Sunday, March 13, 2011

How Technology Changed the Way I Dissertate

Hi, my name is Liana and I am a professional procrastinator. If there were certificates in procrastination, I'd be the one teaching the courses to get certified. However, because I know I can procrastinate, I am strangely loyal to schedules and to gadgets that make my life easier. (An extra half hour of reality tv? Count me in!) Scheduling time is a big thing for me, considering I am an adjunct, a full-time mom, and a full-time dissertator. It ensures that I get at least something done regarding my dissertation. But scheduling is not the only thing that has kept my intellectual gears moving. There are several gadgets that help me get my work done on a regular basis. Some of these I have discovered on my own; others I have picked up from my peers. They make my job a little easier, so I thought I'd share them with you:
  • e-reader: I love books, and I don't just mean in the abstract. I love purchasing books and displaying them on my bookcase. I'm big on marginalia. For a while I was anti-e-reader; I believed they would bring the demise of the publishing industry. (Yes, I can be a tad dramatic at times.) However, I wondered sometimes if an e-reader would help with my dissertation reading and with the cost of books. I came across this Prof Hacker post by Amy Cavender, and I was sold! I still buy books (just recently purchased Sidney Bremer's Urban Intersections), and I have bought a few e-books, but I primarily use my Kindle to read PDFs. It has cut down on the amount of copies I need to carry and store. I am a big fan of highlighting and writing on the margins of my texts, but not having a pile of copies in a corner of my small apartment is a relief. The only problem is that the Kindle isn't the best when it comes to highlighting and taking notes.
  • Google Docs: I used Google Docs on and off for months last year, but when my laptop crashed a few weeks after I gave birth I began to use it on a regular basis. I didn't get my laptop fixed until two months after The Incident, and I couldn't reinstall Microsoft Office until last month. Needless to say, I depended on Google Docs for my word processing needs. I use Google Docs for my weekly dissertation chapter notes. I like the fact that it saves automatically, unlike Word. However, the formatting can get a little weird when you download something as a Word document, or when you upload a Word document. I still use Word when I sit down for the first official draft.
  • Foxit Reader: I recently discovered this application, but it has come in handy! It allows you to comment on PDFs, highlight passages, and copy text. I'm using it right now to revise my first chapter; my laptop refuses to install my printer, so I can't print out a copy of my chapter and mark it like I am used to. Now, I can make comments right on the PDF. I plan on later printing out the comments and have them by my side as I type up my revisions.
  • Dropbox: I never thought I'd use Dropbox as much as I do. I have an external hard drive (got it after my laptop crashed last summer) so I didn't think I'd need to put my documents in a cloud. Wrong. WRONG. I use Dropbox for documents I'll be using on campus and at home. I also use it to store pictures of the whiteboard after my classes are over. But more importantly, I use it to store PDFs and other dissertation documents. Just a few weeks ago a librarian friend found a few dissertations I needed to read via Proquest. She uploaded them to our shared Dropbox folder, and I could access them instantly! I do a lot of dissertation work at school after I'm done with class. I love that I can just upload the documents to Dropbox and it will appear on my laptop at home instantly. It also has a mobile app, which is super convenient when you use your phone as much as I do.
  • Evernote: I just recently got into Evernote, so I must admit I haven't explored all of its potential. But Evernote is quite nifty when it comes to taking notes and jotting down ideas. I don't use it on my desktop as much as I do on my iPhone. I use it to take pictures of books or quotations I want to remember. It also helps for jotting down ideas on the go when I'm away from my laptop. (When you're writing a dissertation, it's like your brain is always ON.) However, I don't use it as much for note-taking (see Google Docs above).
  • Smartphone: How could I NOT include my smartphone? I have an iPhone, but I'm sure this could work for any smartphone. I used my cellphone a lot before I gave birth. But after giving birth, I became attached to it. It was my connection to the outside world for the first few months of my daughter's life. It also allowed me to stay productive when I wasn't as mobile. Now I check books on Amazon, upload documents onto Dropbox, post a thought on Evernote, read my notes on Google Docs, or find out if any of the local libraries has a book via Worldcat. It is my computer away from my computer.
  • Social media: Ok, it's not necessarily a gadget. But being far away from my campus and from my dissertating peers, blogging and tweeting has helped me get in touch with other academics, intellectuals, PhD candidates who are interested in my work--and whose work is interesting as well. It's nice to know there are people out there who find the work I do interesting, and who want to talk/read about it. I also post a daily update on my dissertation work on Twitter (hashtag: #dissertation, although I am not the only one posting there), so social media keeps me honest...if anything.
One of my new year's resolutions was to make my dissertation a priority. I used to complain and get upset when days would go by last semester and I couldn't get any work done. Part of the problem was, with all the changes in my life I was trying to research and write the way I've always done. When I couldn't disappear for a whole day to work at the library, or when I didn't have hours at a time to write, I didn't know what to do with myself. These gadgets (and a daily routine of at least an hour for dissertation stuff) have helped me get more work done even when I can't sit at my desk--or when I don't have more than an hour to spare.


  1. Yay for technology! And I think you have me sold on the Kindle...

  2. The Kindle is my new best friend. Once I got over the fact that I wasn't going to kill the publishing industry by buying a Kindle, it made sense. Check out that article I linked to; it explains different ways to use it for research!