A better pen can make writing easier and enjoyable. Similarly, good apps can make learning more fun and productive. Below are the apps I use and recommend for students. Now, apps like Gmail, Drive, Powerpoint go without saying. The apps below will help you go above and beyond in your education.
I use Notion as my main dashboard for my PhD. Notion can be used as a database, a task manager, a budget planner, and more. I take notes in Roam and then convert them into tasks in Notion. Then I do my task, take Notes along the way on the tasks page in Notion, and mark it as “Complete” when I am done.
I wrote a comprehensive review for Roam here, but briefly speaking, Roam helps you take notes and link them to each other. It creates your own knowledge map and is no more difficult to use than a text editor. I use it to take personal notes, class notes, write blog posts, book reviews, and to-do lists. Roam is priced at $15 a month, but you can get a student scholarship. If the price is still a problem, consider the open source Athens Research (still in beta).
I use Evernote to keep my documents in one place. It stores my passport, visa, vaccine records, etc so that I have them handy at airports and other places for entry. The other day my mother lost my medical id required, and I was able to pull it from Evernote in a matter of seconds.
If you do any research at all, you have to deal with an abundance of papers and books. A reference manager is a must to organise and cite your library. I’ve been using Mendeley for years, but if I were to start afresh I would go with Zotero. Mendeley on the mac has many bugs and the performance is poor. Zotero on the other hand is open source and I hear it performs better.
I’ve recently discovered Keyboard Maestro (KM) and I’m in awe of its power. It makes handling repetitive tasks easier by automating it. For instance, when time comes to analyse my data, KM automatically transfers the data file to the correct folder, opens my Matlab script, waits for it to run, and then transfers my new data files into the appropriate folder. This saves me some time and more importantly saves me from doing boring repetitive tasks.
I have been using TextExpander for years. At its core, it takes a snippet of text and expands it into something larger. For example, “;date” expands to “September 23, 2021”. It saves me from typing email signatures, address and contact details, and podcast descriptions. I also have some command line code that expand from snippets. Both Keyboard Maestro and Alfred have expansion capabilities so I am considering discontinuing my TextExpander subscription for this year.
Like TextExpander, I have been using Fantastical for years. Its key feature is taking natural language and converting it into a calendar event. For example, “Dinner with Sophie tomorrow evening at 7pm” would create a calendar event titled ‘Dinner with Sophie’ at 7pm for tomorrow. It’s as simple as that. It also provides time zone support, a feature I use often to sync events across the U.S. and India.
I use Notability on my iPad to take notes. If you have an Apple Pencil, either one of these two apps is essential.
I wrote my masters thesis in Scrivener and I’ve written all of my podcast episodes in it. It is an app designed for long form text. It lets you write chapters or sections separately and then combines them all into your first draft. I find writing in small chunks help reduce writers block as well as helps me focus on only the text that is necessary. It also tackle the writing process separately from the formatting process.
I believe that everyone should write a blog. Not for money or fame, but just for the clarity of thought and potential for meeting like minded people. I’m also a fan of showing your work. WordPress is the easiest way to have a presence online.
I notice that many students and academics check their various emails on various apps. An email client like Polymail will help bring all your emails to one inbox so that you don’t have to monitor 10 separate accounts. Polymail or Spark are my choice, but similar features are available on the native gmail or mail apps.
And there we have it. May these apps serve you well!