Tools I use for my PhD — The absolute essentials

When we start to dabble on the fact that we are going to do a PhD, it might sometime get a bit overwhelming and put us on edge. The moment you start the actual work, you realize there is more than which meets the eye. It’s not only about going to the research lab, performing experiments and generating data. Apart from experimental caveats, there lies quite an amount of friction which one needs to take care of. Although they might seem to be a friction in the beginning, but everything is achievable with the right arsenal of tools.

Here are some tools that I use regularly as a PhD student to overcome the caveats and keep myself organized on my works.

Referencing software

While writing articles, references are a key part of the manuscript without which the whole manuscript is deemed to be invalid. Although one can copy and paste both in-text and bibliographic citations from sources such as Google Scholar, but to reduce the friction, a reference management tool is necessary.

There are several reference management tool available out of which, Mendeley and EndNote are the most popular ones. I have tried out Mendeley in the past, but currently, I’m sticking to EndNote. Both work on the same principle and lets you automatically put citations while taking care of the different referencing format like APA or MLA.

If you want to start light, I would recommend Mendeley which you can download at https://www.mendeley.com/

EndNote — www.endnote.com/

Illustration software

Whenever you are writing any science manuscript for publication, the text if accompanied by diagrams, adds an additional weightage to the article. Furthermore, the graphics and figures has to be original otherwise the chances of rejection increases. In order to achieve that, one should possess a graphics illustration software.

You can use Microsoft PowerPoint to create illustrations with basic shapes that are inherently available in the software, but according to my opinion, to achieve publication quality graphics and figures, one should be using tools like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW. Using these tools will provide you with more control over the designing aspect of your graphics.

Adobe Illustrator — www.adobe.com/in/products/illustrator.html

CorelDRAW — www.coreldraw.com

Graph Editor

Since, I’m a biology student, I encounter a lot of qualitative data which needs accompaniment of quantitative measures to unlock its full potential. The most frequent quantitative measure we use are graphs. So, graphs help us to visually depict an experiment although the data received is qualitative and using a proper graph editor becomes a necessity.

One can pull out graphs in Microsoft Excel, but having access to a tool like Graphpad Prism takes it up a notch. Not only can you visually represent your data through various different types of graphs, but also you have the added advantage of performing statistical analyses which can validate your data sets to its full capacity.

Graphpad Prism — www.graphpad.com/scientific-software/prism/

Presentation software

When you are in PhD, you are required to make tons of presentation throughout the tenure of your study whether it be to a group of spectators or only to your PhD supervisor.

The gold standard for creating powerful presentations has always been Microsoft PowerPoint. There are other tools as well like Google Slides, Canva and Keynote (only for Apple users) which can sometime come in handy.

Microsoft PowePoint — www.microsoft.com/en-in/microsoft-365/powerpoint

Canva — www.canva.com

Google Slides — docs.google.com/presentation/

Keynote — www.apple.com/in/keynote/

Word processor

In PhD, you will have a ton of documents, manuscripts and articles to write and share. In order to make that happen, probably, the most important tool that you require is a word processor tool. The gold standard is Microsoft Word which I personally use. You might also find Google Docs useful as well.

Microsoft Word — www.microsoft.com/en-in/microsoft-365/word

Google Docs — docs.google.com/document

Note — Microsoft Word had integrations with Mendeley, EndNote and Grammarly

Other tools

I also use some other tools as a part of my PhD arsenal

  1. Grammarly (app.grammarly.com/) for refining my manuscripts and also for plagiarism check
  2. Biorender (biorender.com/) for readymade diagram inspiration
  3. Gmail (www.gmail.com) for managing and sending emails

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