First things first, you are probably wondering why there’s a pug digging into the sand at the beach in this article’s feature image. The dog’s actions are a metaphor for my PhD reading and the background beach is… just a calm setting that invokes peaceful emotions that counter the other PhD induced existential crisis feelings 🙂 And the pug is clumsy, a representation of the truth that it’s okay to be an imperfect science researcher. #cheesy
I’m currently still in the process of completing a literature review and with that comes a lot of reading, reading, reading. I’d done a significant amount of reading before to understand my field, but finding a focus for the review has led to an new stream of more in-depth reading.
Imagine the untouched surface of the sand as my topic of interest. I know that this is the area I want to start my digging because of my ‘sense of research’. This sense is in essence the questions that evolve around the PhD that I’m doing.
I find one of the best places to start looking for relevant information for a research topic is recent review publications. This gives a broad idea of scientific development in the field and if it’s a good review, it recommends gaps that need filling and future research directions. Reviews themselves can have ranges of specificity, with the broadest skimming over the general happenings, whilst others have less width but a significant depth to cover.
The broadest reviews can be encountered at the start of reading, which then hint to clues for sub-topic reviews. Then of course, reviews have a long list of references for relevant articles. Then those articles themselves have references to relevant work… and so on so forth. The pug is digging deeper into the hole.
I actually enjoy this literature search. It’s laborious but there is an enjoyment to uncovering the layers that found the research that is today. And the best part is finding that publication with the discussions I was desperate for , or finding that article that I didn’t even know I wanted. Those are the gems, the treasures of the dig. These gems sometimes don’t show up easily on database searches.
So the conclusion here is that there is no way to avoid reading during the PhD. All PhD advice articles or books out there that recommend reading as much as possible are right. Some are a bit extreme and advise filling all your free time with reading, which is realistically too mentally demanding. But perhaps the extremeness of the advice is not to be followed literally, but is just an eye-opener to the weight that reading has in contributing to the PhD.
And with more reading comes an increased awareness of the niches of the field and potential interdisciplinary links. (I was thinking of a way to loop the pug metaphor into that last statement but I came up blank, which you readers are probably relieved about 😀 )
But that’s it for now.
Happy Research Digging!