- Find the most important publications. Many online resources exist that house this information. Departmental websites, Google Scholar, and professors' ScholarBridge profiles are all great places to find their most influential works. Start with them; when you meet, you are going to want to bring these up.
- Track down a copy. This may be trickier than it seems, as most academic journals require subscriptions. Not to worry, your campus most likely subscribes to all of the main journals. Head to the library and get the account information. If that doesn’t work, earn some bonus points by asking the professor directly for a PDF copy in one of your first correspondences. They will be impressed with your interest and initiative, and it is a great excuse to reach out.
- Embrace the abstract. All academic publications begin with an abstract. The abstract is a brief summary of the paper. You should be able to pick out the author’s main purpose as well as some of the key discoveries or arguments. If you don’t know much about the topic, let the terms in the abstract guide some quick Google searching. Make sure you really understand the abstract before moving forward - it is the most simplified explanation of the topic at hand.
- Highlight and trudge. You will learn quickly that academic publications are dense. It is your job to pick out the key pieces. Highlighting main points and evidence will help you skim back through later. Remember, the findings in these publications could end up informing your own original work! Make sure you understand them by analyzing and taking notes.
- Formulate questions. As a young researcher, you shouldn’t necessarily understand the entire paper. Write down some questions. When you meet with the professor, they will be happy to walk you through the answers to your questions. Who doesn’t love talking about their own successes? Feed into that. That is one of the best ways to show interest.
Got tips of your own? Comment below!
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