Tag: coursera

How to Read Scientific Papers

How to Read Scientific Papers

Cover image via wikihow.com/Read-a-Scientific-Paper

Reddit is a treasure trove of random stuff. However, every now and then, in the better groups, quite valuable topics pop up. Here’s one I came across on r/statistics:

Particularly the advice by grandzooby seemed worth a like, and he linked to several useful resources which I’ve summarized for you below.

An 11-step guide to reading a paper

Jennifer Raff — assistant professor at the University of Kansas — wrote this 3-page guide on how to read papers. It elaborates on 11 main pieces of advice for reading academic papers:

  1. Begin by reading the introduction, skip the abstract.
  2. Identify the general problem: “What problem is this research field trying to solve?”
  3. Try to uncover the reason and need for this specific study.
  4. Identify the specific problem: “What problems is this paper trying to solve?”
  5. Identify what the researchers are going to do to solve that problem
  6. Read & identify the methods: draw the studies in diagrams
  7. Read & identify the results: write down the main findings
  8. Determine whether the results solve the specific problem
  9. Read the conclusions and determine whether you agree
  10. Read the abstract
  11. Find out what others say about this paper

Jennifer also dedicated a more elaborate blog post to the matter (to which u/grandzooby refers).

4-step Infographic

Natalia Rodriguez made a beautiful infographic with some general advice for Elsevier:

Via https://www.elsevier.com/connect/infographic-how-to-read-a-scientific-paper

How to take notes while reading

Mary Purugganan and Jan Hewitt of Rice University propose slightly different steps for reading academic papers. Though they seem more general pointers to keep in mind to me:

  1. Skim the article and identify its structure
  2. Distinguish its main points
  3. Generate questions before and during reading
  4. Draw inferences while reading
  5. Take notes while reading

Regarding the note taking Mary and Jan propose the following template which may proof useful:

  • Citation:
  • URL:
  • Keywords:
  • General subject:
  • Specific subject:
  • Hypotheses:
  • Methodology:
  • Results:
  • Key points:
  • Context (in the broader field/your work):
  • Significance (to the field/your work):
  • Important figures/tables (description/page numbers):
  • References for further reading:
  • Other comments:

Scholars sharing their experiences

Science Magazine dedicated a long read to how to seriously read scientific papers, in which they asked multiple scholars to share their experiences and tips.

Anatomy of a scientific paper

This 13-page guide by the American Society of Plant Biologists was recommended by some, but I personally don’t find it as useful as the other advices here. Nevertheless, for the laymen, it does include a nice visualization of the anatomy of scientific papers:

Via https://aspb.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/HowtoReadScientificPaper.pdf

Learning How to Learn

One reddit user recommend this Coursera course, Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. It’s free, and can be taken in English, but also Portuguese, Spanish, or Chinese.

This course gives you easy access to the invaluable learning techniques used by experts in art, music, literature, math, science, sports, and many other disciplines. We’ll learn about the how the brain uses two very different learning modes and how it encapsulates (“chunks”) information. We’ll also cover illusions of learning, memory techniques, dealing with procrastination, and best practices shown by research to be most effective in helping you master tough subjects.

Free Python Tutorials & Courses, by CourseDuck

Free Python Tutorials & Courses, by CourseDuck

CourseDuck founder Michael Kuhlman was nice enough to point me to their overview of curated (&free!) Python courses and tutorials.

This overview is curated in the sense that all resources are rated by CourseDuck’s users. These ratings seem quite reliable, at least, I personally enjoyed their top-3 resources sometime the past years:

Note that all these courses, as well as the curated overview, come free of charge! A great resource for starting data scientists or upcoming pythonistas!

Gradient Descent 101

Gradient Descent is, in essence, a simple optimization algorithm. It seeks to find the gradient of a linear slope, by which the resulting linear line best fits the observed data, resulting in the smallest or lowest error(s). It is THE inner working of the linear functions we get taught in university statistics courses, however, many of us will finish our Masters (business) degree without having heard the term. Hence, this blog.

Linear regression is among the simplest and most frequently used supervised learning algorithms. It reduces observed data to a linear function (Y = a + bX) in order to retrieve a set of general rules, or to predict the Y-values for instances where the outcome is not observed.

One can define various linear functions to model a set of data points (e.g. below). However, each of these may fit the data better or worse than the others. How can you determine which function fits the data best? Which function is an optimal representation of the data? Enter stage Gradient Descent. By iteratively testing values for the intersect (a; where the linear line intersects with the Y-axis (X = 0)) and the gradient (b; the slope of the line; the difference in Y when X increases with 1) and comparing the resulting predictions against the actual data, Gradient Descent finds the optimal values for the intersect and the slope. These optimal values can be found because they result in the smallest difference between the predicted values and the actual data – the least error.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor linear regression plot r

The video below is part of a Coursera machine learning course of Stanford University and it provides a very intuitive explanation of the algorithm and its workings:

A recent blog demonstrates how one could program the gradient descent algorithm in R for him-/herself. Indeed, the code copied below provides the same results as the linear modelling function in R’s base environment.

gradientDesc  max_iter) { 
      abline(c, m) 
      converged = T
      return(paste("Optimal intercept:", c, "Optimal slope:", m))

# compare resulting coefficients
coef(lm(mpg ~ disp, data = mtcars)
gradientDesc(x = disp, y = mpg, learn_rate = 0.0000293, conv_theshold = 0.001, n = 32, max_iter = 2500000)

Although the algorithm may result in a so-called “local optimum”, representing the best fitting set of values (a & b) among a specific range of X-values, such issues can be handled but deserve a separate discussion.