(Warning: This is just a cute picture of my dog with his friend and has absolutely nothing to do with my blog post this week.)

With the phrase “reading is writing” Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega started his workshop, and there is no better way for me to start my blog post this week. Dr. Pacheco-Vega is an interdisciplinary Assistant Professor of the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching, in Mexico. He is known as the “king of academic Twitter” and has been named by University Affairs as one of the “12 academic Twitter accounts you should be following.” (If you want to know why, just search @raulpacheco). Last month, Raul delivered a public lecture and a series of professional development workshops here at MUN. During his Academic Writing workshop, he highlighted some of his reading/writing techniques and resources that I would love to share with you. 🙂

Imagine the following situation: You woke up, had your breakfast, took a shower, and came to work. Let’s pretend it is summertime and the weather is beautiful! (it’s worth trying…) You need to do an experiment that you are not very familiar with, or you need to learn more about something you are doing, so you turn your computer on, and type in those beautiful keywords. Wow! You find a very interesting paper, download it right away, and start reading it. In the middle of the introduction… Wow! You find a very cool reference, decide to check the other paper out, start reading it when… Wow! This other reference also sounds interesting! Then you see, your whole morning is gone, and you have no clue what all those papers are about. This is called the “rabbit hole”, and you might or might not have come across this frustrating situation. Dr. Pacheco-Vega highlighted the Skim Reading or AIC as a technique to avoid the “rabbit hole”. No matter what, if you see a paper, if you start reading a paper, or if you simply touch a paper, do not leave it before reading the AIC (Abstract, Introduction, and Conclusion). In this way, at least you can see the main results and understand what has been done. However, Raul encourages us to always come back later and deep read the papers that we think are important to avoid missing any data.

The Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED) is another extremely helpful technique created by Dr. Pacheco-Vega. The CSED allows you to keep all the important information of the papers you have read in only one place. The excel sheet contains should columns of data, where you can basically dump everything interesting you want; you can add the concept, main idea, include cross-references of the papers you read and also add your own notes. According to Raul, it is easy to know if you reached concept saturation (i.e. to know if you have read enough) with the CSED, because the cross-reference lines of your dump start to look the same for every entry.

(Example of a Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump (CSED). Source: http://www.raulpacheco.org/)

MUN also hosted the amazing Nature Masterclass workshop in scientific writing and publishing during the Research Week 2019. The two-day workshop was presented by Dr. Leslie Sage, Senior Editor of Nature, and Dr. Kyle Legate, Team Manager and Senior Editor of Nature Communications. During the Nature Masterclass, Leslie and Kyle helped us to understand how editorial processes work and how to improve the accessibility, impact, and confidence of our writing. During the workshop, we learned the means and importance of writing in a clear, but accurate and engaging manner. Leslie and Kyle shared with us very useful techniques to write the best paper we can, from cover letter to supporting information. In the second day, we had one-on-one meetings with the editors, who gave us extremely useful feedback and advice on abstracts that we wrote for the workshop.

Well everyone, I guess my take-home message of this month’s post is to try and go/register/apply for all the events/lectures/workshops you find interesting (and MUN gives us so many great opportunities for that!). Even though the workshop/event/lecture sounds cool, but you are not sure how it is going to help you, give it a try! Life has interesting ways of surprising us, and you never know what you are going to learn and where this is going to take you.

I would like to thank Dr. Pacheco-Vega, Dr. Sage and Dr. Legate for all of the valuable lessons taught and Memorial University/School of Graduate Studies for the all of the amazing opportunities to participate, learn, and grow!

I hope you all have a wonderful end of semester and a happy new year!

See you in the next post (which I will probably start by talking about our precious winter weather!)