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5 Essential Apps Every Ph.D. Student Needs

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Hey, it’s Dr. Friederike Jurth. I’m here to share some insights from a self-proclaimed technophobe. I have a tendency to resist technological change and often deny that there are programs out there designed to make my life easier. Because of this, anything I recommend has to be truly exceptional for me to even acknowledge its existence.

During your many years pursuing a Ph.D., you will definitely need some kind of organized system to help you keep track of everything in your head. With the overwhelming abundance of apps claiming to do this, it’s important to find ones that genuinely enhance your productivity. From a student who only tolerates apps that truly make life better, here are five essential apps for every PhD student.

Evernote is a free app that allows you to jot down anything and everything in an organized, searchable, and logical format. You can create notebooks to hold individual, related notes, making it incredibly easy to manage your thoughts and ideas. The app supports various media types, such as text, images, and audio, making it a versatile tool for capturing information.

  • Organized and searchable notes
  • Create and manage notebooks
  • Supports text, images, and audio

These tools are designed to simplify your academic journey and help you focus on what truly matters. By integrating these apps into your daily routine, you’ll find that managing your PhD workload becomes more efficient and less stressful.

Welcome to my blog! Today, I want to share with you some tips and tricks for organizing your work using the powerful tool, Evernote.

5 essential Apps for a Ph.D. Student


1. Why Evernote is a Game-Changer

If you’re juggling multiple projects, such as hiking or lab work, keeping track of everything can be daunting. That’s where Evernote comes in. This versatile app can significantly streamline your workflow.

Key Features of Evernote

Here are some of the standout features that make Evernote indispensable:

  • Scan Documents: Easily scan documents using the free Evernote app.
  • Tagging System: Add tags to your notes, making it simpler to locate them later.
  • Image Annotation: Annotate images directly within the app.
  • Checklists: Create checklists to keep track of tasks and to-dos.
  • Collaborative Notebooks: Add other users to specific notebooks, enabling seamless sharing and collaboration.

Evernote vs. Physical Notebooks

While physical notebooks are handy for quick notes, they have limitations. Imagine having ten notebooks and needing to find an essential reference. It can become overwhelming and time-consuming.

The Power of Digital Organization

With Evernote, you can keep all your notes, documents, and images in one place. The tagging and search functionalities allow you to quickly find what you need, saving you precious time and effort.

Alternatives to Evernote

Another alternative is OneNote, which comes with Microsoft OneDrive. While it has similar features, my experience is primarily with Evernote, and I find it exceptionally user-friendly and effective for managing my work.

In conclusion, whether you’re a student working on a year-long PhD or someone who needs to organize multiple projects, Evernote is an invaluable tool. Give it a try and see how it can transform your productivity!

If you find yourself struggling to interpret your own handwriting or if you often misplace your notes, there’s one essential tool I’d recommend to any PhD student: Evernote. This software is invaluable whether you’re using a Mac or Windows, engaged in science or the arts, highly organized, or extremely laid-back like me.

Why Evernote is a Must-Have for PhD Students

Evernote allows you to keep all your notes in one place, making them easily accessible and searchable. No more flipping through countless notebooks or deciphering messy handwriting. It’s a game-changer for anyone looking to stay organized and efficient.

The Importance of a Reference Manager

Second on my list of essential tools is a reference manager. One of the worst mistakes you can make as an academic is to manually copy references from Google Scholar into Microsoft Word. Trust me, I learned this the hard way while writing my Master’s dissertation. It was an entire day wasted, and I felt like I was working like an animal.

How a Reference Manager Can Save You Time

Think of a reference manager as iTunes, but for academic papers. Here’s what it can do for you:

  • Manage your citations
  • Organize metadata
  • Store PDFs of papers
  • Integrate with web plugins to download papers directly from sources like ScienceDirect

With a reference manager, you can insert your papers just as easily as you would search for a song in iTunes. It streamlines the entire process, saving you countless hours and headaches.

In conclusion, if you’re a PhD student aiming to stay organized and efficient, investing in tools like Evernote and a good reference manager is crucial. These tools will help you manage your workload more effectively and give you more time to focus on your research.

