Helpful Resources

Grad school has a high tendency to make one go (at least) slightly berserk. I thought it’d be great to share some of the tools I use to keep myself in line, academically. I hope you find this listing helpful (and it will be adjusted as I discover new and/or better tools). Since it’s a rather long post, I’ve tucked everything away under expandable menus. Click to read what you’d like!

File Management

The grad school file management struggle is REAL! Here’s what I use to keep my files organized & backed up:

Evernote is the salvation of my entire grad life! There’s a 60MB monthly upload limit for free accounts, but premium accounts get 4GB monthly for a $45 annual fee (or $5 monthly). Basically, if you can time your uploads right, you don’t ever have to pay. There are also loads of features available for premium users, such as Skitch, a really fun annotation tool that works on PDFs and pictures, and OCR – even for handwriting! Use my link & get a free month! Here’s how I use “En”:

  • As can be expected in a PhD program, there are TONS of articles & chapter excerpts to read. We get many of them online through our library, but a lot of them have copyright protections that prevents this, so we get them via hardcopy course packs. I take those paper readings to our production room so I can use their fancy copy machine that can scan both sides of each article page & email the entire document to the specified notebook in my Evernote account. I then just pull them up on my iPad app as needed.
  • When I’m doing online research, I can save websites with helpful tips or research information by using the Evernote Clipper. I just click the cute little extension button at the top of my browser, select the folder, add any tags, & voila!
  • Sharing & collaboration, FTW! Every single note has its own URL, so you can share the link with whomever you wish. Same thing with notebooks and notestacks.
  • I also use Evernote as two forms of backup:
    1. To store all my notes, annotated readings, and completed assignments from past courses
    2. Early Dissertation Ideas (divided by chapter thoughts)
      • At the beginning of my studies, I jotted down ideas I had for each chapter (sometimes including a few articles I wanted to cite), but I made sure everything was sorted so that I could start building easily. Once I get going on writing, I’ll copy things over into Dropbox so that my work is always simultaneously accessible via my computer (offline or online), my external backup drive, Evernote, & Dropbox.

I started using my free account at Dropbox to save things I’m done using for a while. However, now once I became a Notability fiend, I started using my Dropbox to keep all my class notes. They have a super nifty app that links your online folder to your computer so you don’t have to manually upload/download files to & from your computer. Lots of people use it to store documents they’re working on from multiple places. Although Dropbox doesn’t have a dedicated email address for uploading, there are several third-party options for that. It’s also great for sharing large files with others. Sign up with my link & we BOTH get an extra 500MB of storage!

Thanks to AcademiPad, I also just learned about Copy, a similar offering to Dropbox, but with MUCH more space (and several other great perks). They also have a feature called “Fair Storage” that divvies up the size of shared files amongst each of the participating accounts. So, if you and two other people are sharing a 9GB folder, only 3GB counts against each of your accounts, instead of the full 9. I also use Dropbox to store my references but just ran out of free storage. Since I’m about ready to create my actual dissertation library, Copy came into my life at just the right time! If you sign up using my link & install the app on your computer, phone, or tablet, we both get another 5GB of storage! (Yes, GB, as in gigabytes, not megabytes.)

“My Reference Management Struggle This was a process worth its own blog post. Read it here.

Notetaking & Annotations

(FYI: I very rarely use my laptop for notetaking. I prefer to carry my iPad + a bluetooth keyboard because that’s much easier to manage.)

Although Evernote has been expanding its notetaking capabilities lately, I still like to stick with Notability because of its flexibility. I can draw, type, or handwrite, all in multiple colors; insert photos; take web clippings; insert text boxes; record audio… I’m sure I’m forgetting something. I wrote a guest post about my favorite features a couple of years ago – things have expanded since then but the core stuff I do still remains.

As much as I love Notability, I don’t use it nearly as often for annotating PDFs. The main reason is that I have come to value the metadata that GoodReader records when I work in it. There’s nothing like trying to find a note I left for myself or figure out where a passage is that I highlighted. GoodReader keeps track of every annotation I make & can send that list to me in an email, as well as show it in my notes history on the app. Plus, they just recently added several of the features I love about Notability! It’s really a great combination – plus it syncs with pretty much any cloud app you might use.

Note: I haven’t found a satisfactory computer-based app for annotations. Preview often has trouble embedding annotations properly, Adobe doesn’t play well with Apple (although I just found out there have been updates, including a mobile app that just might be decent), and my embedded Skim annotations kept disappearing from their associated PDFs.


I started out using Google Docs because I can access whatever I’m working on from anywhere with an internet connection. I used to start writing here and then either download or copy/paste into MS Word to add in & add/format the references. That got to be a bit cumbersome but I still love using Google Drive for collaborative projects – that real-time editing makes life SO easy when it comes to groupwork.

