Grant Biology Research Papers
It’s the big picture thinkers – the scientists and the academics, with out-of-this-world ideas and ground-breaking theories for change, who will pave the future. But developing and testing theories requires a lot of research, and with that research, comes huge investments. While research is an important part of academia, it can also be very costly. Fortunately, a whole slew of research grants, scholarships, and fellowships exist – all that’s left is to do the grant research.
- Grants.gov: Though backed by the Department of Health & Human Services, Grants.gov provides a valuable resource for searching for fellowships, grants, and other funding opportunities across multiple disciplines.
- Foundation Center: One of the largest databases of philanthropy in the United States contains information from more than 550 institutions eager to donate their money to creative, technical, medical, scientific, and plenty of other kinds of causes.
- Pivot: Pivot claims it hosts an estimated $44 billion worth of grants, fellowships, awards, and more, accessed by more than three million scholars worldwide.
- The Chronicle of Philanthropy New Grants: Another excellent search engine entirely dedicated to helping the most innovative thinkers obtain the money needed to move forward with their projects.
- Research Professional: Seven thousand opportunities await the driven at the well-loved Research Professional, which serves inclusively as a government-to-nonprofit grant database.
- Council on Foundations: Corporations, nonprofits, and other institutions gather here to talk best practices in philanthropy and where to find what for various projects.
- The Grantsmanship Center: Search for available research funding by state, see what givers prefer, and explore which ones offer up the most moolah.
- GrantSelect: Whether looking for money to advance an educational, nonprofit, artistic, or other worthwhile cause, GrantSelect makes it easy to find that funding.
- The Spencer Foundation: The Spencer Foundation provides research funding to outstanding proposals for intellectually rigorous education research.
- The Fulbright Program: The Fulbright Program offers grants in nearly 140 countries to further areas of education, culture, and science.
- Friends of the Princeton University Library: The Friends of the Princeton University Library offers short-term library research grants to promote scholarly use of the research collections.
- National Endowment for the Arts: The NEA’s Office of Research & Analysis will make awards to support research that investigates the value and/or impact of the arts, either as individual components within U.S. arts ecology or as they interact with each other and/or with other domains of American life.
- Amazon Web Services: AWS has two programs to enable customers to move their research or teaching endeavors to the cloud and innovate quickly and at lower cost: The AWS Cloud Credits for Research program (formerly AWS Research Grants) and AWS Educate – a global initiative to provide students and educators with the resources needed to greatly accelerate cloud-related learning endeavors and to help power the entrepreneurs, workforce, and researchers of tomorrow.
- The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy Research Grants: The NASBA will fund and award up to three grants totaling up to $25,000 for one-year research projects, intended for researchers at higher institutions.
- The Tinker Foundation Research Grants: The Tinker Foundation Field Research Grants Program is designed to provide budding scholars with first-hand experience of their region of study, regardless of academic discipline.
- SPIN (Sponsored Programs Information Network): SPIN is run by InfoEd International and requires an institutional subscription to access its global database for funding opportunities.
- GrantForward: GrantForward is a massive resource, full of grants from more than 9,000 sponsors in the United States. The site leverages data-crawling technology to constantly add new funding opportunities.
- Bush Foundation Fellowship Program: Leadership in its many forms are the main focus of the BFFP, who give money to folks dedicated to improving their communities.
Social and Civil
- National Endowment for Democracy: NGOs dedicated to furthering the cause of peace and democracy are the only ones eligible for grants from this organization.
- William T. Grant Foundation: Research and scholarship funding here goes towards advancing the cause of creating safe, healthy, and character-building environments for young people.
- Russell Sage Foundation: The Russell Sage Foundation focuses on best practices research feeding into equality and social justice initiatives.
- The Pew Charitable Trusts: Public policy is the name of the game here, where funding targets innovators looking to promote environmental, economic, and health programming causes reaching across demographics.
