Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

Reading Entire Conference Proceedings

To keep up with the latest happenings in a research field, make it a habit to spend 15 to 30 minutes reading the table of contents of the most relevant conference proceedings or journal issues whenever they come out.

Tons of new research papers get published each year, so it's overwhelming to try to keep up with what's going on in your field. Since this is such a critical part of my job, I make it a habit to skim through the latest publications whenever they come out:

This video shows me flipping through all 700 papers of the CHI 2019 conference proceedings. I click to open up the ones that are the most relevant for my research or to my close colleagues' research so that I can jot down their titles later in my notes. (Background rumble from the bridge of the Enterprise-D.)

Here's how you can do this too!

  • First pick the most relevant few conferences/journals in your field and make a note of when new issues are published. For conferences, it's usually once per year, and for journals maybe once per quarter (but with fewer papers). Your set shouldn't be too big, maybe five venues at most. Don't try to track EVERYTHING; focus on the most immediately relevant ones.
  • Whenever a new issue comes out, go find the table of contents online. For instance, click the Table of Contents tab on the CHI 2019 ACM Digital Library page to see information about all published papers. CHI is the largest HCI conference, and in 2019 there were over 700 papers. Most conferences and journals will be much smaller, with 50–100 papers max.
    • Focus on just the full papers describing finished work, not works-in-progress, posters, abstracts, workshops, etc., since there will be too much stuff to look through if you do.
  • Sometimes you'll be able to download a zip file with all the papers (see my video above). If you can, that's even better so you can skim the abstract and images on the first page of each. But if you just have the table of contents, that's fine too.
  • Now spend an uninterrupted block of time reading the titles of all papers in the table of contents. Sometimes it will also show you the authors list, their affiliations, or abstracts. It's OK to skim those if you want, but FOCUS ON THE TITLES. Otherwise it will take way too long, so you won't want to do it.
    • For a smaller conference/journal, this should take you at most 15 minutes. Even for CHI 2019 with ~700 papers, it took me only 45 minutes (see video above).
  • Whenever you see a paper that catches your eye for some reason, copy and paste its title into your personal notes file. Even if it seems only remotely relevant, copy it anyways. Then keep moving. Don't stop to actually read anything. And don't take any notes. Just record the paper title. Keep moving!
  • Now after you finish, go back to your notes file and curate it into categories if you want, or filter out stuff that doesn't seem as relevant anymore. Now you should have a shortlist of papers that you can read later if the need arises. Don't read right now!
    • The important thing here is to keep your list short. For my CHI 2019 scan, I saved the names of 49 papers out of ~700 total (7%). I'd say a ballpark is to save at most 15%. If you save too many, then you're not focusing well enough.
    • I keep a personal notes file with all paper titles that are relevant to my main research areas, grouped by conference/year. I update that file every time a new conference proceedings is released. I'm also on the lookout for papers that my students and close colleagues may be interested in reading, and I send those papers to them.
  • I've found doing this to be an incredibly good use of time. By spending ~30 minutes once every few months, I can keep refreshed on the latest happenings in my research field and in related fields. Even if I end up saving the titles of only a fraction of all papers, the act of reading all the titles gives me a holistic sense of what's going on in the field.
    • (If I have access to the PDFs of all the papers, then I can also skim their abstracts and images on the first page like I did in the video above.)
    • I end up noticing trends in terms of topics that more and more groups are investigating, which researchers from where are working on what kinds of things, and even when certain people have recently changed jobs because they now have a new institutional affiliation.
    • Even for papers that I don't make a note of, just the fact that I saw their titles once helps jog my memory whenever someone mentions a related topic in the future. I sometimes recall “oh yeah I might have seen a paper on this topic a while back!” and then usually can search for key terms and find that paper without remembering its title.
  • Make doing this a habit! This is ultra sustainable since it takes only 15 to 30 minutes, just a few times per year. The key is not to overdo it ... don't try to track every single publication, just the few that are most relevant to your research.
    • The main way to fail here is taking too long by reading in too much detail. If you try this and it takes you a few hours, you may get discouraged and not want to do it again.
    • For an alternate paper reading strategy, check out Opportunistic Paper Reading
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Created: 2019-05-07
Last modified: 2019-05-07
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