So you have an idea of what you want to study-explore-research. You think that it passes the “So what” test. Now you have to look for information.

picture showing apples

In search for the apple of knowledge

What you do?

I am sure most of you (and even me!) will google up the word. Very probably you (and I) will use Wikipedia as a starting point. Nothing wrong with it…as long as it is the starting point.

Here are some more strategies:

  • database search: there are plenty of databases, one of the most used being Pubmed (Entrez) but there is Library of Congress and many others. If in doubt talk to the librarians. They will help you not only to choose databases, but also to establish searches based on keywords or other criteria.
  • Crawling the story of the paper: most topics will have a few labs that are known and prestigious regarding the topic, and you want to identify them quickly. Then you start the detective work backwards and laterally. Backwards means going backward in time with the papers. Chances are that the description of the methodology or model used in all papers is tucked away in a paper 20 years ago. Laterally means looking for other people involved in this research via collaborations, sharing resources etc. Even if the sharing is purely methodological, it is always worth to know what people do with the same system using a certain model.
  • Be aware of controversies and rivalries. This is harder to spot if you are outside the field, but look for any statement regarding differing opinions or experiments that cannot be repeated. You may find a completely different view of the topic.
  • High impact journals are usually the most respected source of knowledge. However do not underestimate the information coming from other sources. Besides controversies, there may be sheer practical reasons for scientists not to travel to a certain prestigious conference or publishing in a certain paper, such as…money.
  • 21st century tools: explore the social media. See if any of the main scientists related to the topic has a blog or is on Twitter. If so, be sure to follow them and make intelligent comments on their postings. Who knows, maybe they will notice you and share some of their nuggets of wisdom (or inside information).
  • San Diego is a great place for biosciences. Every week there is probably a world-renown expert giving a seminar somewhere in La Jolla. Many of them are open to the public, some require registration but not fees, and some may require something to pay. You can have the chance to actually see and listen to the main expert in your topic, how cool is that! Ok how do you know about the seminars? There are some aggregator sites such as Biocom, and San Diego Biotech network, the latter actually has a long list of other networking groups in the region. You may need to visit your favorite institutions’ websites for seminar schedules.
  • San Diego is also a great conference place. Many big name events happen in the Convention Center. And many events require volunteers. Or offer discounted registration for students. So look up the conference schedules and see if you can volunteer to any of those! Once inside, you can probably use some of your time to wander around and maybe corral your favorite scientist.
  • AAAS is a great organization, and their conferences are usually very affordable for students.

While you can obviously find lots of information from paper articles, there may be changes happening in relationship to your topic. Exciting preliminary results, several results heralding a paradigm change, new emerging technologies…that information is priceless to have a good sense of what is going on in the filed. Therefore I encourage you to think out of the box regarding the search for knowledge. The closer you are to the source, the more recent and probably relevant the information.

Good luck in your quest!

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