My earliest exposures to research (at least the kind I started working on in college) occurred some 15 years ago.
Like I previously mentioned, the first, and most familiar, step was to get hard copies of articles I’d need to read to familiarize myself with the topic. Getting just a handful of articles was a full day process. I’d drive down to the library early to try and get a good parking spot, feed the meter, and head for the reference desk. There, I would purchase (or reload) a copy card for the judicious photocopying ahead. Next, I’d spend an hour or two trying to find relevant articles using various methods. While I am a child of the card catalog era, online searches were more or less a reality by the time I got to college. Still, the process of hunting down the physical journals was a time-consuming process. Of course, if the library didn’t have the journal, you’d have to fill out an inter-library loan request form for each article you wanted. After 12 hours, I’d have found half the articles I’d set out for, and had them photocopied. Ah, the tedium. Oh! Don’t forget the final step, though: return to the car, remove the parking ticket(s) you got from not feeding the meter.
Until quite recently, the aforementioned scenario was simply a fact of life. If you needed articles, you needed to commit several days to the library. I’ll skip past the whole “With the advent of the World Wide Web…” bit, and cut straight to the good stuff. In the couple of years leading up to the production of my document, I had slowly acquired various applications and techniques that I could test out while writing other papers. Eventually, I hypothesized a refined workflow for efficiently producing a scientific paper. Best of all, it was easier than I thought.
I approached the development and implementation of my workflow just like I would with a new scientific endeavor: Step 1 – observe and ask questions. I observed that I hated the grunt work associated with this process, and I was about to start the biggest one of my life. The first question I asked was: ‘why am I doing this (graduate school) to myself?’. The next question was: ‘is there any was to minimize or eliminate some of this?’. I still haven’t answered the first question. Stay tuned for the answer(s) to the second.
By the way, for the few of you reading this, I don’t mean to drag this out. Just trying to pipe the myriad nuances of this method into something readable. Next post will be very soon, and far more informative. Like I said, stay tuned!