When it comes to crafting your own page, one of the most valuable tools at your disposal is a word processor plug-in. You simply type in the reference you need, and it imports it directly for you. The best part? It even writes your bibliography for you!

2. Why I Chose Zotero

I decided to use Zotero over competitors like Mendeley and EndNote for several reasons:

  • Intuitive Interface: Zotero felt more user-friendly to me.
  • Cost: Zotero is free, unlike EndNote, which requires a payment.
  • Flexibility: If you use EndNote through an institutional license and later move to an institution without that license, you’d either have to pay for it or start from scratch. That seemed too risky for my needs.

Trying Different Options

Everyone has their own favorite reference management tool, so it’s a good idea to try out several before deciding which one to commit to. Most of these tools offer similar features, so your choice might come down to personal preference and specific needs.

To save yourself time and effort, don’t do what 22-year-old Lucy did—get yourself a reliable reference management tool like Zotero and avoid unnecessary stress.

When it comes to managing your references, having a reliable tool is essential. Number three on my list is a vector imaging processor, which might surprise you if you’re not particularly artistically inclined or talented. However, this type of software is invaluable for creating clean, scalable graphics for various academic and professional purposes.

3. Adobe Illustrator: A Powerful but Costly Option

One of the most well-known vector imaging processors is Adobe Illustrator. It is incredibly powerful and effective, but it comes with a steep learning curve and a hefty subscription fee. Not all institutions cover the cost, and if you happen to change institutions, you might lose access to it.

Alternatives to Adobe Illustrator

Luckily, there are other options available that can fit your needs without breaking the bank:

  • Inkscape: A free, open-source alternative that offers a wide range of features.
  • Affinity Designer: A one-time purchase software that is both powerful and user-friendly.
  • CorelDRAW: Another robust option that provides a good balance between functionality and cost.

Each of these alternatives has its own strengths and weaknesses, but they all offer the ability to create high-quality vector images without the financial burden of a subscription-based service like Adobe Illustrator.

In conclusion, incorporating a vector imaging processor into your toolkit is a wise decision, even if you’re not an artist. It will enable you to produce clear, professional graphics that enhance your work and ensure your messages are communicated effectively.

Using Adobe Illustrator can often feel like buying a mansion and only living in one room. Despite its incredible capabilities and power, many users, including myself, find it overwhelming and underutilized. During my master’s program, I felt lost navigating its complex features.

Simpler Alternatives to Adobe Illustrator

If you’re looking for simpler alternatives, consider options like Inkscape. Surprisingly, even exporting PDFs from Microsoft PowerPoint or Mac OS Keynote can yield impressive results. These tools might lack some advanced features, but they offer an intuitive and efficient experience.

A Personal Experience

Let me share a personal experience to illustrate this point. For my master’s project, I created a complex figure using Adobe Illustrator. It took me an entire day to learn and execute the design. Here is the same figure, redrawn in Keynote, which took me about half the time. The best part? During my presentation, I was able to add custom animations effortlessly. It was powerful, intuitive, and incredibly easy to use right from the start.

In conclusion, while Adobe Illustrator is a robust tool, don’t overlook the potential of more straightforward alternatives like PowerPoint and Keynote for specific tasks. These tools can save you time and provide excellent results without the steep learning curve.

As a PhD student, managing your time effectively is crucial. One indispensable tool in your arsenal should be a calendar. Whether you prefer Google Calendar, iCloud Calendar, Outlook, or the Mac Calendar app, having a reliable way to organize your schedule is essential.

4. Why You Need a Calendar

During your PhD journey, you’ll be juggling multiple responsibilities. You’ll have to attend conferences, seminars, and debates. You’ll be meeting with your supervisor, conducting experiments, and traveling for various academic commitments.

The Challenges

Your schedule will be packed with appointments that are often booked months in advance and can change at the last minute. Without a personal assistant, keeping track of all these engagements can be overwhelming.

