Sunday, January 13, 2013

Climbing the literature mountain

or maybe better "drowning in the literature ocean".
When I commenced my position here in Australia I had a lot of time to read and I really enjoyed it. I had no fixed project and with this no equipment to do experiments on the non-existing samples together with my non-existing students paid by my non-existing money. So I used my time for reading, applied for some money with a project based on my literature research (and experience and collaborations and awesomeness, of course) and now I have money, students, samples and equipment. And by now even results! This is all awesome and I don't want it to change. Only the time that I can spend on reading the relevant literature becomes less and less. And my folder which is named "literature to read" has an obesity problem by now.
Many of my colleagues say, they only read for specific projects or publications in progress or sometimes in preparation for a class. But not to keep up with the science in their field in general. My supervisor seems to read only articles from one specific journal ( but he is involved in several other research topics, so maybe he has one preferred journal per topic). I get journal alerts from about 10 different journals covering the whole range from "superstar journal I want to publish in in the far future" and "mmhhhjiiaaa journal which I wouldn't want to publish in but sometimes they have good papers". The amount of stuff that is published every day is just overwhelming. And it's not only the scanning through the alerts which is already time consuming but then the actual reading and digesting and sorting and knowing where it is and that it is somewhere when I need it is what gives me headaches. But I really want to know where we are standing in the big picture, not only in the picture of 1-2 journals.
When talking to more senior researchers about my prospective career path one advice that I often hear is to have one bread-and-butter project, which constantly produces publishable data. And to have a second high-risk-high-return project, exploring a new field, pushing the edges of knowledge. Sounds like great advice and I hope I'll manage to open up such a project soon, but at the moment I'm already struggling to find out where the edges of knowledge are in my bread-and-butter project, 'caus I'm just drowning in the literature. To master the literature of something out my comfort zone seems not feasible at all.
Can I apply for a post-doctoral sabbatical, please? And just read for let say... 3 month? Preferably somewhere at a nice beach?

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