Social Media and PhD Studies

I’ve been ask to contribute to a bi-weekly newsletter for Graduate Students at the University of Ottawa. For each issue, I am to write a short blog type post based on the topic for the issue and my theme (learning technology). I figured the information I provide for that newsletter would also be of interest to my loyal blog readers, so I’ve included below the first entry on Social Media.

When I began my PhD, I knew there had to be some way to manage references and PDF documents. Since I made the move to a Mac, I decided to see what options were available. I decided to try out Bookends, a Mac only solution. The key features that mattered to me where the ability to contain all my citation information, integration with Microsoft Word, ability to automatically generate my reference list in the correct format, some way to organize my PDF documents (mostly annotated journal articles), a way to associate notes with references, and good search capabilities. Bookends did it all, and I was quite happy with that option. It is free for the first 50 entries, then costs about $50.

I thought I had found a solution that I could live with throughout my PhD, the only problem was, I wasn’t sure I would be creating my thesis on my Mac. I find that Word for Mac is missing key some functionality that I can get with Word for Windows. I wasn’t sure I would be happy using only Word for Mac, but Bookends is a Mac only solution.

Fortunately, at an EGSA meeting this fall Noah mentioned Mendeley. Now, I had heard of Mendeley from some folks on #phdchat, but I had not really looked at it. I thought I was happy with Bookends, but then Noah mentioned that Mendeley has a social media component that allows you to share your references with others. I thought that idea was pretty cool – and potentially very useful, especially as the number of people that use Mendeley grows. Since it works on both the Mac and PC, I figured I’d give it a try.

When I tried it out, I was amazed. I feel like I totally missed the boat when I chose Bookends. Mendeley is so much easier to use – in many cases I can just drag a PDF file containing an article to the Mendeley desktop application and it automatically loads all the citation information. Oh ya, and Mendeley is free (at least until you use up your allotted disk space). The social media aspects of Mendeley are still a little weak – but I’m sure that will change as the product becomes more mature and more users sign up. So, if you are still manually entering your reference information, save yourself oodles of time and headaches and check out http://mendeley.com.

Above, I made a reference to #phdchat: it is another use of social media to support learning. #phdchat is a group of PhD students that provide support for one another throughout the PhD process. They get together over Twitter once a week to chat about various PhD related things (Wednesday’s 2:30 p.m., check out #phdchat). In addition, they share resources and chat randomly at other times throughout the week. Recently when I was looking for an application to count word frequencies in my transcripts, I sent a quick inquiry out to #phdchat and had a reply within 15 minutes. Very handy!

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