- The John Randolph Haynes Foundation: Based largely in Los Angeles, the John Randolph Haynes Foundation seeks to improve the city through a wide variety of altruistic projects.
- Economic and Social Research Council: This UK-based organization provides grants to researchers concerned with studying the social sciences in a manner that supports humanity’s progress.
- The American Political Science Association: Stop here for fellowships, grants, internships, visiting scholars programs, and other chances to pay for political research.
- Social Science Research Council: In the interest of furthering an awareness of integral political issues, the SSRC donates to a wide range of initiatives worldwide.
- Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy: Several grants go out each year through this organization, covering all the social sciences and judged based on how well they fit into policymaking.
- The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation: The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation welcomes proposals from any of the natural and social sciences and the humanities that promise to increase understanding of the causes, manifestations, and control of violence and aggression. Highest priority is given to research that can increase understanding and amelioration of urgent problems of violence and aggression in the modern world.
- The National Endowment for the Humanities: Research grants from TNEH support interpretive humanities research undertaken by a team of two or more scholars. Research must use the knowledge and perspectives of the humanities and historical or philosophical methods to enhance understanding of science, technology, medicine, and the social sciences.
- American Historical Association: The American Historical Association awards several research grants to AHA members with the aim of advancing the study and exploration of history in a diverse number of subject areas. All grants are offered annually and are intended to further research in progress. Preference is given to advanced doctoral students, nontenured faculty, and unaffiliated scholars. Grants may be used for travel to a library or archive, as well as microfilming, photography, or photo copying, paying borrowing or access fees, or similar research expenses.
- The Dirksen Congressional Center: The Dirksen Congressional Center offers individual grants of up to $3500 for individuals with a serious interest in studying Congress. The Center encourages graduate students who have successfully defended their dissertation prospectus to apply, and awards a significant portion of the funds toward dissertation research.
- The Independent Social Research Foundation: The ISRF supports independent-minded researchers pursuing original and interdisciplinary studies for solutions to social problems that are unlikely to be funded by existing funding bodies.
- The David & Lucile Packard Foundation: Nonprofit organizations dedicated to growing education, charities, health, and other social justice causes should consider seeing what funding is available to them through this foundation.
- Volkswagen Stiftung: Volkswagen devotes its grants and other funding opportunities to a diverse portfolio of charities and charity-minded individuals.
Science and Engineering
- National Science Foundation: For the love of science! Head here when searching for ways to pay for that gargantuan geology or bigtime biology project. Awards are used for everything from undergraduate research grants to small business programs.
- Alexander von Humboldt Foundation: Humboldt fellows embody the spirit of science and leadership alike, and the organization sponsors thinkers in Germany and abroad alike.
- National Academy of Engineering: All of the awards dished out by the NAE celebrate engineering advances, education, and media promotion.
- National Parks Foundation: Americans who want to preserve their country’s gorgeous parks and trails pitch projects to this governing body, concerned largely with ecology and accessibility issues.
- U.S. Department of Energy: Qualified individuals and institutions get money for bringing their energy-related ideas to life, though sustainability seems the most popular trend these days.
- American Physical Society: Future Feynmans in search of the sponsorship necessary to test their theories (and explore possible applications) might want to consider applying for the APS’ suite of awards.
- Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: Money is available here throughout the year, covering science and engineering as well as causes that overlap with civics, education, and economics.
- American Society for Engineering Education: The Department of Defense, NASA, The National Science Foundation, and other federal agencies sponsor high school and college students who show promise in the engineering sector.
- CRDF Global: Dedicated to peace and prosperity, recipients of CRDF Global grants apply their know-how to bettering social causes.
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council: Students and professionals working in the physical sciences as they relate to engineering might find a few options to their liking here.
- The Whitehall Foundation: The Whitehall Foundation, through its program of grants and grants-in-aid, assists scholarly research in the life sciences. It is the Foundation’s policy to assist those dynamic areas of basic biological research that are not heavily supported by federal agencies or other foundations with specialized missions.
