Things I do and use that help me at uni

My workspace, complete with Thesis Cat

Look, I’m just a lowly honours student, so you may think this is all crap. That’s fine, I was a journalist for a LONG time, so what people think of what I write (if they’re not assessing it) bothers me not 🙂 Hopefully it’ll help someone, or make them think of something that helps them in some way.

A web browser – how else to access the library @ Deakin? I use Firefox for almost all of my browsing, but I use Chrome for uni stuff, mostly because some of the uni web stuff (and a heap of academic sites) are just badly coded, and so they break if you take FF to them. It’s also useful in that (generally) it keeps my academic work separate from my personal stuff. (Although I often find myself searching in FF for things I think of.)

Endnote“Leave behind the tedious work of bibliographies and reference management and take your research to the next level.” Look, if truth be told, I don’t really like Endnote. The UI/UX is about 10 years out of date – you can’t even do ridiculously obvious stuff like double-click on a PDF to open it. But I find it’s indispensable. For me, it’s a reference/document manager, meaning I can store all my research data in there, and it will spit citations out into Word, and create a reference list, when required. And I keep all my PDFs in there as well, attached to the relevant references, so they’re all easily accessible in marked-up from. Yes, there are other programs like this, but I get a free (to me) license through uni, and I will need to devote time to seeing if a replacement will be better/more usable, so that can wait until the end of trimester. This will get long if I write much more, so I might write a separate article on my Endnote usage.

PDF-Xchange Editor – I live in this thing. Endnote organises my documents, this allows me to read and annotate them. This software is so awesome I wrote a full blog post on it.

Cold Turkey – “Do you ever get distracted while doing work? Cold Turkey lets you temporarily block these distractions so you can focus and finish your work sooner. Fewer distractions, more free time.” In other words, you can shut off the stuff (programs, websites, etc) that distracts you when you need to focus. I find it really useful, but it will be even better in a couple of months when the Windows version catches up to the Mac version in terms of usability.

MS OneNote – OneNote is both great and ridiculously frustrating. My normal notes manager is Evernote, which is awesome – I clip from the web, I scan notes, I shoot photos with my phone, and so on. But for uni, where things are quite hierarchical, ON is great – notebook for uni, section for each subject, pages and sub-pages inside the sections. It’s badly let down by the basics, though – you can’t scan to it sensibly (Evernote saves the scan as an attached PDF, ON wants to store it inside a note natively, or something, it’s moronic) and web clipping is seriously sub-par. But you can record seminars at uni, and if you take notes, it links those notes to the recording location, so you can click and listen to the relevant part. That’s awesome. The actual playback is pretty clunky – skip options are 10 seconds or 10 minutes, only! – but it’s still great.

MS Surface Pro 3 – Old model, but great. I use it about 50-50 in laptop from v tablet form. Would use it more if I could get PDF-Xchange to behave better on it. It’s awesome for recording uni seminars, and so on. Great screen, plenty grunty, typing is OK. Cha has one as well, the very low end (mine is the very top end due to a crazy deal I got from Adobe), and it gets used for hours and hours a day, and it’s still running beautifully.

My Weekly Browsing – this is a Firefox addon that opens webpages for you at specified times. I use it to open all sorts of pages, but in the mornings and evening, when it opens about 20 websites for me to look at, it also opens a couple of academic sites (just below), and I always read a section of each. I’ve read them both fully, but a random section morning and night reinforces my learning.

Academic Phrasebank – a site by John Morley from the University of Manchester. “The Academic Phrasebank is a general resource for academic writers. It aims to provide you with examples of some of the phraseological ‘nuts and bolts’ of writing organised according to the main sections of a research paper or dissertation…” I write far too much like a journalist rather than an academic, so I use this to help me think more about writing in a more scholarly manner.

Scholarly Voice“The Walden University Writing Center is committed to helping students develop as writers. Our staff of dedicated professionals supports students in building and applying their writing skills as scholars, practitioners, and agents of positive social change.” Similar to the above site, but structured differently, and thus differently useful. (Thanks to lecturer Alexia Maddox for these two website suggestions.)

Razer Blackwidow Chroma keyboard and Naga Epic Chroma mouse

Mechanical macro keyboard and macro mouse. The keyboard feel is awesome, you can macro any key (so you can make the whole keypad a macro pad) and the mouse has TWELVE extra buttons under your thumb for macros. Awesome productivity tools.

Logitech G13 macropad

Logitech say it’s for gaming, but they’re missing the boat with this. A heap of macro keys, which will autoswitch when you change programs that have focus, and you’re WAY more productive (assuming you can recall the key the macro you want is mapped to). This is the current keymap for my PDF editor software.

ClipCache – “Clipcache Pro is a powerful information gathering tool. ClipCache Pro’s rich features have turned it into a tool for gathering and organizing information that is powerful enough for everything from home web-surfing to journalism to academic and commercial research.” Awesome clipboard manager. Their support sucks, but the software is unlikely to need supporting, it’s dead simple. Can also save “favourites” so that commonly used items can be accessed (by a macro button on your mouse, if you’re really clever…)

Dexpot – leverages the value of Windows Virtual Desktops. so I can have most of my apps running on my “General” desktop, but I can run Endnote and PDF-Xchange and Chrome and Word on the “Deakin” desktop, completely hiding all of the other apps, thus reducing their distraction factor. It will also open those apps directly onto the Deakin desktop as well. it’s a smart little program, very configurable. I’ve got two desktops set up, and a macro button my mouse setup to switch between them. Ridiculously easy. (Also have another button programmed to move software to the other screen, whichever screen I’m on.) It doesn’t always work perfectly in relation to getting the right program on the correct screen, and sometimes programs disappear when switching screens, but generally, it’s awesome.

DJ Bolivia – This is a weird one, I’ll admit it. I addition to shutting off my usual websites and so on with Cold Turkey, I don’t listen to my usual music either. I was looking for something to listen to that wasn’t my usual stuff, wasn’t distinct/rock songs, and that I didn’t really know. (I’m an old fart, so I love my rock and hair metal – yes, Extreme is the best band on the planet, why do you ask?) And I somehow happened across aka DJ Bolivia. He’s a Canadian, so you know he’s nice, right? In fact, he’s so nice, he’s got podcasts of his “Subterranean Homesick Grooves” radio shows, live shows, all sorts. I have 353 1-hour weekly radio shows and multiple other tracks from him in Musicbee (my music software) and I play them while I’m studying. (I really like his “workout” mixes, but he’s not done any of those for years, sadly.) I started this in 2015 when I was at Monash, and my brain is now pretty much triggered by his stuff and so I study. Thanks Jonathan, you’re a legend!

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