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Reading research papers is challenging for an underdog like me because I often do not possess enough knowledge to fully understand the papers in one research paper on most occasions. Yet, I have to read them to improve.

Typically, on one ten-page-long article/paper, there will be five or ten questions that arise. When that happens, I have no one to turn to. Imagine spending hours reading the pages and writing a PDF containing ten or so questions and sending it to your lecturer and then getting no reply. Asking ten questions based on one paper read on Chemistry SE does not sound feasible either and will most likely not get a response (I might be wrong, although less probably the case).

It is not that I do not want to improve; I lack the resource to become less bad because I am currently the worst and hence the circularity. I wonder how the postgraduate people get through the problems.

Are there any features on Chemistry SE that can help someone go through the research papers together, mainly to tackle the multiple questions that arise while trying to read one paper thoroughly? I am even willing to pay for someone qualified to do this with me, e.g. a few pounds per paper. Or if you know of any similar service, please let me know?

This should be out of the scope of Chem Meta; I guess I will try my luck here and delete this later. I have summoned enough courage for the downvotes (I think so).

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    $\begingroup$ You might want to take a look on Academia.SE for similar questions. There is a generally pretty good standard of discussion there. I don't think it's off topic on Meta though. After all, you are kind of asking what can Chem.SE do to help you & people in this situation; even if the answer is "not much", it doesn't make it an invalid question or answer. $\endgroup$
    – orthocresol Mod
    Nov 9, 2021 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ I am not familiar with the feature, but stackexchange for teams or similar might be useful: stackoverflow.com/teams/pricing Invite a few people to join you and help discuss articles. Since you are mod in the group you created, you set the rules. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Nov 10, 2021 at 8:36
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    $\begingroup$ Learning how to learn is a worthwhile thing, indeed. I suspect that one of your big problems right now is you don't have a broad enough grasp of the field and field-specific terminology. When entering a new (sub)field I still do a combination of reading for breadth and depth. So, pick one of your questions. Find a textbook in the area - what does it say. Look up a few of the citations in the paper, including any right around your question, but first one or two of the broader papers cited in the introduction. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 10, 2021 at 14:23

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Since I did claim it was on-topic, I guess I'll try and write a bit. Most of my answer will probably be off-topic for Meta, but maybe I have accumulated enough goodwill here to avoid being suspended by the other mods...?

Reading research papers is challenging for an underdog like me because I often do not possess enough knowledge to fully understand the papers in one research paper on most occasions.

The accessibility of papers tends to depend on what field it's in. I find that a typical undergrad student would have a decent shot at understanding organic chemistry papers. You mostly just need to be comfortable with arrow drawing; these skills can be "extended" to other reactions without too much difficulty. It helps, too, when the authors provide a suggested mechanism.

On the other hand, other fields require knowledge that goes way beyond what's typically covered in an undergrad course. In my own area of NMR spectroscopy, I'd be surprised if an undergrad could read a paper and truly understand what was going on. You could definitely understand enough to figure out the overall aims and benefits of the research, but knowing how the experiment actually works requires a lot more knowledge.

Yet, I have to read them to improve.

In fact, I'd argue that you should not primarily be reading research papers at this point. And by that, I don't mean to say you should never read papers. You are right in saying you have to; it's just that you don't need to jump straight into that.

In my opinion, textbooks are a much better way of bridging the gap between undergrad courses & primary literature. However, you should pick textbooks that have at least some references to primary literature: that way, when something interests you, you can go and look it up. And when you see the paper, you already know something about it, because you read it.

Imagine spending hours reading the pages and writing a PDF containing ten or so questions and sending it to your lecturer and then getting no reply.

Have you considered asking whether you can talk to them in person about a paper you were reading? That's going to be a far more productive use of time than email IMO. Depending on where you are, Covid may or may not make that tougher at present... but even a video call will be better than email.

Honestly, if I were a lecturer and an undergrad (politely) emailed me asking about reading a paper, I'd be pretty impressed and willing to help. Not all that many undergrads do that.

Alternatively, if you find a chance to work in a lab over the holidays or something like that, you can try asking other PhDs or postdocs.

I wonder how the postgraduate people get through the problems.

It is a struggle at first, but you get better at it eventually. Unless you're a genius, you often do need someone to guide you along though.

Asking ten questions based on one paper read on Chemistry SE does not sound feasible either and will most likely not get a response

Yes, probably 10 is too much. I'd probably find it a bit spammy. You can definitely ask some questions though. In fact, it may be better to post questions one at a time, anyway: getting too much info at once might just be overwhelming, and you might actually find that the answer to an earlier question helps to clarify a later question.

Nothing can guarantee a response, though. I can't answer things I just don't know about, and the same applies to other users. We can only help where we can.

Are there any features on Chemistry SE that can help someone go through the research papers together, mainly to tackle the multiple questions that arise while trying to read one paper thoroughly?

There is, technically, chat. However, you need somebody to sit down with you and go through it slowly; and it's hard to find someone with the appropriate expertise and time. And chat is already pretty dead right now.

I'm happy to answer questions on main site (if I know how to), because I can choose how much to bite off, if that makes sense. But (as much as I would like to help people like you) I can't commit to an indefinitely long conversation in chat.

I will say, though, that if you want to follow up with me about something in this post, feel free to ping me in chat.

I am even willing to pay for someone qualified to do this with me, e.g. a few pounds per paper.

I really wouldn't suggest doing that online. However, if you find somebody in real life to chat with, then buy them a coffee or something.* ;-)


* Not me, I don't drink coffee.

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You could try to join a journal club. Often, research groups run these to keep up with the current literature. Sometimes they choose a set of papers that is related so you encounter certain concepts again and again.

Ideally, there will be individuals of different experience in a journal club (e.g. graduate students who just started and those who are about to graduate). This way, the less experienced can learn and will be ready to help others in a couple of years.

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