Books, Websites, and Other Information
- How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silva
- The Craft of Scientific Writing by Michael Alley
- The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White
- Celia Elliott (Illinois Physics department) has a great website on writing clearly and concisely in science.
- The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid by Michael Alley
- David Sholl (Georgia Tech) gave a video lecture on The Secrets of Memorably Bad Presentations giving tips on how to avoid common mistakes during presentations
Effective Habits for Research
- Deep Work by Cal Newport
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- A Mind for Numbers by Barbara Oakley
If you’re going to be writing anything in which you will cite other work, get a citation manager. Some advisers are old school and have never heard of any of these, while others will have a standard option for their students and group. Either way, it’s good to know of the options available before you start writing. Most reference managers will allow you to seamlessly switch between citation styles
- Mendeley—probably the industry standard for reference and citation management. It has full integration with Microsoft Word and can store all the articles you need, which you can easily access at any time. It’s a game-changer for people who insert citations manually. There are desktop and online versions, a Chrome extension that allows you to add articles to your library quickly when they’re open, and a Microsoft Word plugin that allows you to add citations as you write.
- SciWheel—a web-based reference managing system without a desktop application. There is a Microsoft Word plug-in that allows you to add citations while you write. The benefit of SciWheel is that you can share a large library of articles between all lab group members because PDFs for articles are stored in the cloud. This is one of few free (for UF students) reference managers that easily allows entire groups to share literature.
- Zotero—an open-source option with a rather unique organization style. Zotero has a desktop application, Chrome plug-in, and MS full integration with Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, and Google Docs. Zotero has a free plan with up to 300MB of storage. To increase storage, Zotero offers different storage plans for an additional monthly fee.
You’re going to have to write something, I can almost guarantee it. If you’re getting a master’s, you might have to write a thesis, a lab report, or a paper as an assignment. If you’re getting a PhD, you’ll definitely be writing.
- Microsoft Word—Almost everyone at a university has used MS Word before and it is integrated with many, many tools, which makes it a particularly flexible option for writing. Citation managers, for example, are almost all integrated with Word (and for good reason). Word will not give you the same control as LaTeX will with math or figures, but it’s still incredibly useful.
- LaTeX—You want to make something look pretty? Use LaTeX. I have yet to find a tool I prefer than LaTeX for writing equations in a nice typeset. It’s also extremely flexible, though it does have a learning curve and lacks some of the easier collaboration tools that MS Word comes with. There are a few good tools for LaTeX users with which not all will be familiar:
- Share LaTex – This makes your life easier if you’re going the LaTeX route. It’s a nice place to store LaTeX documents and it’s a convenient way to compile them, just download the PDF file once you’re done making it.
- Overleaf – Overleaf and ShareLaTeX have combined forces to improve LaTeX-based collaboration for writing projects
- BibTex – BibTeX is the “citation manager for LaTeX”. It’s not too difficult to use, but it’s a staple for anyone using LaTeX regularly
- Screenriver—a program dedicated to writers. It’s not free, which is its biggest drawback,but it has lots of options that you can tailor to your writing and editing style.
- Write.surge—a rather extreme app that forces you to continue writing continuously. If you stop writing for long enough, all of the text you’ve written will disappear. The benefit is that you’re forced to get on the page, but the drawback is that you could lose some of your work.
- Grammarly—Maybe another grammar-checking app is gratuitous given that most word processors (Word, Chrome/Google Docs, ShareLaTeX, etc.) include a spell-check option already. Grammarly, however, goes one step further, which is what makes it particularly useful. It has Word, Outlook, and Chrome plugins, so it will work for anything you write in both, including emails.
Task Lists and Organizers
Do you have tasks? Do you write them down? Does your adviser ask you to do things that you forget? Task lists, when used properly, will help you to organize all of the stuff you have to handle at any given time. I find that advisers who delegate tasks often will remember delegating a task but forget the task itself or will remind you when you’ve forgotten that you haven’t done it—and neither is good. There are many task management systems out there, but I’ve listed a few popular ones below. Most are extremely similar, so I’ve added links to all and added descriptions to only a few. Many of the platforms allow you to share and delegate tasks, which is a helpful feature if you are put in a leadership or mentoring position, or if you have a technologically-minded adviser who’s open to the idea of delegating tasks using one of these apps.
