Graduate school can sometimes feel like information overload. You are learning new things constantly and exploring new ideas to incorporate into your research. While the beginning of grad school is often focused on getting familiar with the seminal research in your field, you may find that your attention pivots more towards newer research as you advance through your program for several reasons. First, you need to make sure that your seemingly “new” idea hasn’t recently been studied and published by other scholars! Second, new research can enrich your current projects by providing valuable theories, methodology, and data. Third, staying up-to-date with new research can inform you about which directions your field may be going. Fourth and finally, an expert (or expert-in-training) ought to have some knowledge of the new studies in their area even if these studies do not directly influence their work! However, staying current with new research can be overwhelming. How do you make sure you’re on top of new studies? Where do you even begin? Read on for some tips on how to stay current with new research during your time in grad school.
Start a virtual “journal club” with your peers.
One way to stay current with new research is by actively setting aside a time to focus solely on new publications. With some of your peers, organize a regular meeting time in which you all present new articles of interest. You can pick a broad research theme for the journal club and/or pick a research theme for each meeting. People present the article(s) they picked, and then the group discusses the research together. Not only is this a way to stay current on research, it’s also a nice time to “see” your peers and catch up, even if only over Zoom. You can read more about how to start a virtual journal club here!
Be active on Academic Twitter.
Did you know that many academics are very active on Twitter? Did you know that your own field likely has a vibrant Twitter community? Well, it’s true! And one perk of being present on Twitter is that scholars, journals, and institutions often tweet out newly published research. Some people share their own research, some people share the research of others, and some do both. Twitter can be a valuable resource for keeping up-to-date with the new work out there. Yes, sometimes social media can be productive! If you are not yet on Twitter, it is worthwhile to make an account in order to follow the academic community that is relevant to you. If you really don’t want to jump in fully with an account, you can still peruse the tweets of academics, journals, and institutions in order to see the new research they are promoting.
Keep a “collection” of relevant articles
For many fields, academic writing requires a literature review of previous and relevant research that is related to the research you are producing. Literature reviews can be difficult to do well, and it can feel overwhelming to sift through citations. If you’ve written a literature review before, you have probably established some kind of system that helps you keep track of relevant citations. You can use this same system and apply it to new research, even outside of any current article or project! Everyone has their own way of organizing literature, but a good way to start is to simply make a list of new citations you have seen that you would like to read. It can be so easy to see the title of a new article in passing, tell yourself you will remember it later, and then completely forget. To avoid this, have some kind of resource—a Word document, an Excel sheet, a Google Drive folder—that is easily accessible. You can use this to store the citation of new research you want to read. Once you have read the article, then you can sort it appropriately, such as by topic, in a more structured way using your own personal organization of citations.
You can also utilize reference managers, such as Zotero, to save and organize new citations. Don’t know how to use Zotero? You can sign up for a virtual workshop through Fondren Library that will walk you through how to get started with Zotero and teach you about its many features.
Check in on the websites of the top journals in your field often.
Academic fields have a lot of journals, and you will find new research that is valuable and relevant to your work in a myriad of places. However, there are often far too many journals to reasonably stay on top of every single one! Frequently checking out the new publications within the top three or four journals in your field is a good way to begin tuning in to new work. Take time to check the journals’ websites every now and then to see what has been recently published, what is forthcoming, etc. If you find that the work published in your field’s top journals are often not relevant enough to your own research agenda, then pick a handful of journals in your field that are more specialized and keep up-to-date on their publications via their websites.
Use a Google Scholar Citation Profile.
If you have published work, you can create a Google Scholar Citation Profile. This profile will track whenever somebody cites your work. However, if you haven’t published yet, having a profile can still be incredibly useful for you because you can follow other scholar profiles and set up notifications for when these scholars put out new work. You can also set up alerts for new citations under key topics. You can set up regular Google Scholar summaries so that, for example, every month you receive an email of new citations within your key topics and/or from the scholars you are following. You can check out this article for a more detailed breakdown of how you can use a Google Scholar Citation profile to track new research.
As you become more familiar with your field of expertise, you will get to know the relevant literature well, but it’s okay to feel like you are drowning in new research during the early years of graduate school! It can feel overwhelming to keep track of new scholarship, but with time and experience you will learn which methods work best for you.
About the author: Originally from Massachusetts, Emily Elia is a second-year Ph.D. student in political science. She graduated from the University of Alabama in 2018 and currently studies comparative politics with a focus on Latin America.