When the new cohort for my PhD programme started this year, one of the main questions they asked us was, ‘what are the best apps for students?’.
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If you’re doing any sort of research, you NEED a reference manager. These are super important for keeping track of all your sources and also make changing your referencing style to fit different journals’ and conferences’ requirements SUPER easy.
My favourite is Zotero, and it’s free! However, a lot of people also like EndNote and your university might have a subscription. One advantage of EndNote is that it will automatically look for the PDF full-text versions of your references to add to your library which is super helpful. However, I’d still recommend Zotero if you’re using Word as their plugin is WAY better. But, if you’re in computer science and using Latex to write, then EndNote works just as well.
Signal is also super useful. It’s the most secure encrypted messaging service. I’d definitely recommend it over WhatsApp and other messaging services for this reason. Plus, they’re constantly adding new features. Our cohort uses a signal group to communicate. It’s a great way to stay in touch, commiserate, or get advice from your peers.
It’s no surprise to anyone that video conferencing apps are now essential for, well, just about everyone. And students are no exception. Now, my university generally uses Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Zoom works WAY better for me for whatever reason, but sometimes you don’t get a choice.
If I had to choose, though, I’d choose Jitsi over those two. You can launch it directly from Slack and it’s one of the most secure options out there. Plus, they automatically generate fun names for your conference room.
One of the main things I’ve discovered in doing my PhD is how much I don’t know (relatable to anyone out there?). My go-to when I don’t know something but need to is to find a free course on EdX or Coursera. For example, before I took my cryptography module at uni, I took this course on mathematical foundations for cryptography. EdX is also how I initially learned how to code.
Git is an absolute MUST KNOW in computer science (and, likely in other fields as well). It’s super useful for collaborating on papers and projects, as well as for sharing your code and data with the world. Check out this tutorial to get started if you don’t already know how to use it. GitHub has a desktop app you can download to make things easier. I don’t personally use the app (I just use my command line) but have heard it’s useful!
Whether you’re an undergrad or a grad student, we can all use a little help with our writing. I credit my partner with turning me on to the first two in this section.
Let's start with Grammarly. Grammarly is super useful for checking over papers before you submit them. It also has a plagiarism checker which is helpful just use as a sanity check before you turn things in.
My partner also swears by putting essays into Google Translate and having it read them aloud to make sure it all sounds good. I usually just read things aloud to myself, but it’s probably much more useful to hear someone else reading it to you (even if it’s a computer).
Finally, I use Overleaf to compile my Latex code into a PDF. As I’ve said before, if you’re a computer science student, everyone will expect you to learn Latex. Overleaf compiles your code in real time so you can see what it’ll look like as you type and they also have a lot of templates you can use (including for various journals which is helpful). One caution with Overleaf, though, is that it still compiles your code even if it has fatal errors. So, I’d recommend running it somewhere else before you send it to a journal or conference, just to make sure it works alright.
For statistics, I recommend JASP, which is an open-source stats software. The interface looks pretty similar to SPSS so it’s easy to use and allows you to do both classical and Bayesian statistics. It also makes it SUPER easy to make pretty plots and graphs which is a plus. Best of all, it’s free!
Now, this last one isn’t strictly an app (though you can install it as a package in R), but it’s too useful not to include. Statcheck allows you to upload a document and it checks your stats for you. As someone who’s not particularly confident in statistics, this is a LIFESAVER.
I feel like one of the first things you hear at orientation at university is to always back up your work, followed by a story about someone who had just finished their dissertation only to dump water on their laptop and lose everything. Enter: Google Drive. It’s free and you can install the app to automatically back everything up in real time in the background. I also have everything backed up to my iCloud, but it’s nice to have a second stash somewhere!
If you’re a student, chances are you’re on a budget. I use the app Yolt to budget and track my monthly expenses. It’s free and through ING Bank so you can trust it with Open Banking. For more information on how I budget, check out this article. Or, take a look at this article to see what I spend in a week.
Now, I know you almost certainly already have a calendar app on your phone and computer, but if you’re not fully utilising, you’re missing out. There is literally so much going on all the time at university and I know quite a few people who have missed important deadlines and events because they simply didn’t have a well-organised enough calendar. I recommend syncing your uni calendar and your personal one and putting literally everything in it, including social commitments, to help you manage your time better. I’ll do another post soon about how I plan my week out so stay tuned!
Do you use these apps? What do you think are the best apps for students? Let me know in the comments below 😋
Want more recommendations for things I use daily to make my life as a PhD student easier? Check out this page.