ADHD & Graduate studies
March 12, 2013 1:35 AM   Subscribe

I have (late-diagnosed) ADHD & I've just become a graduate student. I'm medicated, and under the care of professionals. This question is about best methodologies in graduate studies, particularly in remembering research I've read.

My memory sucks. For example, when I visit my doctor or psychiatrist, who I've seen multiple times before, I need to check their address, and floor, multiple times, on the way. (I know what street they're on, all my health providers are on the same street). I am an excellent problem solver but retaining information is problematic.

I have just started a graduate diploma in research (in the field of Education - not my undergraduate degree area, but I've worked as a research assistant in this area for at least 5 years, because I have so many different skills, and I met a bunch of up and coming academics in this field 10 years ago and they recognised my diverse skills and smarts).

I have to learn qualitative & quantitative methodologies, do a lit review, a different annotated bibliography, and then in second semester, a dissertation.

My current systems for conquering work include using Google calendar to remind me to come back to things (once they're off my desk, they're gone for ever, unless something reminds me) as well as a physical diary system (personally designed daily pages to remind me to do things, times of the day to do things and task list on each page). If this seems like overkill to you, I have to tell you, it works for me and is necessary. My personal diary system is in a little hole punched folder (A5) where I keep passwords, phone numbers, prescriptions, books to read, ideas, and so on. As well as that, I use my iPhone heaps, I make notes in meetings and email them to myself. (Notes in notebooks tend to get lost, as do notebooks).

So, I'm going to read up on what a lit review is, what an annotated bibliography is, and what a dissertation is. What I want to know is, as a grad students, what methods did you utilise to draw together complex ideas AND maintain referencing (as an undergrad, when writing a paper, I would say something I thought was right and then look for an article that supported me - I'm doing it in the opposite direction now).

I don't need suggestions on how to find articles (I'm very good at that). It's collating the data in a way that
a. will make sense,
b. will be easy & hopefully fun to use,
c. will mean I don't accidentally plagiarise someone by having read them and then forgotten that I've read that idea and think of it as my own.
d. will collect the data, ideas etc, in a way that I can use easily to pull together reports etc.

Feel free to be innovative - for example, I know about mind maps but I don't know if they can hold all the information I'm going to need to pull together. The learning curve on any (free) software can be steep but short. I have collected a zillion PDFs already and have PDF annotator software on my ipad, and Adobe Acrobat on my PC. I use Endnote.

I have plenty of wall space for post it notes.
posted by b33j to Education (9 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
Are you already familiar with EndNote, or do you only have it installed? Use the Keywords field and use it to extremes. Don't just include the keywords that the journal includes on the article, but make up your own that make sense. Don't just label something as "student-teacher relationship" but also "student-teacher relationships", "teacher-student relationship", and so on. Copy/paste into the Abstract field and make use of the Research Notes field.

Have you tried any kind of outlining software? Workflowy can be used for outlining all sorts of things, and you can add notes, like quotes from articles or your own ideas, to items, and also add tags there (perhaps mirroring your EndNote system), like #GPA #gradepointaverage #grades.
posted by knile at 2:01 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am bad at remembering things, and I am also a graduate student.

Zotero is really helpful for me. I have a lengthy process for taking notes when I read articles that helps me with recall. First, I read the article and jot down notes in the margins. Then, I transcribe those notes into the Zotero notes field for the article. Then, when I am writing, I can search all my notes and the full text of all the articles easily - make sure you click the checkbox to fully index the text of PDFs in your library. Zotero tags are really great, too. I think you can do a similar thing with EndNote, if you already have all your stuff in there. Learning a new system is probably not something you want to do right now.

At your level of study, you probably won't be referencing the same people over and over and over again in your papers. That kind of thing happens more at the PhD level. So I'm sort of wondering: if you had a method that worked for you in undergrad, why not stick with it when you write your papers for your graduate diploma? If the program is one to two years long, you won't be expected to be an expert in the field.

In my experience, I didn't really need to really manage a lot of different references until I was a year or two into my PhD - four years after starting and finishing a master's degree, for which I did very little reference management (although I did a lot of reading and writing) and it was fine. Now, I know a bunch of different authors and their work even though I am terrible at remembering things just by virtue of the fact that I've been writing papers about the same topics for 4 years. That's when you become an expert: when you've spent a lot of time doing the same general thing over and over. It doesn't sound like you'll be expected to have that level of expertise, so why fix something that wasn't broken for you before? Just a thought.

I mostly mention this because I have the tendency (and I've seen other grad students do this, too) to focus on the process rather than on the product. I think that, for me, this is because the process is easier to define and understand and research and plan for, whereas the product (be it an article, a paper for class, an annotated bibliography or a lit review) is this big, amorphous thing that doesn't really have any handles to hold onto, especially at the beginning of the project. Just something to think about when you're knee-deep in productivity blogs, if that happens to you the way it happens to me - and pretty much every other grad student I know.
posted by k8lin at 3:27 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, you avoid accidentally plagiarizing by citing EVERYTHING. Unless I'm confused about what a diploma entails, which is certainly possible, you aren't going to be expected to produce much in the way of original research. Assume any idea is not your own, and find the relevant papers. I use Mendeley for this to great effect. (Free paper management software, probably pretty similar to EndNote and Zotero and other such things.)

