomarkers, and micro-PADs. They're all decently long, and when I first started reading everything I was extremely overwhelmed. I've worked my way through most of them, but it's been difficult. The main takeaways that I've gotten about reading papers (thus far) are:

1. Figures are great
I know the 109 staff has really tried to impart us with this knowledge throughout the semester by having us make our own images, but I never really saw the value of figures until I was faced with papers upon papers of information. 

2. The only thing better than figures are supplementary figures
This was something I picked up on from doing my UROP, actually. One of the project groups in lab spent all summer revising a paper for re-submission. In the process, I saw that in addition to the figures they had in their paper, there was basically a whole new paper embedded in the supplementary materials. Reading the articles for this project has only confirmed how valuable these extra figures and information are.

3. Scanning papers is a science 
I'm the kind of person who really wants to understand every single word in the paper that they're reading, which means that half the time it takes me to read a paper is spent Googling every term or concept I'm unfamiliar with. In a project like this where everything is new, this intensive Googling has been pretty strenuous. To get through all of the reading necessary to create our product, I've had to streamline the process by reading the introduction, skipping to the discussion, and scanning for key phrases so that I don't get bogged down by extemporaneous details that won't contribute to our presentation. On some level I know that quickly reading papers is a good habit to have, but it's been hard to balance this speed with the paranoia that I'll miss some small detail that could totally revolutionize our project. Hopefully over the next 40+ years that I'll likely spend reading papers, I can develop a flawless technique for how to quickly and effectively synthesize information without needing to read every word. 

Well, I should get back to the presentation now. After all, there are always more papers to read! 

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