- Human Frontier Science Program: Research grants from the Human Frontier Science Program are provided for teams of scientists from different countries who wish to combine their expertise in innovative approaches to questions that could not be answered by individual laboratories.
- The U.S. Small Business Administration: The U.S. Small Business Administration offers research grants to small businesses that are engaged in scientific research and development projects that meet federal R&D objectives and have a high potential for commercialization.
- The Geological Society of America: The primary role of the GSA research grants program is to provide partial support of master’s and doctoral thesis research in the geological sciences for graduate students enrolled in universities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America.
- The Welch Foundation: The Welch Foundation provides grants for a minimum of $60,000 in funding to support research in chemistry by a full-time tenured or tenurehttps://leakeyfoundation.org/grants/research-grants/-track faculty member who serves as principal investigator. Applications are restricted to universities, colleges, and other educational institutions located within the state of Texas.
- The Leakey Foundation: The Leakey Foundation offers research grants of up to $25,000 to doctoral and postdoctoral students, as well as senior scientists, for research related specifically to human origins.
- American College of Sports Medicine: The American College of Sports Medicine offers several possible grants to research students in the areas of general and applied science.
- Association of American Geographers: The AAG provides small grants to support research and fieldwork. Grants can be used only for direct expenses of research; salary and overhead costs are not allowed.
- The Alternatives Research & Development Foundation: The Alternatives Research & Development Foundation is a U.S. leader in the funding and promotion of alternatives to the use of laboratory animals in research, testing, and education.
- BD Biosciences: BD Biosciences Research Grants aim to reward and enable important research by providing vital funding to scientists pursuing innovative experiments that advance the scientific understanding of disease. This ongoing program includes grants for immunology and stem cell research, totaling $240,000 annually in BD Biosciences research reagents.
- Sigma Xi: The Sigma Xi program awards grants for research in the areas of science, engineering, astronomy, and vision.
- The United Engineering Foundation: The United Engineering Foundation advances the engineering arts and sciences for the welfare of humanity. It supports engineering and education by, among other means, developing and offering grants.
- Wilson Ornithological Society Research Grants: The Wilson Ornithological Society Research Grants offer up to four grants of $1,500 dollars each for work in any area of ornithology.
- Newton’s List: Newton’s List is a free resource open to individuals searching for international funding for the natural sciences, engineering, technology, agriculture, and the social sciences.
- National Institutes of Health: Foreign and American medical professionals hoping to advance their research might want to consider one of these prestigious (and generous) endowments.
- Whitaker International Program: Biomedical engineering’s global reach serves as this organization’s focus, so applicants here need to open themselves up to international institutions and applications.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: From tech to small businesses, the USNLM funding programs cover a diverse range of fields that feed into medicine.
- American Heart Association: Most of the AHA’s research involves cardiovascular disease and stroke, with funding in these areas available in both the winter and the summer.
- Society for Women’s Health Research: Female engineers and scientists are eligible for these grants, meant to support initiatives that improves women’s health and education on a global scale.
- Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation: Every cent donated to the DRCRF directly feeds into fellowships and awards bringing humanity closer to cancer cures and improved prevention regimens.
- Burroughs Wellcome Fund: Emerging scientists working in largely underrecognized and underfunded biomedical fields are the main recipients of this private foundation’s awards.
- The Foundation for Alcohol Research: As one can probably assume from the name, The Foundation for Alcohol Research contributes to projects studying how alcohol impacts human physical and mental health.
- Alex’s Lemonade Stand: These grants go towards doctors, nurses, and medical researchers concerned with curing childhood cancer.
- National Cancer Institute: Thanks to a little help from their friends in Congress, the National Cancer Institute have $4.9 billion to share with medical science researchers.
- Charles Stewart Mott Foundation: Michigan-based thinkers currently developing ways to improve upon serious local and state issues might want to consider checking out what this organization can offer in the way of funding for their ideas.