- Microsoft To-Doand Wunderlist: Microsoft purchased Wunderlist, a popular task-tracking app, so these are included together. They are extremely similar: simple, but powerful. MSTD just allows you to create projects and tasks within them with due dates. MSTD has fewer features than many of the other options listed below, but its simplicity is one of its draws.
- Todoist: This is perhaps the most popular and versatile task manager and has a large online community with ideas about organizing projects and tasks. If you’re not sure which of these to use, this is probably a good place to start.
- Asana, Trello, and Wrike: These three use concept boards to represent projects and cards within these boards to represent tasks. Tasks move between boards to track the overall progress of projects. Each app comes with lots of different integration options.
- Habitica: Habitica is a “gamified” way to track actions that you would like to incorporate into your life (exercising regularly, getting up at the same time daily, etc.). I think it’s superior to using repeating tasks in many of the other applications listed above (MSTD/Wunderlist, for example) to track habits and daily activities. It also includes a simple to-do list option.
- Nirvana: This is an application specifically tailored to the Getting Things Done methodology (GTD, described in the book by David Allen above). It’s a more detailed way to organize to-do lists into their separate project folders
Block and Track Distractions
If to-do lists, the Pomodoro technique, and willpower aren’t enough to keep you from opening Reddit or powering through writing papers, these apps might help you stay on track and minimize distraction.
- Self-Control (Mac): Self-Control can block websites you input (blacklist) or block all but a few websites that you need (whitelist) for up to 24 hours. It’s extremely simple, but remarkably useful.
- Cold Turkey: Cold Turkey is an alternative to Self-Control that works on both Windows and Mac. With Cold Turkey, you can create multiple lists of websites you might want to block at certain times. It can also block sites for longer periods of time than Self-Control, which is nice.
- RescueTime: RescueTime tracks where you spend your time while you’re on your computer (it’s a little creepy, but it’s also kind of cool). You can set certain applications and websites as distractions or productive tools, and RT will give you a productivity score every day for the work you’ve done. It’s a nice way to quantify your digital activity, especially if you couple it with Habitica to make long-term productivity habits.
- FocusMe: Similar to Cold Turkey and Self-Control, but it also includes the Pomodoro technique as an added bonus. Unfortunately, it is not free.
Mental Health Awareness and Services
- The psychological challenges of graduate school are extremely well-documented. Graduate students tend to have higher rates of anxiety and depression than the average person in the United States. This instability arises from high stress levels, feelings of listlessness and uncertainty, and often lack of sleep. Some of the resources here are available to UF students to help combat mental health issues. Please also see the GAU’s list of mental health resources.
- UF Counseling and Wellness Center: Usually provides free services to students enrolled at UF (though you may want to double-check before making an appointment). The CWC offers individual and group counseling for mental health issues, as well as services to help combat and educate students about addiction. They serve as a good first resource for students in need.
- TalkSpace: If you’re enrolled in GatorGrad Care (all Ph.D. students should be), you have access to Talkspace. Talkspace is a text message therapy app that connects you to a therapist on your phone. It’s available for free for students with GatorGradCare (which should include you). If you can’t meet with someone in person at the CWC, this might be a good alternative.
- Youper: A free app whose purpose is to help you work through any mental health challenges you’re facing using AI. Talkspace is almost undoubtedly better, because you are connected to a real person with therapy credentials, but this is another option that provides a small amount of support for those in need.
- Chemical Engineering Community: If you’re struggling with graduate school, please reach out to GRACE officers, a friend in the Chemical Engineering community, or the department’s graduate coordinator (who can also point you to additional resources). Remember, you are not alone!
Other Resources Provided by UF