Ah the literature review. When you start a PhD you don’t know much about that field. You are not an expert (yet). One day somebody suggests that you should do a literature review. But what is a literature review?
In simple words, in a literature review you read lots of papers related to your research topic. Then you write down a summary of all what you have read. It should contain the essence of all the knowledge in your field.
Sounds quite a challenge, doesn’t it? Wait, there is more.
Since you are a new PhD you need to learn how to find those papers. How to read them. How to skip the crappy ones, the hyped ones, the me-too ones. You need to learn to extract the information you are going to need down the PhD road. It’s all part of that PhD monster.
Unfortunately very few of us have a kind colleague on our side to guide us through literature review. A wise person that tells you all those tricks that will save you from many headaches.
Have you felt during your PhD that you were on a constant trial and error? Like you are left alone in the wilderness and you need to figure out everything by making mistakes. Like you have to try everything that doesn’t work till you find what does.
Hey, nothing wrong with a bit of learning the hard way. That’s life. But wouldn’t it be nice to get every now and then the right literature review advice from an expert, so you don’t have to waste precious time?
That is what the Literature Review Boot Camp is offering you. A VIP ticket to a painless literature review. It’s a course for PhD students that don’t know how to do a literature review.
Do you need help with your literature review? Keep reading.
I have had access to the contents of the Literature Review Boot Camp. (Thanks Ben for letting me have a peek)
I an going to describe what you get in each module of the course. My goal is to make clear of this course is for you or not.
Enter the Literature Review Boot Camp..
The Literature Review Boot Camp
What Format Is The Course?
It’s a video course. The course contains 6 modules, each module from 6 to 10 videos of 2 to 5 minutes. So a lot of content in small bites so you can chew it at your own pace.
Most of the videos are of the webinar format, or in other words, an online lecture/presentation. You see some slides with the key messages and Ben’s voice guides you through the content. Sometimes the slides are gone and a screencast shows you how to perform some task with your computer.
You will also get some pdf files with cheat sheets and support materials, but let’s say most of the course is video.
How Much Does It Cost?
$149 till the end of October, after that $199. So hurry up if you think this course is for you. (Get the course here)
What Are The Contents?
Module 1: Mindset (6 videos)
This first module is a warm up. It prepares your brain and your mentality to handle the marathon that a literature review is.
You can expect to learn how to cope with criticism and failure, how to set goals and how to stay focused. While this is not the most comprehensive productivity advice for PhD students out there, I think is what will satisfy 95% of the PhD students.
Module 2: Organisation (8videos)
In this module Ben teaches you how to tame literature. He proposes several software tools to keep track of your goals. Being a fan of to-do list software, I missed a mention to my beloved Wunderlist. In any case, the ones mentioned are decent runner-ups.
Have you ever been talking with a colleague when he says “have you read the paper by …” and initially you have no clue what it is about? It has even happened to me that my colleague would forward me the paper. Guess what? I had read it several times.
Ben will teach you a couple of tricks to memorize which papers you have read, so you can remember then when talking to others.
Lastly, he blows my mind with the answer to one of the most frequently asked question about literature review: which reference manager should you use? Well, it doesn’t really matter. Check the course if you want to know why.
Module 3: Searching (7 videos)
Have you noticed that some people seem to easily find the answer to any question by searching in Google while others could not even find what the name of the president of USA is?
The same happens to PhD student searching for the papers they need to read. Some of the advice here is trivial for me. However, I can imagine some not so techie folks seeing the light with this module.
A little hiccup is that he recommends Google Reader to read your RSS feeds. Unfortunately, Google Reader has been recently discontinued. If you need an alternative RSS reader I would recommend Feedly.
Module 4: Reading (10 videos)
You found the papers. You have downloaded them. Stored them in the right format. And now?
Well, now you have to read them. And Ben is going to teach you how to read. Not like you are an an alphabet, but surely you could improve how you read.
In this module Ben shares some techniques for better paper reading. For instance, in which order to read the different parts of the paper, how to read faster or how to take notes of what you read. There is quite meat in here.
Asking questions help to understand better a paper. That’s why in this module you will also get a pdf with different questions you should be asking (and answering) about a paper to completely understand what you have read.
Module 5: Writing (8 videos)
You have read that ton of papers, great! But don’t pet yourself in the shoulder yet. Now you have to write the literature review. How do you make sense of all you read and put it into your own words?
There is a hidden gem here. The Matrix. A trick to have an overview of what you have read and what each paper is about. Here you will also find some tips on breaking the writer’s block or how to find your voice.
I really like some of the technical writing tips in here. Ben shows an example of bad and good text. I would have like to see some more examples like these throughout the course, although I understand it’s difficult to keep your advice general and not to make it field specific.
Module 6: Improvement (7 videos)
While the previous modules are mostly applicable to starting PhDs, this module is for those that want to take their literature review to the next level.
Topics covered here: how to get and give feedback, the difference between copying and plagiarising, or how to be a more professional writer.
As bonus you get the extended in-depth videos on three of the topics with the highest demand for help: procrastination, changing mindset and writer’s block. 30 minutes each.
The Literature Review Boot Camp does not only give you great practical tips, but it puts a lot of emphasis in practice and planning the different phases of literature review.
On the one hand think you should force yourself to a fixed schedule for reading and writing instead of only writing when the muses find you. On the other hand it seems sometimes that many problems are solved just by planning, and well, that’s not the only area we need to improve. Having the perfect plan to do the wrong thing takes us nowhere.
All in all I think this literature review course is great for any starting PhD student or for those that are having big trouble with their literature review. It gives good advice in the areas where most PhDs get stuck with their literature review. Obviously Ben has spent many years helping students and he knows his stuff.
Is there something missing? I think offering the course as an audiobook would have been a plus. There is people that would like to listen to it while driving or jogging. Maybe that could be a feature for an update?
Is The Literature Review Boot Camp For You?
Some PhD students might have experienced colleagues (postdocs or assistant professors) that are willing to help you out. They can answer your questions. If this is your case, then maybe you can skip this course.
You might have been told to do a literature review, but without help or supervision. Then this course can give you some of that missing guidance. If you have to carry all the PhD load on your own, this course is for you.
If you have never read academic papers or written a summary of a paper or had to handle academic literature, then this course is for you.
But hey, you also have to put in some effort. This course is no magical solution. It just provides you with the tools and knowledge for you to walk the walk. But you have to walk by yourself!
I don’t need to do literature reviews anymore, since I found a job in industry after my PhD. In any case, I wish I had followed this course when I started my PhD.
What about you? Are you ready to improve your literature review?
I am a friend of the creator (Ben Libberton) and an affiliate of this course. Do I write about it because if this? Mmmm, just 10% because of this. The other 90% is because I think there are few resources like this available for PhD students. I thought it was worth having a look at it, share what I see and help you build your own decision about the course. I know Ben has a lot of experience helping PhDs with their literature reviews and that he always gives 200% in what the does.