- American Federation for Aging Research: AFAR provides up to $100,000 for a one-to-two-year award to junior faculty (MDs and PhDs) to conduct research that will serve as the basis for longer term research efforts in the areas of biomedical and clinical research.
- The Muscular Dystrophy Association: The MDA is pursuing the full spectrum of research approaches that are geared toward combating neuromuscular diseases. MDA also helps spread this scientific knowledge and train the next generation of scientific leaders by funding national and international research conferences and career development grants.
- American Nurses Foundation: The ANF Nursing Research Grants Program provides funds to beginner and experienced nurse researchers to conduct studies that contribute toward the advancement of nursing science and the enhancement of patient care.
- The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: The CF Foundation offers competitive awards for research related to cystic fibrosis. Studies may be carried out at the subcellular, cellular, animal, or patient levels. Two of these funding mechanisms include pilot and feasibility awards and research grants.
- The National Ataxia Foundation: The National Ataxia Foundation (NAF) is committed to funding the best science relevant to hereditary and sporadic types of ataxia in both basic and translational research. NAF invites research applications from USA. and International non-profit and for-profit institutions.
- The March of Dimes: In keeping with its mission, the March of Dimes research portfolio funds many different areas of research on topics related to preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.
- The American Tinnitus Association: The American Tinnitus Association Research Grant Program financially supports scientific studies investigating tinnitus. Studies must be directly concerned with tinnitus and contribute to ATA’s goal of finding a cure.
- American Brain Tumor Association: The American Brain Tumor Association provides multiple grants for scientists doing research in or around the field of brain tumor research.
- American Cancer Society: The American Cancer Society also offers grants that support the clinical and/or research training of health professionals. These Health Professional Training Grants promote excellence in cancer prevention and control by providing incentive and support for highly qualified individuals in outstanding training programs.
- Thrasher Research Fund: The Thrasher Research Fund provides grants for pediatric medical research. The Fund seeks to foster an environment of creativity and discovery aimed at finding solutions to children’s health problems. The Fund awards grants for research that offer substantial promise for meaningful advances in prevention and treatment of children’s diseases, particularly research that offers broad-based applications.
- Foundation for Physical Therapy: The Foundation supports research projects in any patient care specialty.
- International OCD Foundation: The IOCDF awards grants to investigators whose research focuses on the nature, causes, and treatment of OCD and related disorders.
- Susan G. Komen: Susan G. Komen sustains a strong commitment to supporting research that will identify and deliver cures for breast cancer.
- American Association for Cancer Research: The AACR promotes and supports the highest quality cancer research. The AACR has been designated as an organization with an approved NCI peer review and funding system.
- American Thyroid Foundation: The ATA is committed to supporting research into better ways to diagnose and treat thyroid disease.
- The National Patient Safety Foundation: The National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) Research Grants Program seeks to stimulate new, innovative projects directed toward enhancing patient safety in the United States. The program’s objective is to promote studies leading to the prevention of human errors, system errors, patient injuries, and the consequences of such adverse events in a healthcare setting.
- The Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research: The FAER provides research grant funding for anesthesiologists and anesthesiology trainees to gain additional training in basic science, clinical and translational, health-services-related, and education research.
- The Alzheimer’s Association: The Alzheimer’s Association funds a wide variety of investigations by scientists at every stage of their careers. Each grant is designed to meet the needs of the field and to introduce fresh ideas in Alzheimer’s research.
- The Arthritis National Research Foundation: The Arthritis National Research Foundation seeks to move arthritis research forward to find new treatments and to cure arthritis.
- Hereditary Disease Foundation: The focus of the Hereditary Disease Foundation is on Huntington’s disease. Support will be for research projects that will contribute to identifying and understanding the basic defect in Huntington’s disease. Areas of interest include trinucleotide expansions, animal models, gene therapy, neurobiology and development of the basal ganglia, cell survival and death, and intercellular signaling in striatal neurons.
