Keeping Up With the Dr. Joneses: How Reading Widely Can Improve Your Science

Staying competitive as a researcher is hard. You need to ensure the success of your experiments while simultaneously keeping an eye on your competitors. Because time is one of your most precious resources, it can be tempting to focus solely on your drug, molecule, or gene, but the reality is that to be truly competitive, you must look beyond your niche and view the entire field. So, how can you keep up with the Dr. Joneses with very limited time?

The daily reality of research can get in the way of your scientific career

The research world is more competitive than ever before, especially in industry. Although every company has almost infinite experimental possibilities, they’re all restrained by a finite amount of resources, meaning that profit margins must be maintained to support the next set of breakthroughs. This translates to fixed R&D budgets, where departments and groups must justify why they deserve a slice. What’s more, as technology evolves (allowing us to push boundaries), costs escalate. This means that each group will need to ask for more support to be competitive. The situation is similar in academia. Funds for grants are finite, and only a very lucky few receive money. Across industry and academia, this financial reality fosters a competitive culture where high performance and being unique are what matter most.

It’s no secret that high quality, accurate data underpins success: it pushes your research to the next level and secures further funding for your department. Most researchers are striving toward the holy grail of exciting but reliable data. This may mean you (understandably) focus all your efforts on obtaining that final piece of data that will demonstrate the value of your work. However, this approach may be hindering your progress, since it eats into the time you could be spending reading the lateast research.

Keep up with the latest scientific breakthroughs to stand out from the crowd

Good data alone is not enough. To stay ahead, you need to make sure you’re always up to date with the latest work that contributes to your entire field, not just the findings of your direct competitors. Imagine you are developing a cancer drug. A significant and relevant signaling pathway is discovered to be crucial in Alzheimer’s disease, but due to the cancer-focused nature of your research, you miss this important update. In this scenario, you could miss an important gap where your drug might make a real difference. Looking at the big picture allows you to identify the places in which your research can make an even bigger difference.

Although it may seem like a luxury in industry, reading widely across your field may also save your company money. For example, a new technique might be presented on another model organism that could speed up your work by 20%. If you’re unaware of this advance, then you could be wasting resources that would be better spent on additional projects. What’s more, if you’re slow to deliver, other departments or research groups may be rewarded resources that would otherwise have gone to you. By taking a broader overview of your entire discipline, you will be able to identify such opportunities for time and cost savings and ensure you’re performing your best.

Furthermore, a diverse reading list can alert you to industry changes that may become a scientist’s worst nightmare: being scooped. Most patent (and indeed paper) alert systems work by scanning key words in titles and abstracts. What happens if a competitor scoops your new technique or even your novel drug, but this information is hidden in the main body of text? Without additional measures to capture advances in your field, you might be unaware of progress in your niche.

This could cause problems when your company files their own patents, which are awarded to those who file first. Discovering that you cannot file a patent after years of hard work is bad enough but imagine how much worse it would be if you’d missed being scooped early into your project! It is far better to identify such potential pitfalls during the research process so that you can reframe your research question. Maybe you could modify your in vitro technique for in vivo use, start testing your molecule on other candidate targets, or investigate other receptors in your signaling pathway. By adjusting the course of your project as early as possible, you minimize the resources your company wastes and generate new insights that benefit the scientific community and the wider world.

These inexhaustive examples illustrate why keeping abreast of your industry is important. But many thousands of papers are published each year: ACS alone publishes over 40 thousand of them! Keeping on top of new developments in your field is challenging and potentially time-consuming if not done efficiently.

Cheat the system: Let other scientists select your free reading list

Full disclosure: it’s probably not necessary that you read every paper that comes out in your field, only the most important ones. However, determining which papers are worth your precious and limited time can itself be a time sink. So why not crowdsource the problem?

What your whole field cares about is probably worth knowing. ACS tracks its top-performing research articles, eBooks, and book chapters for a variety of disciplines, so we know what’s getting scientists excited. Because we know that your time is far better spent creating your own breakthroughs, we share free access to five of the most popular and exciting articles within your field each month via our Industry Insider. Focusing on the aerospace, electronics, biotechnology, materials science, energy, environment, and agriculture industries, the monthly newsletter also provides early access to other valuable content such as case studies, non-journal content, special invitations, and more.

ACS has a world-leading peer review system for journals that results in work with high impact factors and high citation rates. With 2.5 million citations for 32,000 articles, the ratio between the number of citations and the number of published papers far exceeds any other publisher. If you’re crowdsourcing the most popular work from a pool with very high standards, then you know that what you’re reading is pushing the boundaries of your discipline!

Take advantage of the Industry Insider to enhance your research

It can be hard to justify the time to read papers, let alone those outside your niche, but it’s one of the most important—and undervalued—activities a researcher can do. Top scientists gain their competitive edges by reading widely across their fields and identifying opportunities or resource drains during the project itself. Seeing the bigger picture also enables them to better frame their research, which helps justify more funding. We know keeping this competitive edge is hard work, so we’ve helped you cut through the process with our free Industry Insider.

Our subject area experts choose new, high-demand papers that apply to your chosen industry and may be interesting to the wider scientific public. For example, researchers recently made a blue rose, something that was previously recognized as impossible, and Industry Insider featured the article detailing how it was made.

The articles featured in this service may be accessed in full text with one click, regardless of whether or not you have subscription access at your organization.  This can give a researcher at a non-subscribing institution up to 300 article views each year. Plus, there’s no need to have VPN, log in, or use organizational access; with Industry Insider, you can read the full text in one click, right from your phone. It is fast, easy, and free to readers using the ACS Free to Read License. For individuals who need broader access to ACS content at their organization, contact us, and we’ll be glad to assist you.

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