Any tools for academics that make your life better?
January 5, 2011 7:46 AM   Subscribe

For the academics out there: are there any new tools for academics out there that have changed your life for the better? How do you find them?

Inspired by the FPP today about Google Refine for data cleaning, I am looking for other useful tools for academic researchers. I already use Zotero and Mendeley for reference management, and have a good academic setup on my iPad (Dropbox, GoodReader, iAnnotate, and Mendeley). What else is out there that has made your lives easier? Is there a blog or site your hit to find these things?

If it helps, I am an economic sociologist at a business school, I do fairly large-scale quantitative work (mostly in STATA), and I am not a programmer.
posted by blahblahblah to Technology (15 answers total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
I'm an academic librarian. One of the cool tools I show faculty members is the alert function on many academic journal databases. These will let you know when there's new research published on topics of interest to you.
posted by mareli at 8:04 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

BibDesk, if you're on a Mac.

Once you manage to get an electronic copy of an article, it keeps track of it for you. And if you use LaTeX, it deals with setting up and remembering cite keys and with the bibliography formatting.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:38 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Livescribe smartpen. It scans the notes you take into the pen, so that you can sync them into your computer. Also, it records audio, so you can take notes at a lecture, and then tap on the word in your notes to hear what was being said at the moment you took that particular note.

I use it all the time. I love how I can get away from my computer to read and take notes, but know that the notes will be available on my computer later. I have the older model, but there is a new one out that is pretty much the same thing with a few more features.
posted by umbĂș at 8:51 AM on January 5, 2011

Response by poster: umbĂș - Thanks, I should have thought to mention Livescribe, which is awesome (though the rules for when you can use audio recording ethically are ambiguous).

Might also be worth mentioning that I am also interested in any neat data visualization or paper/table formatting tools. I don't do LaTex, but I really like using the Fake LaTex template for Word.
posted by blahblahblah at 9:01 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Scrivener, for writing first drafts. There's a windows version imminent. I don't think I would have managed to finish my thesis if not for Scrivener.
posted by dhruva at 9:04 AM on January 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

The Profhacker blog often has reviews of various tools for academics.
posted by raxast at 9:23 AM on January 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I recently put all my work into a distributed version control system (git) for syncing between multiple computers and tracking changes. Probably works best with text files (e.g. latex), not word files, though.

I don't do LaTex, but I really like using the Fake LaTex template for Word.

FWIW I don't think anyone I know who really uses latex seriously and would call computer modern "that awesome font"...we mostly try to avoid it.

posted by advil at 9:32 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Similar to 'alert' for databases I've started using Google alerts in Google Scholar. There are a bunch of seminal papers in my field that always get cited whenever a new study comes out. If you find one of these papers in Google Scholar and click the "cited by" link so it shows the forward citations, you can create an email alert there. I get pinged whenever a new paper appears that I would care about; it's great. (Ideally this should be used in conjunction with alerts from academic databases to increase your coverage. A lot of stuff in my field happens to be grey lit that g. scholar picks up.)
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:09 AM on January 5, 2011

I love the DiRT Wiki for this.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:23 PM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is great, thanks. The problem with DiRT is that it doesn't really offer any editorial advice, just a big list. Any favorites from there, unknowncommand?

Also, one more thing for those reading this thread: Google Reader lets you bundle multiple RSS feeds and distribute them in Google Bundles (just click the little arrow next to the folder in Google Reader). You can collect all of the various journal RSS feeds into a single feed and distribute it to your colleagues, or use it in another reader (like Pulse or Flipbook on the iPad)
posted by blahblahblah at 12:52 PM on January 5, 2011

Sente. It is the ice hot jam. It is really the only proprietary software I can honestly endorse on all fronts.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 8:59 PM on January 5, 2011


How is Sente better than, say, Papers? Sente is quite a bit more expensive - $130 vs. $42.
posted by lukemeister at 6:41 PM on January 7, 2011

I've been looking at bundling up Limesurvey for Debian/Ubuntu. It appears to be a free and open source alternative to Survey Monkey. As a sociologist, you may have other preferences or simply abhor online surveys though.

For visualization, the Google Chart API is pretty nice. They have versions of Hans Roslig's Gapminder animated timeseries charts! You'll need to know a bit of programming to get the data out of whatever you have and into their charts though.
posted by pwnguin at 6:40 AM on January 11, 2011


Papers will organize/rename your collection of .pdfs, but Sente will rename/organize your .pdfs in addition to managing all of your references, format any style bibliography you like (w/ similarly formatted in text citations), automatically search for new articles that are similar to those in your library (based on a nearly limitless set of search criteria), keep track of any notes/annotations, and more.

It puts Papers to shame.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:43 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another Sente user here. I think it's awesome in many ways, though the interface is a bit nonintuitive and may make it hard to see what the fuss is about. (The few menu options are IMHO awkwardly arranged.)

Sente has a lot of power not evident from the menu options. For instance, you can almost completely customize the view it presents of records, adding or deleting fields, so that you can make it display the information you prefer to see rather than being locked into seeing a specific set and specific organization.

Another Sente feature: shared networked-synchronized libraries. The makers of Sente provide hosting of the synchronization data for your library on their servers (so you don't have to set up a copy somewhere yourself). You can keep cloned copies of your library on multiple computers, and the copies will keep in sync with each other when you have an internet connection, using their servers as intermediaries. It's so easy to set up and have working, you will wonder why other software doesn't provide synchronization capabilities like this.

Another thing Sente has that Papers doesn't is support for more record/entry types than just journal articles.

Really, I just can't keep raving about Sente.
posted by StrawberryPie at 11:28 PM on February 8, 2011

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