unusual but very useful style was to set a goal like reading 15 papers
in 3 hours. I use the term "reading" here in an unusual way. Of course,
I don't mean understanding everything in the papers. Instead, I'd do
something like this: for each paper, I had 12 minutes to read it. The
goal was to produce a 3-point written LaTeX summary of the most
important material I could extract: usually questions, open problems,
results, new techniques, or connections I hadn't seen previously. When
time was up, it was onto the next paper. A week later, I'd make a
revision pass over the material, typically it would take an hour or so.
found this a great way of rapidly getting an overview of a field,
understanding what was important, what was not, what the interesting
questions were, and so on. In particular, it really helped identify the
most important papers, for a deeper read.
For deeper reads of
important papers or sections of books I would take days, weeks or
months. Giving lectures about the material and writing LaTeX lecture
notes helped a lot.
Other ideas I found useful:
when struggling with a book or paper, it's not you that's the problem,
it's the author. Finding another source can quickly clear stuff up.
The more you make this a social activity, the better off you'll be. I
organize lecture courses, write notes, blog the notes, and so on. E.g. http://michaelnielsen.org/blog/?p=252 (on Yang-Mills theories) and http://michaelnielsen.org/blog/?page_id=503 (links to some of my notes on distributed computing).
On being stuck: if you feel like you're learning things, keep doing
whatever you're doing, but if you feel stuck, try another approach.
Early on, I'd sometimes get stuck on a book or a paper for a week. It
was only later that I realized that I mostly got stuck when either (a)
it was an insubstantive point; or (b) the book was badly written; or (c)
I was reading something written at the wrong level for me. In any
case, remaining stuck was rarely the right thing to do.
- Have a go at proving theorems / solving problems yourself, before reading the solution. You'll learn a lot more.
Most material isn't worth spending a lot of time on. It's better to
spend an hour each seriously reviewing 10 quantum texts, and finding one
that's good, and will repay hundreds of hours of study, than it is to
spend 10 hours ploughing through the first quantum text that looks okay
when you browse through it in the library. Understanding mathematics
deeply takes a lot of time. That means effort spent in identifying high
quality material is often repaid far more than with (say) a novel or
I KNOW I won't be able to finish them. That means it's OK not to, so I
don't feel bad - but also that I shouldn't buy too many.
material within is bite-sized. Early problems teach you what you need
for later ones, and you can always stop and come back later.
- Constant feedback is rewarding. Also, some say you only understand what you create for yourself.
If I'm not advancing at all in a problem book, then I find open books
on the internet, or (better!) I buy the Dover Publications paperback of
the book by a master/inventor of the field, usually for $7 or so.
more importantly, I'm curious about the 15/3-routine. How often do you
do this? Recently I subscribed to the arxiv RSS (astro-ph.co, gr-qc),
there's lots of papers uploaded daily, but most don't look very
interesting, so 15 interesting ones would be ~1 weeks worth for me.
regards how often I do this: I go through periods where I do it a lot
(sometimes several times in a week), and then months where I don't do it
at all. I do it thematically (i.e., with closely related papers), so
I've never tried doing something like what you suggest with the arXiv's
recent papers. They're usually not all that closely connected.
addition to Arxiv and preprints I can find online, there's Google
Scholar and Amazon Previews (I'm still missing many journal articles,
especially in engineering, due to a lack of university access, luckily
they're often compiled in journals on Amazon). By flipping through
Amazon's book previews using the search feature, I can read an arbitrary
number of pages in any given book, and the world's library is at my
lap. I can then 'photocopy' the relevant/interesting sections using
ctrl-shift-command-4 on my Mac, and paste them into my Evernote. In this
way I can locate and collate a large number of papers and texts, and
organize them along the way without even dipping into LaTeX. After that,
I can past those copies into Mathematica, which has a very workable
equation typesetter, with the additional advantage of the equations
Lately I make a lot of use of Evernote, however,
which I can pretty much paste anything into, and I can 'photocopy' any
part of a text on the computer by using ctrl-shift-command-4 on my Mac.
In most cases, the succintness of the papers is what
makes them difficult to read, both in terms of skipping steps in proofs
and in terms of hidden assumptions of the reader's knowledge.
permitted our QSE Group to explain practical methods for quantum system
engineering at a mathematical level that was well-matched to our quantum
system engineering students.
On the other hand, the peer review of articles of this length is a lot of extra work for all concerned---reviewers, editors, and authors ... to say nothing of the effort demanded of the readers.