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I'm an early-career academic in economics/social science trying to keep on top of things. In my previous professional life, I have kept an RSS feed, but I have a hard time finding good ways of doing that. Many more articles are published than I have the time to read because of my interdisciplinary research interests, and I want to know more about some strategies to keeping up to date with what's talked about, what's popular, and such. Any tips appreciated.

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    Why is "popular" important? Popular with who, exactly?
    – Buffy
    Apr 18, 2022 at 15:50

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I'm in a completely different field, but my (long) experience might be of some help to a new academic.

First, you probably can't know or follow "everything". Specialize in some aspect(s) and follow that deeply. General and popular literature can help you keep generally abreast of what is going on in the larger field and you can follow up outside your specialty as necessary. But focus first. Perhaps something like an 80/20 rule is needed for specialized vs more general readings.

Don't spend all of your time reading. You also need to write and to do whatever research is required to do that.

Join one or more professional organizations that have researchers and, perhaps, groups dedicated to your specialty. Maybe they have newsletters and/or journals with the important stuff.

In some fields (mine was CS - now retired) conferences are very important, both for depth and breadth. At a conference you can listen to speakers on a variety of topics and take notes for later follow up. More important you can meet people and make contacts, perhaps setting up collaborative efforts. In any case, developing a wide circle of interest and collaboration is a good career builder. But you can explore both the general and the specific at a good conference.

Attendance at conferences can also be a morale booster if you learn that you are just as good/smart as the paper presenters.

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  • Thanks, that's some good pointers.
    – Niclas
    Apr 25, 2022 at 13:30
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An RSS feed is a firehose. Couple it with other resources, and you will soon drown. You have to train yourself how to divert what you need from the resources that feed you, not presume that you must read everything that is offered, or even that you must read from every source that is available.

You might start by reviewing the purposes, principles, and practices behind having structured inboxes, clear processing routines, and regular review cycles. First, decide why you need to read. You need/want immediate information @asap. You want a @pool of information to become better informed. Or you want information for @someday as your time permits. Pull articles out from your sources (e.g. the RSS feed) into a master inbox based on those decision. Review the categories (or folders) in the collection inbox routinely to push the documents to their next action level (reading) -- @asap, @pool, @someday. Perhaps tags will also help when you spot an article that fits to organize at other levels -- #relevant, #discovery, #insight.

At the back end, develop a structured habit about how you manage a citation database (or citation databases) that gets filled from your master inbox. For example, the @someday articles can go straight into a SomeDay library database, and the @asap and @pool articles can go into >asap and >pool folders in a master citation library.

How you go from this point gives you feedback to where you improve in the above. When you find that you never get to the SomeDay library .. no sweat. The some day that you considered should some day come has not yet come. When you find that you are never getting to the >pool because you are always reading in the >asap, perhaps you need to narrow your decision on what is meant by @asap. Ultimately, you want to learn how to spend time mostly in the >pool. But, to stay fresh, articles you put in the >pool should not stay there. An article lands there because you believed from the firehose that it had some importance to your work. If you start reading it and find it has less importance than you thought, toss it to the SomeDay library instead. Otherwise, find a Project folder where it belongs best as file-cabinet type reference. Continuing the analogy, keep your >pool from overflowing and thereby stagnating. Either move articles out as fast as you bring them in or restrict further what you bring into the pool in the first place.

Finally, you are not the first to face this challenge, and you are alone in facing it. This is why books on Seven Habits, Getting Things Done, and other such management methods prevail. More recently, this is part of the flurry behind the Zettlekasten method. And the questions you ask also feed content in discussion forums on data/information/citation management software tools.

So do not feel that you need to succeed immediately in figuring out how you will drink successfully from the firehoses around you. Rather, believe that others have already successfully solved some of the problems you only now face, that finding those answers is a reasonable step to take now, and that taking disciplined actions on the best practices you find can have the rewards you want.

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  • This is a great reply, thanks.
    – Niclas
    Apr 25, 2022 at 13:29

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