- The Children’s Leukemia Research Association: The objective of the CLRA is to direct the funds of the Association into the most promising leukemia research projects, where funding would not duplicate other funding sources.
- The American Parkinson Disease Association: The APDA offers grants of up to $50,000 for Parkinson disease research to scientists affiliated with U.S. research institutions.
- The Mary Kay Foundation: The Mary Kay Foundation offers grants to select doctors and medical scientists for research focusing on curing cancers that affect women. Details for 2017 are forthcoming.
- The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America: The CCFA is a leading funder of basic and clinical research in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. CCFA supports research that increases understanding of the etiology, pathogenesis, therapy, and prevention of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons: ASES provides grants of up to $20,000 for promising shoulder and elbow research projects.
- The Avon Foundation for Women: Grants from the Avon Foundation go to develop new strategies to prevent breast cancer, and toward research of the science behind breast cancer to increase understanding of the disease.
- The International Research Grants Program: The IRGP seeks to promote research that will have a major impact in developing knowledge of Parkinson’s disease. An effort is made to promote projects that have little hope of securing traditional funding.
- American Gastroenterological Association: The AGA offers multiple grants for research advancing the science and practice of Gastroenterology.
- The Obesity Society: The Obesity Society offers grants of up to $25,000 dollars to members doing research in areas related to obesity.
- The Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation: The SSF Research Grants Program places a high priority on both clinical and basic scientific research into the cause, prevention, detection, treatment, and cure of Sjögren’s.
- The Melanoma Research Foundation: The MRF Research Grant Program emphasizes both basic and clinical research projects that explore innovative approaches to understanding melanoma and its treatment.
Few aspects of scientific work may be as crucial—and yet as easy to neglect—as reading the literature. Beginning a new research project or writing a grant application can be good opportunities for extensive literature searches, but carving out time to keep abreast of newly published papers on a regular basis is often challenging. The task is all the more daunting today, with the already vast literature continuing to grow at head-spinning speed.
To help you keep track of the literature and avoid feeling too overwhelmed, Science Careers asked scientists in a diverse range of fields to discuss how they integrate searching for papers, and reading them, into their working routine. Their responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Why is it important to keep up with the literature, and what are the challenges?
Without keeping up with the literature, I can't know what other people are doing or contextualize my work. In addition, through reading the literature I can find potential solutions to scientific barriers I am facing in my own research. But I do find it difficult to integrate this task into my daily routine. The demands on scientists in terms of outreach, administration, grant writing, teaching, and more are tremendous, and there are only 24 hours in a day.
- Lynn Kamerlin, associate professor of cell and molecular biology at Uppsala University in Sweden
Staying up to date with the literature is perhaps the single most important skill that remains crucial throughout a researcher’s career. Without knowing where the current gaps are, your findings will either be old hat or too out in left field to be cited right away. But there certainly are challenges. One of them is that reading papers can feel like dead time, because it is such a slow and absorbing process, and there are so many papers out there to digest. Reading can also feel disheartening, as you will often find that other people have already published on what you thought was a really novel or original idea. And so it can all too easily happen that this important task of investing in your knowledge gets prioritized lower than all the other apparently more urgent duties that you have as a scientist.
- Denis Bauer, team leader in transformational bioinformatics at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Sydney, Australia
Our job is to push the frontier of what is already known, so we need to be aware of where this frontier is. However, trying to stay up to date with the literature is tremendously difficult. As an assistant professor, my job is to not only do research but also to teach, obtain funding, do professional service including peer review, give talks, attend committee meetings, and more. This constant multitasking makes it difficult to carve out time for keeping up with papers. Another challenge lies in the immense amount of new work that constantly gets published. The number of journals and venues is very large, and it continues to grow. This is further aggravated if you work in a field that is multidisciplinary, because then this number is multiplied, becoming barely manageable.
- Belen Masia, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Zaragoza in Spain
It is extremely important to find what you need in the scientific literature, but it’s difficult for anyone to block out the necessary time. For young scientists in particular, there is the additional challenge of trying to stay on top of newly published literature while still building up knowledge of their research areas.
