I am considering returning to university to begin postgraduate study, but before that I plan to spend a year or two in industry to earn some money and also gain perspective on the idea. However, I'd like to continue reading about the area I plan to study while on that break.

My question is: Would I be better served, as far as preparing for postgraduate studies in an informal way:

  • Staying up-to-date with relevant research in the area I plan to specialise in, thereby having a relatively good idea of how things are at the moment, etc., or
  • Reading more widely, covering for example most of the important/foundational texts for the whole area of study (or at least more of it than I otherwise would), and so having a better understanding of the issues and key idea in most areas at the expense of in-depth knowledge of the specialisaiton area

Of course, I will likely be doing a bit of both, but I was wondering if either is more worth aiming for than the other.

EDIT: Regarding similarity to this question: I read that before posting and they seem to be asking more about the depth in which they should read given articles, while I am asking more for whether the articles/etc that I choose to read should be broad or deep in their subject matter. This question is different.

  • PS: I've saved this for a comment because I wanted the question to be more general, but to give some perspective the areas I am considering studying are Logic and Philosophy of Science, within the area of Philosophy. As such, reading a foundational text on, say, ethics would have little direct use, but I would be trading knowledge of bleeding-edge study in logic specifically for an understanding of most areas of philosophy in general.
    – DTR
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 13:37
  • @EnergyNumbers I disagree, and mentioned this in a comment on Fasermaler's answer. I have updated the question to reflect this.
    – DTR
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 14:29

1 Answer 1


I fear answers to this question must be subjective and Am I reading enough of the scientific literature? Should I read for breadth or depth? seems to cover the general topic of breadth vs. depth pretty well. Plus you answered your own question in that you should try to do both.

As a returnee myself however I can't resist to share my experience. I also tried to prepare informally for a return to university, both deeply and broadly. I found that actually diving in deeply was very challenging since I had been out of academics and working in the software industry for 10-15 years. Consequently my math was rusty, my familiarity with notation and other formalisms was all but gone and I had a pretty huge disconnect between this new research and what little I recalled from my previous stint. If you haven't been out of the loop for as long as I was, things hopefully aren't this dour, but you can imagine this wasn't a particularly inspirational experience.

Thankfully I found catching up in broader terms made up for this. It was easier to pick up things closer to my general interest and which didn't require all that prior knowledge, but it also provided the context and motivation to understand the deeper, bleeding-edge stuff. Perhaps most interesting is that the really broad stuff, even way outside my field (physics to make math prep more fun, history and philosophy for context) have given me a perspective that isn't of direct use per se, but which adds immensely to the enjoyment of my study and personal development.

So to answer the question directly, do both starting broadly and dive in when you really want to know more deeply about a particular topic. It works wonders for motivation and they'll throw you into the deep end when you get back anyway.

  • Thanks for the reply - Just a quick comment on the other question, I read that before and they seem to be asking more about the depth in which they should read given articles, while I am asking more for whether the articles/etc that I choose to read should be broad or deep in their subject matter.
    – DTR
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 17:20
  • 1
    You're welcome, I hope it proves of some use to you. Regarding the other question you're right for the high ranked answers. I found this answer academia.stackexchange.com/a/13087/31566 rather nice though: reading for depth is a job requirement, but reading for breadth is what will make you stand out.
    – Fasermaler
    Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 11:51

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