Otherwise, you already sound a million times more organized than me or any of the other PhD students I know, so take heart. I spend a lot of time saying "I know I read that in a paper somewhere...."
posted by baby beluga at 5:25 AM on March 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you have a Mac or PC preference?
posted by unknowncommand at 5:47 AM on March 12, 2013

Best answer: Oh, also, do you *like* EndNote? Or is it just what you've always used? And have you used it recently: it has its own PDF viewing/annotating capabilities now, as well as an iPad app.

Offhand, I would suggest taking a look at Scrivener (I know you said "free", but it has a lengthy free trial, and if you end up loving it, it's only $40). Along with Devonthink, it's one of the more popular technological solutions to the organizing/writing part of academic/nonfiction writing. Papers and Sente are also popular, but in my mind, they are less geared toward tying the whole writing process together, which sounds like what you're wanting to do.

You also might check out the answers to these questions, as they include a ton of both technological and workflow-related tips:
Mountains of notes
How do I take notes on big books?
How can I keep track of academic papers and my handwritten notes on them?
Journalists: how do you organize your notes?
I want to write-up, but Academic Research has re-wired my brain!
posted by unknowncommand at 6:16 AM on March 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As another grad student with ADHD, I have a few suggestions.

I use Papers to organize articles. You can tag/keyword articles in any way you want, create "collections" of articles (like playlists in iTunes), annotate PDFs, and export citations in whatever format you like.

Papers has Windows and Mac versions, as well as an iOS version (which you can sync with your desktop version). Yes, it costs money, but they offer a student discount, and to me the cost is well worth the ease of use.

I use Scrivener for drafting papers and my dissertation. It's very flexible -- lets you write a bunch of semi-disconnected ideas down, inserting footnotes/endnotes as you go to keep track of the references for each idea, and then rearrange them as you like. You can pull articles into Scrivener, so you can refer to them as you write.

Scrivener also has Windows and Mac versions, but no iOS version at the moment.

I also "think on paper" constantly as I research and work -- I basically write down my stream of consciousness, my train of thought, as I go. This helps me stay on track and remember what I was doing/thinking when I started down a particular research path -- what question I was trying to answer, what idea I was trying to investigate. I write down citations directly in my stream of consciousness notes, which helps me credit ideas to their actual sources. (It also helps cement the sources in my mind.)

I'll literally write things like "But what about [X]? OK, Smith 2010 says that [X] affects the outcome in [Y] way. Is that true, though? Because Jones 2011 has [X] but shows [Z] effect, not [Y]. No, wait, they also had factor [Q]." That sort of thing.

For me, it works to write longhand. I've got stacks and stacks of yellow pads. (I'm lucky enough to have a permanent desk on campus, so I can just leave the stacks of yellow pads there and not lose them.) It sounds like longhand doesn't work for you, though. I can't recommend a note-taking or journaling app firsthand. I've heard people like Simplenote, though. Simplenote is iOS-only, but there are compatible client applications for Windows and Mac. (Apparently you can move stuff between Scrivener and Simplenote, too.)
posted by snowmentality at 6:16 AM on March 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

(as an undergrad, when writing a paper, I would say something I thought was right and then look for an article that supported me - I'm doing it in the opposite direction now).

Honestly, in grad school it still works in the same direction -- just on a slower time frame. As you get to know your subject, you will gradually develop some hunches about what's true. (They'll be stronger, better-informed, more plausible hunches than you had as an undergrad, but they'll still be hunches. That's really all a "research program" is -- a coherent list of plausible hunches that you've set out to confirm or falsify.) Then, you'll go digging for relevant evidence.

What I like to do to support this is to keep lists -- in text files, on my desktop -- of claims which I believe are true, and of evidence that I've found for or against those claims, including citations. When I want to make one of these claims in a paper, I can look back at that list to remind myself where I found the evidence. When I have time to spend on new research, I can look back at the list to remind myself which of the claims that I want to make are still in need of more support.

The list can be real simple. I find it works best when each item is a single sentence ("thing X has happened in situation Y"; "framework Z can be used to analyze phenomenon W"). If I read a new paper that's relevant to my work in a few ways, I enter it under several different simple, general list items, rather than writing one complicated highly specific one. Breaking a paper apart into a half-dozen basic one-sentence claims is anyway good practice for getting your head around the paper in the first place.

Also? Forgetting shit happens. It happens to everyone -- and it happens to most of us a lot. There is really genuinely no shame in saying "I think I've read something relevant, but I'll have to look again for the source and get back to you."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 4:42 PM on March 12, 2013

Response by poster: I have found a book The Literature Review Six Steps to Success which is helpful in outlining the process.
posted by b33j at 8:45 PM on March 12, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, 4 weeks in, and I'm keeping notes from all my subjects in one word document and using headings so that I have a contents page.
I've included a section for each subject, a glossary, a study journal, a research diary, a calendar planner (though I seem to be avoiding using this), and I've developed a structure for my research project documentation. At the very front is a to do list, where I add in requirements from the course, and other things I want to find out. In terms of annotated bibliographies and literature review, it appears the Endnote (provided free by my university) will meet my needs, with the option for entering notes, and categories. I've also developed a structure for reviewing each article in a form style, so that I cover everything I need to (based on the course readings to date).

I've been having problems remembering labels for concepts (though the concepts themselves are easy enough to understand) so I've created a PDF specifically designed to be read (repeatedly) on my iPhone when I'm waiting or travelling.

The material is really interesting, and it's very motivating knowing I'm doing my own research project next semester. It's just hard to remember to settle to study. The medication helps, but competing deadlines with work make it a little tricky.
posted by b33j at 7:13 PM on March 23, 2013

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