- John Borghi, former librarian and postdoctoral fellow at the California Digital Library in Oakland, California
Keeping up is essential, no doubt about it. To be able to provide novel results, you have to know what has been done before you. Plus, you want to benefit from all the ideas, data, and interpretations that have accumulated in the literature right up to that point. But it’s certainly hard to keep up. Thousands of papers are published daily. Another challenge for me is that my research is multi-faceted, so I need to read in my broader field, which covers a lot of ground.
- Juan Jose Negro, senior staff scientist in evolutionary ecology and conservation biology at the Doñana Biological Station in Seville, Spain
Our function as scientists is to push the envelope and create new knowledge and understanding, so we always need to be as up to date as we can be in our areas. But keeping up with the literature is potentially an overwhelmingly large task, and there are no deadlines attached to it. And so, among all the other things that I have responsibilities for, it often feels hard to prioritize.
- Jehannine C. Austin, associate professor of psychiatry and medical genetics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada
To make a contribution to scientific research and effectively teach my students, I need to be very familiar with the current state of knowledge and with what ideas and methods are being used at the frontier of my field. But I find that keeping up with the literature always comes with a trade-off: Do I spend more time on my research projects, or do I read the latest papers?
- Ina Ganguli, assistant professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst
How do you find new papers you ought to read, and the time to read them?
To keep on top of my specialty area, I carry out regular, systematic literature searches using a tool called PubCrawler. PubCrawler automatically searches online publication databases using key search terms that I set up, and it sends me a weekly email highlighting all the new and potentially relevant papers, with a link to the abstract or full text. I find out about other recently published papers I ought to read from email alerts I get from the key journals in my area. I also become aware of new publications through colleagues who email me, and from social media. Twitter is an underutilized resource in science, but it’s great—if you follow the right people—for keeping your finger on the pulse of new work that is coming out.
Regarding finding the time, unless I am actively writing a grant or paper, it is harder for me to keep up with the literature, because it’s not an urgent, immediate, deadline-driven need. So I have a set time once a week, on Mondays, to look at the output of my literature searching tools. I sift through it all and then at least skim the papers that I find most relevant. I read journals’ tables of contents when I get them, usually also immediately downloading and at least skimming the papers that I find of most interest. Thorough reading of the full papers may be more sporadic.
The tools I use to keep track of new literature are Feedly, which allows me to subscribe to the RSS feeds of relevant journals; a string of PubMed updates, which capture any relevant literature published outside those journals; and Twitter, which helps me identify what literature the broader scientific community is talking about.
I like spending a few minutes every morning skimming recent publications for articles that are especially interesting or relevant to my work. Coupled with a regular block every Friday devoted to more critical reading and lots of note taking, this generally allows me to stay up to date. Whatever routine you decide to set for yourself, I think the key is to find a way to interact with the literature regularly.
I continuously monitor the growing literature using the updates feature in Google Scholar, which recommends a selection of new papers to read based on your own publications. Monitoring the handful of main conferences in my field throughout the year, plus a couple of other relevant venues, also does a good job. Many conferences eventually publish their proceedings, and so whenever the lists of accepted papers get published, I also go through them as soon as I can and look at the papers that seem the most relevant to me. Sometimes, reading the abstract suffices. Other times, if it is closely related to my research, I print it for when I find time to go over it in more detail. Also, I make a point to regularly look at what leading researchers in my field publish and to talk to my peers.
To know when relevant papers are published, I rely on alerts that the journals automatically send to highlight new publications that cite papers I found of interest previously. There is also substantial activity on social media, with journals promoting and researchers discussing new articles. Reddit Science'sAsk Me Anything, or AMA, forum discussions are a great way to hear about innovative research and talk to the authors directly. Recommender systems such as PubChase can also be great tools to hear about new papers early. However, most recommender systems find papers based on how similar they are to papers you previously read, which inevitably limits your exposure to tangential ideas that may be important to your research. I therefore like going through the tables of contents of my favorite journals.
