Reading levels in Google search

Fascinating new option from Google for the search results. You can filter the search results by reading levels. They did this by analysing pages from Google Scholar and similar pages and comparing the statistical output to the other sites in Google’s index. Access this in Advanced Search>Reading Levels. A very helpful addition for academic research, help you filter a lot of the crap when doing some basic search on a new topic.

You can also get some funny information’s by limiting the search to specific site. A few examples below.


[Source: Official Google Blog]

The disposable academic

A long and interesting read in the Economist. A very and almost exclusively negative view of PhD and postdoc.

PhD students and contract staff known as “postdocs”, described by one student as “the ugly underbelly of academia”, do much of the research these days. There is a glut of postdocs too.

Of course they do much of the research ! This is what PhD’s are for ! How can you decide to get into research if you don’t experience it first ? With a tenure position, once you’ve taken care of grant writing, academic duties, teaching and various paperwork, your available time for research is usually deceptively low. Maybe materials science is very different from other domains, or it’s that we are very lucky in France, I don’t know, but my PhD experience was excellent. Pure research for three years, with a decent salary, and no responsibility other than carrying your own subject and writing your manuscript at the end. As for the postdoc, it was even better: already operational with the experimental techniques, no manuscript to write but papers, no responsibility again to write grants or any other paperwork, and with a great salary. A terrific time.  Not mentioning that I was in one of the best materials science group in the world.

RSS, (the most important tool) for academics

If you know what RSS means, you probably don’t need to read the rest of this post. If you don’t, well, keep reading, as this is probably the biggest time saver of my day-to-day work. If you’re like me, I mean, doing any kind of research, and trying to keep up with the papers in your field, you probably spend a certain amount of time looking for papers from various journals. And there is also a fairly high probability that  you are reading papers from several journals. So how can you deal with that more efficiently ? There are a couple of ways to keep updated on new papers:

  • have a student doing the work for you (lucky you).
  • go to the library and check out the hardcopy. Less and less likely as most of the subscriptions are now electronic.
  • subscribe to the table of contents email alert for each journal.
  • check out the journal’s website whenever you want to look for recently published papers. If you are reading anywhere from 10 to 30 journals, this can take a considerable amount of time.
  • use a dedicated mobile app on your phone or IPad, like this one or that one.
  • use RSS to be up to date with no effort, which I am going to explain right now.

So what does RSS stand for ? Really Simple Syndication. In a nutshell, you can see it as a tool for keeping you informed when the content of a website is modified. Like, let’s say, when a new paper is published in a journal… The basic idea is that pretty much each journal is now offering an RSS feed for its publications. If you are collecting all these feeds in one single place, you don’t have to check out every website everyday looking for what’s new, every single new paper notification will be delivered to you. All you have to do is:

  • subscribe to a RSS service, the inbox for your feeds. There are plenty of them out there. Alternatively, you can use dedicated softwares or even use your email client. My favorite one is Google Reader, by far the most convenient, but your mileage may vary.
  • check out the website of your journal, and look for the RSS feed. It’s usually a small orange icon, like the one of the bottom right here. Like here:
  • click on the feed icon to add it to your RSS client, or copy/paste the feed address in your RSS client.
  • that’s it ! Now when you fire up you RSS client, you will see a list of all your subscriptions, and every time that a new paper is published, it will show up automatically in your feed. I have something like 25 or 30 feeds, and all I have to do is to spend 5-10 min every morning looking for papers of interest for me. Whenever you click on a paper, you’ll be redirected to the journal website where you can grab a pdf for instance.

In pretty much any RSS client, you can “star” an item which you are interested in. When I’m checking the new items every other day, I usually scan rapidly through the list of new papers, star the one which sound interesting from their title, and then review all the starred papers when I am done.

Overall, RSS are probably the biggest time saver for me, and a terrific way of keeping updated with new papers as they are published. RSS is everything but dead for academics. There are plenty of other tricks with RSS for academics, but I’ll save that for another day.

Papers iOS updated to 1.9

A nice and solid update overall. The new UI is much lighter than previously, feels much more responsive and is much less in the way. The other great improvement is the ability to add papers through Dropbox. Ideas for improvements: batch import through Dropbox, and the ability to define a “watched” folded, like Mendeley, to bring a little bit more of automation and make the sync a bit less tedious.