Alessia Iancarelli poses with a digital graphc of the work she has been doing in her lab

Millions of research papers are published in a year. How do scientists keep up?

If you want to be a scientist, you’re going to have to do a lot of reading.

Science is an endeavor focused on building and sharing knowledge. Researchers publish papers detailing their discoveries, breakthroughs, and innovations in order to share those revelations with colleagues. And there are millions of scientific papers each year.

Keeping up with the latest developments in their field is a challenge for researchers at all points of their careers, but it especially affects early-career scientists, as they also have to read the many papers that represent the foundation of their field.

“It’s impossible to read everything. Absolutely impossible,” Ajay Satpute, director of the Affective and Brain Science Lab and an assistant professor of psychology at Northeastern. “And if you don’t know everything that has happened in the field, there’s a real chance of reinventing the wheel over and over and over again.” The challenge, he says, is to figure out how to train the next generation of scientists economically, balancing the need to read all the seminal papers with training them as researchers in their own right.

That task is only getting more difficult, says Alessia Iancarelli, a Ph.D student studying affective and social psychology in Satpute’s lab. “The volume of published literature just keeps increasing,” she says. “How are scientists able to develop their scholarship in a field given this huge amount of literature?” They have to pick and choose what to read.

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Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.

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