How to Read?

So, I don’t know how to read.

No, not like that; I am literate. I’m talking more about academic articles, I don’t really know how to read those.

Well, not like that either; I’ve read a lot of academic articles and have discussed a lot of them, and have written papers citing them, so I know functionally how to read them. So maybe by “I don’t know how to read,” I mean “I don’t know how to find what to read.”

But even then, I know what tools are available to me; I use PsycINFO, I’ve spent a lot of time on Google Scholar, and I’m familiar with PubMed. Functionally, I can get what I need in terms of articles, but I have more trouble with the curation aspect, which poses the basic question: “What should I be reading?”  As an undergrad, this wasn’t really a problem, because I would be assigned readings in class, or I would only be reading primary articles when I was writing a paper. However, as a graduate student, I expect a little more of myself in terms of being well-read in my interest fields. Since none of my classes are in my primary research area, I don’t have the same sort of class-assigned reading structure that existed in undergrad. There seems to be two distinct solutions to this:

  1. Have my research mentor assign me articles. This definitely works, as my mentor is very good at knowing who to read in a particular field. However, I do want to develop my own ability to curate.
  2. Figure it out myself.

Given what I said about option 1, I’m interested in exploring option 2. There’s an additional tricky aspect of it, given that I am young, in that staying well-read in the field involves reading influential past research in addition to new research. That problem is more solve-able, as I can appropriate textbooks that are used for undergrad classes. So the problem of curating new research remains. I’ve tried to solve this in a few ways, such as just going through the top journals in my field (Child Development, Developmental Psychology, and Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in my case), and consulting the Annual Review line of journals, but this seems imprecise. It’s easier with older articles, as you can look through citation metrics to get a rough sense of importance, but without reading through the papers, it’s hard to quickly figure out what is good to read. I guess that’s where I’m at right now, having a hard time currently separating wheat from chaff, but not knowing how to make it easier beyond just getting more experienced at it.

Oh, and there’s the matter of making sure you have enough time to actually read what you find. That’s a whole separate 500-word post.