RSS Feeds: Don't Fear The Reader

As scientists, how do we keep up with the literature?

Julian G. West  Science ,  2017 ,  355 , 1090 (DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6329.1090)

Julian G. West Science, 2017, 355, 1090 (DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6329.1090)

About a year ago, I gave a very informal presentation to my PhD group on how to keep up with the literature. Over the years I started using alerts for every project: Google Scholar citation alerts for related articles and SciFinder alerts for keywords or chemical structures. I also mentioned RSS feeds but acknowledged that I had no idea how they worked and they intimidated me. My coworker Kyle, introduced me to The Old Reader and I’m never going back.

I used to browse journals in my spare time by opening individual tabs for each journal.

My computer has been slow lately and can’t handle the massive amounts of RAM that Firefox gobbled up. The Old Reader (and other RSS aggregators) are an easy way to browse the article titles/TOC graphics of lots of journals in ONE TAB, which means I spend more time browsing and less time loading.

Back in the day, Google used to provide a really good RSS feed aggregator called Google Reader, and when that service shut down The Old Reader sprung up. I’d consider myself a beginner (I’ve only used The Old Reader for about 4 months) but so far it’s been easy to use and made my literature browsing more efficient and enjoyable. The service is free for up to 100 RSS feeds, but currently I only use about 25 and that’s more than enough.

When I’ve got some free time at work you might find something like this on my laptop screen.

When I’ve got some free time at work you might find something like this on my laptop screen.

Adding new feeds is super easy.

You can see that I have a list of journals and science blogs. To add a new journal I normally just google search “journal of [BLANK] rss feed” and add the web address manually (here is the one for my blog). There is an “add a subscription” search feature, but it can be hit-or-miss. Once you’ve added it you can drag it into groups to keep your feed organized. Another helpful feature is in the top right, where you can show all posts of a journal or only show the unread articles.

A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin

A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin

I’ve also uploaded my feed here, it can give you some basic organic chemistry journals/blogs feeds to get you started (full disclosure, my own blog is on it too!). To use it just download my opml file, and upload it by clicking “upload” in the top right of the screen next to your name. Make sure to customize it with the journals/blogs that you’re interested it.

One last thing about RSS feed anxiety.

As you can see, I’m falling behind on some of the journals (582 unread Chem Comm articles??), but in my opinion the point of an RSS feed is not to read every single article - it’s to provide inspiration. By exposing myself to articles I might not see with my regular alerts I’m helping become a more balanced scientist. This is especially true with the “general” journals in my feed like Science/Nature. As an organic chemist I used to get burnt out after my usual literature browsing of JACS/OL/JOC/JMedChem, but now I can easily pop over to see some general work.

As I said earlier, I’m no expert. If you have any tips/tricks that I didn’t list or feel like trashing my journal choices (or the fact that I grouped them by IF) please leave a comment below :)

Happy reading!