HOWEVER, when it comes to writing my own stuff, I am NOT the linear type. Sure, I can create a fantastic outline that makes sense, but that’s not how I actually end up producing content. The folks over at Literature and Latte realized there are tons of people like me. Enter Scrivener (also available for Windows). I had seen it mentioned on Twitter but didn’t want to pay $45 for what I thought was just another word processor. I SO wish I had paid closer attention sooner! After writing myself into a messy corner one night, I took a chance on the free trial offer because, “if you use it every day it lasts 30 days; if you use it only two days a week, it lasts fifteen weeks.” It totally changed my life. I was able to reorganize my thoughts, separate my paper into chunks, file research papers with the related paper sections, and SO MUCH MORE. And the creators provide excellent customer service – I realized my stipend wasn’t going to be distributed in time for me to finish a project so they extended my trial by the extra few days. Who DOES that? Great people, that’s who.

I’m generally a grammar feind, so I haven’t usually had a whole lot to correct with my work. However, if that is not your situation, there’s Grammarly, a grammar-checking program trusted by more than 300,000 students and endorsed by hundreds of universities, helps take care of that! (Disclosure: affiliate link. Although I don’t use Grammarly, I have checked them out & love what they have to offer. I’m planning to employ their services when I get closer to finalizing my dissertation.)

I could file this under “Community” but I’d like to give The #Write2014 Project a spot here, along with the #AcWri community/chat. Write 2014 is an idea thought up by my friendtor, Alexandra Moffett-Bateau, PhD. Participants spend at least 5 minutes each day writing something & sharing progress through the hashtag. Along the same lines, AcWri encourages academics to write at least a little something every day, providing mutual support and troubleshooting through the hashtag & bi-weekly chats. If you’re not sure why either of these communities is important, you will soon. For all its importance to the academic life, writing is one of the most difficult tasks we find ourselves faced with.


I love words (in case you couldn’t tell).  I especially love when they come together as stories or guides.

When I can’t get an eBook, is my first stop for book shopping. This site does all the book shopping legwork for you when you’re shopping for deals on books rather than spending half of your stipend or financial aid in the bookstore. If you have memberships to any of their vendors, they automatically calculate your discount, so you don’t have to do any double-checking.

I also always make sure to check the university library catalogue. I have found quite a few books available online for free! It takes some effort – I generally am limited in how many pages I can download at one time and I have to compile them into a PDF on my own – but strengthening my patience is worth saving $40-$100.

Time Management

So, I’ve honestly never been good at this. Ever. In my life. Thankfully, I discovered the Pomodoro Method. Knowing that I’m easily distracted, I knew I needed to set some reasonable goals for myself so that I can achieve awesomeness and actually finish this degree. I already wrote a blog post on how awesome it has been for me, so check it out!


The #PhDChat wiki hosts the archives of a multifaceted community that I first discovered via weekly chats on Twitter. I’ve found immeasurable support (moral and practical) and resources through this community. The hashtag is always active, but the main chats happen on Wednesdays. Most of the participants are in the UK, so be sure to check the wiki & convert to your time zone. Otherwise, feel free to lurk or pose a question using the hashtag at any time!

#PhDAdvice, #PhDForum, & #withaPhD are similar hashtags but without the established chat time. I follow them all (plus a bunch more) just for good measure. There is also #BPhD for us Blackademics (oh, how I love this portmanteau) but it is not heavily used.

The Thesis Whisperer (Inger Mewburn, PhD) & The Professor Is In (Karen Kelsky, PhD) are two super fantastic resources for those who are fumbling our way through this doctoral journey. Both offer an immense amount of FREE advice via their website (and I live for everyone’s personal anecdotes found in Inger’s comment sections) but Karen also provides individualized advising, including job market help (whether you’re seeking the tenure track or non-academic positions).

Conditionally Accepted (headed by Eric Grollman, PhD) is a website with stories, resources, and other info for folks who are “on the margins of academia” as their byline says. A great resource for those of us who have traditionally been discriminated against by academia (LGBTQ, POC, women, people with disabilities). This space lets you know you are not alone!

Speaking of alternatives to academia… If you’re thinking you don’t want to stick around at a university, Versatile PhD is a fantastic way to start exploring options, prepare for the non-academic market, and build your network. Quite a few universities are already linked up, so check to see if yours is one. If not, don’t fret! There’s a ton of free content and over 35,000 members!

And finally… No resource list would be complete without PhD Comics. Why? You gotta laugh your way through this process if you wanna make it out with your humanity in tact.

How Grad School is Just Like Kindergarten

WHEW! That was a lot, wasn’t it? (Toldjaso!) And I know I’ve left some things off, so please, tell me what do (or did) you rely on to get you through your PhD? Leave your response in the comments.

DISCLOSURE: Many of the links on this page are affiliate links – this means I receive a small portion of the profits from any purchases you make. When you use my affiliate links you support grad school existence, including maintenance of this site. 🙂

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