This is a short guide for new students (at the undergraduate & graduate level) of Immunology with pointers on reading primary research articles.
So, once you have built up some level of confidence with the words and concepts (using textbooks and classes) that immunologists use regularly, your next (and lifetime) source of a new diet of information comes from research articles. These include both primary research papers and review articles; but the focus of this post is the first one.
1. Where to find them ?
So, which journals should you regularly browse in order to find papers to read. A couple of decades ago, the answer seemed obvious (something close to all of them). But the explosion in research publications in recent years (some of it fueled by fly-by-night publishers who profit from publishing poor quality “papers” for exorbitant fees) makes it necessary to filter your sources. Suggesting which journals to focus on is a tricky proposition (with the debate about impact factor & journal selection etc.), but below is a list of journals we flip through just to find papers relevant to our work.
First, we routinely scan some journals from cover to cover (columns A, B & D).
Second, we set up email alerts from the literature databases PubMed or Web of ScienceÂ to find papers in other journals using specific keywords. Few of the journals which you should cover this way include those in column C. Many journals also let you set up content alerts on their website. You can track the content in columns A,B & D using this approach – but avoid overdoing the alerts, because you will then treat these emails as spam. This is a good idea for the review journals below – so you’ll get to quickly scan for any interesting articles when they come in. Avoid overwhelming yourself with too much material in the beginning of your lab time – but build up a habit of routinely and regularly reading primary papers. We recommend starting with A & B until you get comfortable with reading papers quickly (see #2)- and then setting aside some time every week to scan more broadly.
|A. Weekly :||B. Monthly :||C. Primarily based on Search Results: (Alphabetical)|
|D. Sources of reviews : (Alphabetical) Annual Reviews in Immunology, Current Opinions series, Nature Reviews series, Trends in Immunology,|
2. How to Read Scientific Papers :
Reading primary research reports can be daunting for a new student – but a skill critical to acquire with practice. If you haven’t been to an introductory lecture on the topic, either in your undergraduate curriculum or as part of orientation at UMDSOM, here are some online resources and links to help you get started.
3. Things to watch out for & other thoughts
At the end of reading a paper, as a graduate student, you expect to learn something new. A major challenge these days, is to distill a robust take-home message out of a paper. One issue is that high-impact papers tend to be lengthy and rather than focus on one specific point, span multiple ones. The articles below discuss some of these concerns and highlight common issues in modern scientific publishing.