academic technologies

Recently I have been exploring programs to help streamline, or jumpstart, my research and writing. Here are three worth sharing.

Mendeley

I’ve been using this free bibliography reference program for a short time and so far, it comes with my recommendation. It’s ideal for organizing all those pdfs that are hard to keep track of – not to mention regular bibliographical entries for books, etc. You download the program onto your computer, where you can set up certain folders to be ‘watched’ for documents which the program automatically uploads. You then type in the details about each document so that it’s listed as a citation with an attached document(s) – which is synced with the online library so that you can access your citations and their pdfs from any computer anywhere by signing into your account. So, I have both my old Refworks/Endnotes bibliographies uploaded, plus all the articles floating around my computer, which I’ve consolidated for the most part in one folder. In the program (or online), you can organize your references endlessly – create folders for topics/papers, put references in multiple different ‘collections’ (like gmail labels), tag with keywords, indicate ‘read’ or ‘unread’, star, etc etc. Then at the end of the day you can select whatever references you like and copy the citation in whatever citation style you choose. Overall, incredibly helpful – I’m excited to scan in some of my printed materials so I can be totally mobile for research. Now all they have to do is release Mendeley on iphone…

It looks like this is mostly used by the scientific community (as you can tell, the company is obviously obsessed with stats), and can be utilized as a true research network with public ‘shared collections’ and ‘contacts’. If you’re on it, find me as a contact!

Dropbox

“Dropbox is the easiest way to sync and share your files online and across computers.” Perfectly put, and completely true – it is shockingly easy, and if you use more than one computer or are constantly losing a stupid flash drive, Dropbox will change your life. Basically you have a folder that exists simultaneously on say, your laptop, your home desktop, and online – and is instantaneously updated. So, for instance, keep that abstract word document you’ve been slowly working on in your Dropbox folder, and you can work on it in town on your laptop, at home in the study on the big screen, or on the department computers without ever worrying about having the latest version or emailing it to yourself or whatever. And, if you’re offline, you can still access the latest versions of the files. And, there’s an iphone app.

Considering it’s free, the basic storage size is generous – but it goes up if you invite people and they join! If you want to try it out click on this link: https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTg2MzEzNzM5 and we’ll both get more bonus space. (As it is, I’m only using 1%, so I’m not exactly desperate – and now you can trust my endorsement 🙂

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is an approach to time management that helps  you avoid the debilitating feeling of becoming, i.e., time is always passing away, more and more quickly, unable to be controlled or measured, and replace it with a feeling of succession, i.e. events or accomplishments which happen one after the other in a concrete rhythm. The basic idea is that you take a kitchen timer (hence the ‘tomato’) and you work in 25 minute ‘pomodoro’ increments. There’s a whole book explaining the technique which is quite interesting. Every 25 minute segment you get a little 2-3 minute break, and every 4 pomodoros you get a longer break. You ‘label’ each pomodoro, or plan out your whole day, using little boxes next to the task on a list on a real piece of paper. I started a work journal and map out each day using this. The great part is it breaks that plateau of productivity that sets in around the 10-15 minute mark, where the thinking gets hard, you get bored, distracted, etc. With the pomodoro, you have to keep on working on the task at hand no matter how  you feel – it takes some training – but then you suddenly find yourself working more consistently, more comfortably, and more happily.

It may seem trivial or silly to structure your time in such a way but it’s actually incredibly liberating to feel like you’ve only got to deal with the next 25 minutes, and that in those 25 minutes you can truly get something done. When you’re on a roll you might not ‘need’ the pomodoro, but in those early birthing pangs of a project or the tough translation or whatever part you dread, it will save your sanity.

If you’re a mac user there’s also a good Pomodoro application for download here.

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