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Biological resources for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics)

Liaison librarian

  • Giovanna [dot] Badia [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Email) 514-398-7340
  • McGill users only
  • Open access resource
  • Free resource
  • In-library-use only
  • Catalogue record

Why & when should you search biological resources for STEM?

  • No single resource/database exists that provides references to all publications in a subject area. 
  • Searching STEM resources alone (e.g., Web of Science, Scopus, SciFinder, Inspec, Compendex) will not provide a comprehensive search of the literature when a research topic has biological/medical applications.
  • You need to search biological resources when a topic intersects the physical and life sciences, since each database has unique content/features that are not covered elsewhere.


What are these biological resources?


Where should your start your search?

  • Consider who would be writing about your topic to determine where you should start your search to obtain the most results. 
  • Example 1:  If you wanted to know about the use of a medical device in a clinical setting, searching health sciences databases will frequently obtain more results since health care professionals are involved at this point (i.e., administer the device and observe its effects).  They would be the ones most likely to write about this topic and would most likely publish in health sciences journals.
  • Example 2:  If you wanted information about the fabrication of a medical device, searching engineering databases will frequently obtain more results since engineers are involved in this process.  Engineers would be the ones most likely to write about this topic and would most likely publish in engineering journals.  


How do you search these resources?

Keyword Searching

  • Keyword searching occurs when you just type words in the search box (e.g., breast implant).  A database will search for your exact words anywhere in the document, usually in the title and abstract of the article. 
  • You will NOT obtain references to articles that use variations of your words (e.g., breast implantation) or mention synonyms (e.g., breast prostheses). 
  • You can also obtain false hits, i.e., search results that happen to mention your search words somewhere in the document but are not about your topic (e.g., Women with breast cancer did not undergo surgery to receive the cardiac implant device).
  • Use keyword searching when subject searching (see below) is not available in the database, a subject heading is not available for your topic, or to complement subject searching when you need to perform an exhaustive literature search.

Subject Searching

  • Subject searching is available in databases that assign subject headings to articles (e.g., Medline, Embase). 
  • Subject headings describe what the article is about and take into account different synonyms or spellings the authors may have used.  They are selected from a controlled list of vocabulary terms.
  • For example, all references to articles about high blood pressure in Medline are assigned the same medical subject heading, “Hypertension,” regardless of the words that authors may have used in the title and abstract, such as high blood pressure, hypertensive, hypertension, etc. 
  • Use subject searching, when available, to obtain as much of the published literature on your topic as possible, as well as to increase the relevancy of your results.  Use to complement keyword searching when you need to perform an exhaustive search of the literature.

Principles of Online Searching

1.  Define your question.
Example:  Is the use of bone cement effective in total hip replacements for older patients, i.e., age 65 or older?

2.  Identify the appropriate source(s) to search.
Example:  Medline via PubMed

3.  Break down the question into its separate concepts.
Example:  Is the use of bone cement effective in total hip replacements for older patients, i.e., age 65 or older?

4.  Search each concept separately to find appropriate subject headings.  If subject headings are not available, brainstorm synonyms for each concept.
Example:  Search each concept separately in PubMed to find the appropriate medical subject headings (i.e., MeSH terms).  The MeSH terms are:

-       “Bone Cements” (for bone cement)

-       “Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip” (for total hip replacements)

-       “Aged”  (for older patients, i.e., age 65 or older)

5.  Combine search terms (AND/OR).
Example:  “Bone Cements” [MeSH] AND “Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip”[MeSH] AND “Aged”[MeSH]

6.  Apply limits.
Example:  Limit search results to English language articles published in the past 5 years.  Note that Medline & Embase also allow you to limit your results to studies involving participants in a certain age group, such as “Aged: 65+ years.”  You can search for age in these two databases using a subject heading (see step 4 above) or you can apply the age limit to your search results.

7. Evaluate your results & modify your search strategy if necessary.
Example:  Look at the title, abstract, and/or subject headings of a relevant result to pick out additional words or subject headings that you can use to revise your search.



Medline via PubMed



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