In terms of how I find time for dealing with the literature, I usually go through email alerts as I get them to quickly become aware of the most important new publications. I also find that tweeting or blogging about one paper a week, or a day, is a good incentive for reading in depth. Twitter is particularly good, as it forces me to condense the paper’s relevant outcomes down to 140 characters, which then promptly triggers my memory as I go through my Twitter feed. Other advantages of Twitter are that it helps me find researchers with similar interests and helps me build a brand.
One way I keep track of new papers being published is by subscribing to emails that include the tables of contents of the top or most widely read journals in my field. In economics there is usually a long publication lag, so I also have to be aware of working papers getting published and new publications being presented at conferences and in seminars. Attending events and talking to others are very important ways to find out about the latest papers. I also follow some blogs written by economists and several economists on Twitter who tend to write about new papers.
To deal with the time pressure, I try to be efficient in how I scan the literature. I find it very useful to at least read through the titles and abstracts of the latest papers published in the journals, and then I decide carefully which papers I should read extensively.
To keep up with new papers being published, I use a combination of RSS feeds from journals in my field, Google Scholar Updates, the reference manager Papers, and recommendations from senior scientists on Faculty of 1000 or directly from colleagues. Twitter is also becoming increasingly valuable as a tool for spreading exciting research, and I strongly recommend getting networked through social media. The volume of literature out there makes keeping track a collective effort, and it's also good to have a venue for promoting your own work amid the sea of information.
But while I continuously scan what’s coming out, finding the time to read multiple papers in full is more difficult. And so, every few weeks, I try to download as many papers as I can—both newly published papers that are relevant to my work and older papers that I recently became aware of—and read them in chunks as the week progresses. Still, summer is best for reading—I have fewer teaching and administration obligations, so this is when I can really catch up with the literature.
How do you go about conducting more extensive background literature searches?
For general background reading in my field, I usually start by looking at new articles that have cited my work, as the likelihood that I am interested in what they have to write about is much higher. Similarly, I look at both recent and past citations to papers I found interesting to find further reading. For more targeted literature searches, Google—both Google Scholar and just the normal search bar—and PubMed are great. If I am moving into a new area, I usually contact colleagues, including people I know through conferences, and ask them if they have recommendation lists for me.
I find that, nowadays, searching for past literature is the easy part. Search engines and Google Scholar, together with other tools which allow users to follow citations, do a good job. If discipline-specific conferences or journals exist, I also go through the papers published in them, going at least 5 years back. What I find much more challenging is how to organize the works that I read and knowledge I acquire, and how to search back through them. I first set up a dedicated digital database using existing tools. Mendeley is a well-known example; I myself use JabRef. Then I archive hard copies of most of the papers I read, with the main contributions written on their front page. It is of no use going through a bunch of papers if you are unable to remember what you read in them.
For historical searches, I usually start with PubMed, searching terms that make the most sense to me and expanding my scope of those search terms if I get limited results. Once I have a selection of key or index papers for a topic of interest, I pull the relevant papers cited within them. I also find out which papers later cited my index papers, for example by finding them on Google Scholar. Often, through this process, I am able to develop new search terms to use in PubMed, so I may then again start the whole process iteratively.
When conducting literature searches, I like to simultaneously look backward and forward: If I find a paper that I think describes a topic particularly well, I look at both the papers it cites and the papers that cite it. Tools like PubMed and Web of Science each have their own strengths and weaknesses but, if I’m trying to gain insight into a topic described in a paper, I typically start by using Google Scholar to look at the papers that reference the one I’m reading.
