Academic Tech

I like to try out new technology tools to aid my academic work.  Below are some of the best, all of which are free, or nearly so:

  • Research, citation, and reference manager: There is no excuse for using Endnote anymore, since there are at least two free options that are much better.  Of the choices, I like Mendeley best – it is free, syncs your entire library of papers between multiple computers, iPads, and iPhones, and lets you share references with co-authors.  And its free!  Zotero is another free, open alternative, that is better at actually capturing citations from Firefox browwers, but is not as easy to use as a document library, and doesn’t work well across computers.  A new version, Zotero Everywhere, may change this, however.
  • Data cleaning: Google Refine is great tool for cleaning datasets.  It performs geocoding of addresses, has some powerful algorithms for matching names, along with a lot of other (free!) functions. It runs offline, so you don’t have to upload your data to Google.  Even more intriguing is Wrangler, from Stanford, which offers a flexible visual language for data formatting and cleaning.
  • Tracking the literature: Perhaps the best way to track new articles is with the RSS feeds of various publications.  I have created a Google Bundle of 14 management and sociology journals here. Another tool for tracking the literature: you can use Google Scholar to alert you whenever an article (like yours!) is cited, click on “Cited by,” and then click the envelope to create an email alert when an article is cited. I also like Browzine, which seems to have actually solved the problem of making journals easy to read and browse on the iPad.
  • Long documents: Scrivner is a really interesting program for writing long documents and books, it lets you organize multiple sections in useful ways.  In beta for Windows, but apparently a favorite for Macs.  Next time I write a book, I am going to give it a try.
  • Scheduling: Academia requires lots of scheduling and finding meeting times.  I have used Open Office hours to let students schedule time with me, but have switched to ScheduleOnce.
  • iPad and iPhone tools: The iPad is not quite the best thing since sliced bread, but it is still amazingly useful for academic research.  Since Apple makes it annoying to get files to and from your iDevice, you are going to want to use two tools to do so.  The first is Mendeley, above, which is a good way to get academic papers and PDFs onto your iPad. The second is Dropbox, which is free application that creates a folder on your computer, anything saved to that folder is synced with the Dropbox servers, so they are backed up and can be accessed from other devices.  A great way to view Dropbox files on the iPad is GoodReader, and a good way to edit PDFs is iAnnotate.
  • Making data and papers look good: Data visualization is a hot topic, but there are not many tools that do it easily.  For timelines, there are a number of good options.  For more complex dataviz, one option is IBM’s Many Eyes, which has lots of dataviz tools, but requires uploading your data.  Most other tools require some programming knowledge.  Tableau, however, seems to work well and is userfriendly, but expensive. Also, I don’t do LaTeX, but I really like how Fake Latex on Word looks.
  • Getting data from PDFs and webpages: Though there is no single, simple solution, Pro Publica has a wonderful guide to data scraping that is a useful starting point.
  • Notes and field recordings: I already expressed my love for the iPad, and I recommend Evernote for note-taking across systems.  But when tablets are inappropriate the Livescribe Smartpen is also pretty amazing.  It records everything you write and lets you sync with a computer.  It also can record audio, so that when you tap your pen on something you have written, it will play back exactly what you were hearing when you wrote that note!