Tech tools for graduate students

I seem to spend half my time keeping up with my computer.  It updates itself, deals with its own viruses, and is generally a miracle of the modern world.  Still, each update means some new twists to the programs I use, and figuring out how to make use of its massive capabilities feels like a full-time job.  Here’s a list of some of the tricks and tools I’ve been trying to master.

  • Backup your work!  Who hasn’t heard a horror story of the student who lost all their work in the final stages of writing their dissertation?  I double up.  My Mac uses Time Machine to automatically back itself up to an external hard drive.  I also use Carbonite for automatic online backup to a remote site (in case my house burns down and said hard drives become a gooey mess).
  • Accessing documents on my computer when you’re not actually at your computer (you know, in case inspiration hits while you’re on vacation or otherwise enjoying a perfectly good day away from your desk): Carbonite
  • Creating a virtual library to house all the crazy pdfs that would otherwise suffocate my desktop: Zotero.  I used to use End Note, but just switched over to Zotero.  So far it seems a lot easier to use.  Plus, it’s free!  They both also automatically format your citations and bibliographies in the style of you choice.  Wow!  Can they do my laundry too?
  • Finding things on the rabbit’s warren that is my computer: Google Desktop.  I just downloaded this yesterday so I haven’t used it much yet, but my friend Bernie assures me it does the trick.  It searches not only file names, but also what’s INSIDE the files.  Crazy!
  • Sharing massive documents and syncing e-mail accounts and other information across computers.  I use Mobile Me, but I hear Google does this pretty well too.
  • For when you go back to your desk and realize that although you thought you understood it at the time, you actually have no idea what your advisor was talking about:  Recorder app on a smart phone.  Record the conversation now, make sense of it later. Kind of like interviewing.
  • For organizing and analyzing interview transcripts: NVivo.  NVivo is designed for PC’s, so using it on a Mac also requires using Bootcamp or Parallels.
  • For recording and calculating student grades: Excel or Numbers.  They both work but I like Numbers because it has a pre-fab grading worksheet that automatically transforms number grades (92%) into letter grades (A-).
  • For staying up to date with the outside world: Google ReaderTweet Deck, and that old fashioned thing called the phone
  • Task management software (otherwise known as to-do lists): OmniFocus.  I was thrilled with this when I first got it, now I’m closer to lukewarm.  I’m back to using my whiteboard for day-to-day to-do lists, but I still like it for storing my longer term to-do lists.
  • One of my writing buddies uses Foxit Reader to read pdfs online and highlight and take notes on them, but it doesn’t look like it works for Macs. Plus, I don’t like reading things online.  Still, I may snoop around and see what’s out there for Macs and give it a go.

And that marks the end of my tech savvy.

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