It’s almost November and I can’t believe how quickly time is flying. Having a dissertation on the side means that I’ve been strangely lacking the deadlines that tend to characterise my Halloween weekend.
Today, I’m going to dedicate this post to a spooky activity that all Bioscience students eventually relate to once they’re in their final year: reading the scientific literature!
The literature you’re expected to work through as an undergraduate take the primary shape of two things: review articles and primary research papers. The older you get, the likely it is that tutors expect greater focus on the latter. It’s not an easy task by any means! I love reading and I still find it challenging analysing all the text, but as a third year, there’s a larger emphasis on outside reading so I do have to make a more conscious effort to read outside of my lectures.
So first, I’ll explain the differences between the two. The easiest way to describe a primary research paper is that it’s the publication exhibiting the raw data from an experiment – whilst a review paper is a summary of a lot of experiments on the same topic. The best thing to do when starting out an essay or an assignment is to read a recent review. It’s written more accessibly, and is generally broader than a research paper, which is primarily focused on one piece of work which may not be wholly relevant to your subject.
If you’re at the stage of reading primary research papers, the best way to tackle them is to read, read and read the abstract. The abstract is simply the entire paper condensed into a paragraph and typically sits at the top to brief the reader on what to expect for the rest of the publication. If you understand the abstract, then you have a clearer insight into the structure of the paper and will find it easier to analyse the methods (definitely the toughest thing about primary research papers). Plus, researchers have a tendency to abbreviate and you don’t want to miss out on any crucial ones that are first mentioned and explained in the abstract!
If you want to get a taste of what scientific literature is like, then check out Nature which has a whole host of material from review articles, to primary research, all the way to more accessible ‘news and views’ pieces on the most cutting edge of scientific research.
Have a fabulous Halloween!