Maximizing Your Calendar’s Potential

The key to effectively using a calendar is to adopt a disciplined approach. Here are some tips to make the most out of your calendar:

  • Use It Religiously: As soon as you make an appointment, add it to your calendar immediately.
  • Set Reminders: Utilize reminders to ensure you don’t miss important meetings or deadlines.
  • Color Code: Differentiate between various types of activities by using color codes. This makes it easier to visualize your schedule at a glance.
  • Sync Across Devices: Ensure your calendar is synced across all your devices so you can access it anytime, anywhere.
  • Review Regularly: Take a few minutes each day to review and update your calendar, adjusting for any last-minute changes.

By following these practices, you’ll be better equipped to manage your time and stay on top of your academic responsibilities. A well-maintained calendar can serve as your personal assistant, ensuring you never miss an appointment and helping you navigate your busy PhD life with ease.

Keeping track of your plans is essential, especially when things change unexpectedly. Here are some key reasons why using a calendar app can make your life easier and more organized.

Why You Should Use a Calendar App

When your plans change, it’s crucial to update your schedule immediately. If something is really important or far in the future, consider setting an alarm. I check my calendar several times every day, and here’s why I find it indispensable:

  • Convenience: Unlike a physical diary, a calendar app is easy to update and edit.
  • Reminders: It can remind you of important tasks and events.
  • Collaboration: You can invite others to join events or activities.
  • Searchability: Easily check when you last did something by searching through past entries.
  • Synchronization: Calendars sync across mobile devices, which is incredibly useful when you’re on the go.

For all these reasons, I strongly recommend getting a calendar app. However, if you have a personal assistant, you might not need one.

5. My Thoughts on Microsoft Word

Now, onto my last recommendation, which may seem staggeringly obvious: Microsoft Word. I must admit, I don’t like Word. I don’t find it intuitive; it’s clunky, slow, and prone to crashing. Move one small image, and the entire document can crumble before your eyes. But, the reality is, everybody has it, and sometimes you just have to work with what’s available.

When using document creation tools, it’s quite common courtesy to convert files to Word format, especially for those who don’t use a Mac. Although tools like LaTeX require specialized knowledge, Word remains the universal language of word processing. Despite my preferences, I must admit that Word has its advantages.

Why Word Still Reigns Supreme

One feature I particularly appreciate in Word over other programs, such as Pages, is its Track Changes function. This tool is incredibly useful when collaborating on documents, such as an abstract, with your supervisor. It allows you to see every change and comment they make, line by line, from adding a semicolon to rewriting an entire paragraph. This detailed feedback process is invaluable for ensuring clarity and precision in your work.

Moreover, the best part about Word is that you often don’t have to pay for it. Most educational institutions provide a license, making it accessible to students and faculty alike.

What Are Your Go-To Apps?

Those are some of the top apps I recommend for PhD students. However, I’m curious to hear your thoughts. Have I missed any essential apps that you rely on? Share the tools that have transformed your academic life. I look forward to your recommendations!

About the author:

Picture of Dr. Friederike Jurth
Dr. Friederike Jurth

Possibly you already heard of me through different media channels. My name is Dr. Friederike Jurth, and I hold a certificate from Harvard in Higher Education Teaching. Since 2010, I have given lectures on Methodology, Empirical Research, Anthropology, and Transcultural (Music) Studies in collaboration with universities in the United States, Germany, Spain, and Brazil. In 2010, I began a 7-year-long fieldwork project in Rio de Janeiro and have since presented my research at conferences worldwide, including in Japan, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Thailand, Switzerland, and many other countries. Additionally, I have worked as a lecturer and researcher with Germany’s renowned UNESCO Chair.

After completing my doctoral dissertation with summa cum laude, I aimed to unite, condense, and share the steps, ways, and details of my unique methodological and structural approach that I developed during my Ph.D. and that ultimately helped me achieve this result. By concentrating and putting them together into an elaborate academic conception, MyThesis Academy was born. Motivated by the sole aim and objective to help my students through all steps and stages of their thesis journey, MyThesis Academy enables them to achieve their best possible results in the shortest time, independent of their specific area of research.

In addition to my extensive teaching and research experience, I am part of the authors of the Cambridge Companion to Music in Brazil 2024, published by Cambridge University Press & Assessment, where I contribute as a Cambridge Author. This work is a co-operative project conducted remotely from Cambridge, England, United Kingdom.

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