One of the objectives of a PhD student is “adviser-independence,” such as being able to navigate the literature to learn new topics on one’s own. The most pedagogical material is contained in textbooks, but by the time something has made it into a published text it has already fallen a bit behind the ‘forefront of research.’ The second most pedagogical material can be found in review articles, which are papers that are meant to summarize topics at the ‘forefront’ of a particular (sub-)field.

There are a few journals that specialize in review articles. These tend to have very high-quality, formal papers that are nearly textbook-like in their presentation:

The published reviews in your subfield form a corpus of knowledge that one is expected to have mastered as a research scientist.

More broadly, however, there are many `review articles’ that are not necessarily published in the above journals. These include lecture notes from summer schools or other less-formal write ups. Here are a few collections that I regularly refer to (and a couple that I don’t):

One can also play with the really neat search engine, ArXiv Structure, which will offer review articles for particular ‘themes’. In limited use I’ve had mixed success for particular searches, but have had a lot of fun browsing randomly. The site shows a lot of promise for finding and categorizing literature on particular topics. (Here’s an example.)

Most of the summer school lecture notes out there end up in proceedings, bound volumes that form a the published records of conferences. Two of the most useful proceedings are those from the Les Houches and TASI schools. Hard copies of these books can be hard to find, but more recent sessions of these schools tend to have copies of lectures on the arXiv as well as video lectures. A few classic summer school lectures go on to be published widely, such as Sidney Coleman’s Aspects of Symmetry (from the Erice schools) and Methods in Field Theory (from the Les Houches schools). Other places to look for lectures are the Proceedings of Science and on SPIRES (conference search).

I suppose it’s worth pandering to ourselves by noting that the blogosphere is also a budding place to look for literature reviews and subject summaries. 🙂