Staying Up-to-Date with Lab Literature Readings

Lab readings can be less time consuming than simply opening up a science journal and reading through every abstract for papers relevant to your research! 

When beginning a new lab project, whether it is a summer internship, independent work, or a senior thesis, your mentors will likely present you with academic papers relevant to your topic. This will help you begin to frame your experiments and the overarching goals of your research.

But once you understand enough background to begin, staying up to date with recent papers can be difficult, especially when you are balancing course work, extracurriculars, and other commitments in addition to planning and conducting experiments. In my experience, I found it difficult to sit down and do broad scholarly searches on a research topic as I first did when starting a new project. However, strategies such as using library resources and speaking with others in the department facilitated this process. In this post, I will give tips on how to stay current with laboratory news and advances, specifically with STEM research. 

  1. Consult with Lab Members – In lab, although everyone will be working on a separate project, it is likely that those projects are interconnected in some way. Thus, a good way to stay informed about research news is to ask other lab members if they have read anything interesting or surprising recently. In addition, you can ask about other readings that were helpful at different stages of their projects.

2. Use the Library Research Guides –  Another great way to review recently published papers is to use the Library Research Guides. These are department-targeted guides through the library that help you navigate current and older publication within research in that department. When I started Princeton, before I knew a lot about engineering research, I asked my adviser how I could learn about ‘engineering news’. He recommended the online library research guides, as the news and resource sections are updated very frequently. Using these guides is like being subscribed to multiple academic journals for free. Because entire departments are covered under one guide, they are extremely helpful in giving a wide overview of multiple research topics. To learn more about research guides and how to use them, check out Rafi’s previous post introducing this resource!

3. Attend Department Talks – I acquired a large portion of my engineering research knowledge by attending the CBE Department Seminar series, where every week, a professor from a different university is invited to speak about their research. During a seminar, the professor will discuss recent papers that have been published by their lab, which is helpful in understanding the focus of that lab group. Thus, if that topic is relevant to your research— or is interesting in general— then you can read those papers in detail afterwards. In addition, you can ask questions directly to the professor, which is not something you can always easily do while reading a paper. 

4. Attend or Start a Journal Club – Some lab groups incorporate a journal club into their weekly lab meetings, where a member will read a paper and discuss it with the rest of the group. The first time I attended a journal club was during my internship two summers ago, when my research focused on specific metabolic pathways in yeast cells. Although not every paper we discussed was directly relevant to my exact project, most of the readings were on projects involving yeast, so I learned a lot about different mechanisms and the way in which yeast cells behave. I was able to better understand why some of my experiments were failing simply by understanding yeast behavior more broadly. If your lab does not have a journal club, or if you are not currently working in a lab, you can reach out to friends with similar research interests and begin your own.

Knowing what and how much you should be reading after going through your preliminary literature review for a laboratory research project can be an intimidating task. But a combination of browsing for relevant papers and asking others in the lab about things they have read will get you to where you need to be. 

–Saira Reyes, Engineering Correspondent