For broader searches, I have been applying “Ten Simple Rules for Searching and Organizing the Scientific Literature” for several years now with good results, although the technologies have changed slightly over time. Today, I usually start from the article that made me interested in the topic (what I call the seed paper) and read the papers that are cited in the references. For this I use ReadCube, as it helps prioritize papers by the number of citations they have. Then I also try to find a review article on PubMed, which helps me identify other research groups in the field whose work might not have been referred to in the seed paper but is nonetheless important. Finally, I try searches for research articles in PubMed and Google Scholar with very precise keywords and choose new seed papers from there, starting the process all over again. Eventually, this helps me establish connections between different schools of thought.
Does the literature sometimes feel overwhelming? How do you prioritize what to read, and how do you reduce the chance of missing an important paper?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the flow of information. The decision to be made is one of sensitivity versus specificity. I tend to prioritize specificity (whether the papers I find are on target for me) and accept lower sensitivity (I’m not going to find everything that could potentially be relevant). I have drawn a line that makes sense for me based on the principle of diminishing returns. Of course, where exactly to draw this line is likely different for everyone.
Regarding how to make sure nothing crucial escapes my attention, I try to send links to papers that I find to colleagues and students whom I think might be interested in them, given what I know about their work. My hope is that, in turn, they will send things that they come across to me too, and then perhaps I will miss less. I also find that, when I am writing grants and papers and engaging in more thorough systematic literature reviews, I can catch up on things I may have missed.
It is important to be exposed to ideas and approaches from other disciplines, but there can be an overwhelming amount of information if we try to read everything that gets published, and sometimes it is difficult to know where to draw the line. I prioritize the papers that are directly related to my own projects, especially when I am writing literature reviews for publications or grant proposals. I also prioritize reading papers from the top journals in my main research areas to keep on top of which topics and methods are at the frontier of knowledge. And then if I have some spare time, I also try to read papers that are a little bit further from my main research topics.
There are certainly some times when you have that “I can’t believe I missed this paper” moment. But usually, if the papers are important enough, you will eventually find out about them through conference presentations, conversations with colleagues, Twitter, blogs, magazines, or other channels. You just hope you don’t have that moment when reading a report from a referee who isn’t happy that you missed an important citation!
The number of papers out there makes it impossible not to miss important papers, especially when you are working in multiple disciplines. So I prioritize my reading in terms of what is most immediately relevant to what I am working on, and then I fan out from there as time allows.
Trying to read too broadly, too deeply, or too quickly is a sure path to information overload. So don’t try to read it all at once! Scientists who are feeling overwhelmed by the flow of information should take a step back and think about what exactly they’re looking for in the literature—and then prioritize the papers directly related to that question. It also helps to realize that, ultimately, a single scientist can’t read everything. A group of scientists navigating different branches of the literature can however cover a lot of ground. Personally, I’ve benefited greatly from collaborators and friends working in fields adjacent to my own pointing me toward things they’ve come across.
Are there any potential pitfalls that you’d like to highlight for young scientists? Do you have any further advice?
Young scientists sometimes tend to neglect the literature. They look at a number of related papers when they start working on their project, but then they fail to keep looking for more papers as their research—and the work of other researchers—progresses. They also rarely go back to the literature they’ve searched and read, even though it remains a great source of inspiration.
Talk to librarians! Depending on their area of expertise, they may be able to give you specific advice about accessing important papers or navigating the scientific literature. Even if they don’t have specific subject area knowledge, librarians are an often-untapped source of knowledge about how scholarly information is organized, evaluated, and disseminated.
Remember that we walk on the shoulders of giants. Einstein would be a notable example, and Darwin’s work is still as relevant to evolutionary biologists today as it was in his day. In other words, don’t limit your literature searches to the 21st century.
At the early stages of your research career, it's especially important that you take the time each day to get up to speed with the literature. I would recommend trying the different tools available and experimenting with your reading routine until you find what works for you. There are so many great options out there, and people have different tastes in terms of what they are comfortable with. Also, don't be afraid to ask your adviser for literature recommendations. Finally, it’s a good idea to set up a physical or virtual journal club to share papers and discuss ideas with your peers.