Increase Your Science Literacy with 5 Online Tools

Sept. 13, 2017

You're sitting at your desk and your labmates are discussing that awesome article they read about on Twitter. It's easy to feel left out in today's interconnected world. Modern technology and social media are not only there to tell you what your cousin had for lunch; they can increase your science knowledge. Here are 5 online tools that can help you stay up-to date and broaden/deepen your scientific background.

  1. Use Twitter to Stay Up to Date with Science

    I'm letting out a secret here, but this is how I usually get my daily dose of science. Unlike Facebook, Twitter allows you to tailor your feed towards the things you care about, and if you're like most scientists, that's science. Journals, organizations, and individuals tweet about relevant papers, and by following them, you'll always be on top of the research in your fields of interest. It will also broaden your interest by exposing you to work that you may not be directly involved with. Moreover, there are bots that allow you to follow papers in different fields (e.g. CRISPRpapers, MicroRNApapers, etc.). For microbiology lovers, pages such as ASMicrobiology, Nature Microbiology, and bioRxiv Microbiology may be good places to start. Obviously, you can tell the world about your work by tweeting too!
  2. Listen to Your Favorite Science Through Podcasts

    What's a podcast? If you're asking that question, you've been missing out on a world of information at your fingertips. Podcasts are radio programs that you can listen to whenever you want and as many times as you want. You can learn about the most recent science by listening to podcasts from Journals such as Science, Nature, or our very own ASM podcasts This Week in Microbiology, Virology, and Parasitism (TWiX). Podcasts are great for keeping up on recent science but also broadening your scientific knowledge on subjects you are less likely to read a paper about. Some podcasts, such as The Naked Scientist and Radiolab, cover broad fields in the form of storytelling and fun talk shows.
  3. Learn About Protocols with Researchgate

    As a recent Researchgate member, I am absolutely in love with this website. You can follow your favorite researchers and find out what they're doing. You can also pose questions about protocols and comment on other people's work. Unlike most social networking platforms, Researchgate isn't meant to be time-consuming or addictive; it is meant to quickly show you what you care about and help you find answers.
  4. Organize and Tag Your Papers with Mendeley

    Do you have 500 tabs open with papers you are going to read? Using a reference management software like Mendeley, you can organize your papers and keep track of what you've read. Most importantly, it's free! Mendeley will even suggest papers that you might be interested based on your library contents.
  5. Save and Receive Alerts with PubMed

    Many people may not know that you can save searches on PubMed to send you daily/weekly/monthly reminders on papers with keywords you're interested in. Just sign in to NCBI, search your topic of interest, save the search, and set up an alert frequency. I've set up mine for once a week so that I can look through it at my leisure on the weekend and make sure I haven't missed anything. There are others, ScienceDirect, PubCrawler, and PubChase, to name a few. They all serve the same purpose with various unique features.

There are tens if not hundreds of other tools available to help you in acquiring science. Your goal should be to find what works for you and stick to it. It is easy to feel overwhelmed or left out despite all your hard work, so accept that you're doing your best. Most importantly, do not allow any of these tools to turn into an addiction; these tools are to increase your scientific breadth and depth, not to help you procrastinate. Keep track of your time usage and set limits.

Happy science literature surfing!

Author: Alireza Edraki

Alireza Edraki
Alireza Edraki is a Ph.D. candidate at the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.