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NROC60: Cellular Neuroscience Laboratory

Winter 2020

Workshop FAQs

Q: Are there any resources directly on the UofT library web page?
A: Yes! You can visit our website at I recommend checking out the "Databases" links on the upper right of the page; you can browse resources by subject, popularity, and alphabetical title. "Articles" is helpful for looking up specific papers, and "Catalogue" is useful for finding books, journals, and audio/visual media on topics.

Q: Aside from potentially having more results, are there any benefits to using other databases? (i.e. Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE)
A: The main benefit to using other databases is that they will contain unique literature not indexed in PubMed (e.g. EMBASE has European literature while Pubmed and MEDLINE are more North America-centric. EMBASE also covers more drug/pharmaceutical literature compared to other biomedical databases). Some databases also offer different search and filtering capabilities that allow you to be more specific with your search (e.g. Medical Subject Headings, MeSH, in databases like PubMed and MEDLINE) compared to broader platforms like Scopus or Web of Science.

Q: How would we use other neuroscience-related databases?
A: Please see the Searching PubMed, Search MEDLINE, and Searching Web of Science pages for tutorial materials for these databases. If you have further questions or have another database you'd like to use, I'm happy to follow up.

Q: Does MeSH work on other databases like MEDLINE?
A: Yep! The Ovid version of MEDLINE is particularly nice for working with MeSH (Medical Subject Headings). This video provides an overview of using MeSH in MEDLINE. Recall that MeSH is a type of controlled vocabulary - i.e. a highly organized hierarchy of assigned terms/subject headings. Not every database will use the MeSH system, but many do have their own controlled vocabularies available.  

Q: How to narrow down searches by a particular journal?
A: If you go to the "Advanced" search page in PubMed (with the Advanced Search Builder), you can go to the "All Fields" drop down and select "Journal" from the list. In the search bar to the right of the dropdown, enter the title of the journal you'd like to search by and combine that with your existing search strategy.

Q: How can I determine if an article is peer-reviewed? How do I use Ulrich's?
A: An article is considered peer-reviewed if the journal that it's published in is peer-reviewed. You can use a handy tool called Ulrich's Periodicals Directory to check for a journal's peer-reviewed status. Please see the Peer Review page for full instructions on how to access and search in Ulrich's.

Q: What is the process to get a paid article for free?
A: If you hit a paywall or are unable to access the full text of an article, feel free to either email me or stop by the Information and Reference Desk in the library and we'll see if we can locate it for you. If the article is not available, you can then request it free of charge using the RACER platform, instructions for which are available on our interlibrary loans page.

Q: How can we get access to a reliable impact factor chart for the different journals in the sciences?
A: Journal Citation Reports (JCR) is a common tool used to check metrics such as impact factors. You can browse by journal or by category, the later of which will give you a comparison of top journal impact factors (JIF) in a specific subject area. For example, if I search for the "NEUROSCIENCES" category, I can then select "267" for the number of journals, which will generate a list of top journal impact factors for the Neurosciences in my selected JCR year (in this case, 2018):

screenshot of how to select the Neuroscience category in the Journal Citation Reports platform.


Questions from previous years: 

Q: How will we contribute to the literature field by reviewing the literature?
A: Reviewing the literature will allow you to assess existing knowledge around a research topic, identify any gaps within the literature, and provide a rationale for why your research is necessary to extend knowledge on a particular topic.

Q: Not entirely sure about searching for articles that are in the process of being published. Are they normally included automatically?
A: If you are using a keyword search in PubMed, then yes. However, using a MeSH search won't capture in-process articles if they haven't been indexed with subject headings yet. If in doubt, re-run your MeSH search periodically or try a keyword search limited to the 2017 publication year.

Q: Do all sites/databases have the same articles?
A: Not necessarily, which is why it's good practice as a researcher to look in more than one place for literature on a topic. While databases do have overlap in terms of content coverage, many have unique content that isn't found elsewhere. Take a look through the list of major neuroscience databases on the "Finding Articles" page to get an idea of some of the key resources available.

Q: What is the difference between different types of literature? (e.g. meta-analysis vs. review) How might they be useful?
A: Good question! Primary or empirical articles look at original research conducted by an author(s) and are very specific to a particular research topic. Review or secondary articles summarize the existing literature on a topic (i.e. they summarize empirical articles) and are helpful for quickly getting up to speed with what's been published in a certain research area. Systematic reviews are what I call "reviews on steroids" - they are very thorough summaries of the literature designed to catch every possible article relevant to a topic. Meta-analyses are related to systematic reviews, the key difference being that they statistically combine results from multiple studies using empirical data.

Q: Can you search up specific related articles on a topic?
A: PubMed does have a "Titles with your search terms" box that appears in the right column of your main search results page, though this feature can be spotty in terms of usefulness. I would recommend finding a good article that really gets to the root of your topic, check to see what sort of MeSH terms it's labeled with, and conduct a search using the most relevant terms. I'd be happy to help with this if anyone wants to meet and walk through their search together.

Q: How do I decide which articles to include/discard?
A: Skim your list of results starting with article titles and abstracts to identify potentially relevant papers. Then read through the full-text of selected studies to determine whether they're useful to your topic (the Introduction, Methods, and Results sections are particularly useful here)

Q: Maybe a tour/tutorial of the lesser known but helpful filters?
A: Check out some of the videos on the "Searching PubMed" page, there are some additional details here that weren't covered in class.

Q: Tips on how to use different Boolean operators to make search terms more efficient (e.g. I just learned you can use both American/Canadian spelling at the same time).
A: Please see the "Building Search Strategies" page for more details on Boolean operators and keyword searching. Note*: unlike most other research databases, using quotation marks or wildcards for terms when searching in PubMed is not recommended.

Q: Is there a way to sort by journal rating/impact factor (JIF)?
A: There are no filters at the article level to sort by journal impact factor, but the Web of Science database does have a tool that lets you browse journals by subject area according to the JIF. This page provides a link and instructions for locating journal impact factors.

Q: What is the best way to find articles once my subscription at UofT is over?
A: You'll still be able to use PubMed once your subscription at UofT is over, however you won't have access to all of its content. The National Library of Medicine has a great page for identifying free full text articles in the PubMed database. Some other suggested workarounds include:

Online resources:

  • If you'll be local to the Toronto area after you graduate, a number of U of T libraries have public access computers that will allow you to access electronic books, journals, databases, etc. For the UTSC Library specifically, you can request a guest login at our Information and Reference Desk for use at our public access computers at the front of the library.
  • Our Reading, Writing, and Publishing after you leave U of T guide provides a number of other resources that may be useful. I'd recommend checking out the Open Access page in particular, as it outlines various search tools and subject repositories for open access materials.

Physical resources:

  • Most U of T libraries allow you to openly browse through their physical book stacks (except for the Robarts Library downtown). If you are interested in borrowing physical materials, there are several types of alumni library cards available for purchase at the Robarts Library.


Q: How do I extract citations from databases to citation managers?
A: Please see the "Citation Management" page, which includes an overview of different citation managers and how to use them.