I bet there are kids in some school in some country writing essays right now on how and why the internet is one of the most powerful and empowering tools available to us… Here’s a list of some of the things I use regularly for keeping up with academic topics, new research as well as other interests:
These are possibly the most handy thing anyone came up with online and I’m just embarrassed at how long I went without knowing what on earth the internet those orange symbols were all about. For those who are still confused by them, RSS feeds are a way of tracking updated content on websites without having to check these sites regularly – the new content is immediately visible in your feed reader of choice. I use
Google Reader Feedly but there are many others.
This is the only sensible way to follow any blog or website that regularly updates its contents. In academia, this is also a great way of having journal articles from chosen Journals delivered to your screen. Many (but not all, it seems) Journal webpages will have RSS feeds you can subscribe to. This is a really easy way of keeping on top of newly published articles with no need to pay ridiculous subscription fees. Be warned though: this can inundate you with completely irrelevant articles but skipping through and eyeballing the titles and/or abstracts for keywords is really quick and worth it for those few gems you’ll find.
If you are not already using Twitter, hold that grimace or eyeball-rolling for a second. Anything frivolous and trivial you’ve heard about it (along the lines of reading about celebrities’ breakfasts) was most likely said by people who never attempted to use it. I suppose, in theory, you could have such a banal experience of Twitter if you chose to follow only self-promoting and boring people. But there are so many interesting and clever people out there with common interests to yours. They are relatively easy to find in academia as anonymity is often discarded by this crowd of people.
Depending of course on who you follow, Twitter can be brilliant for keeping track of up-to-date hot research topics, developments in ongoing debates and discussions and new peer-reviewed research articles.
One thing that bugs me about Twitter is that you can easily miss some good stuff when scanning through tweets from people you follow because clicking through to a link and reading a shared article takes too long for that 2 minute wait for your appointment for a friend in the pub/café or whatever. Twitter lets you “favourite” a tweet which means you can look it up and read it later but a) the person whose tweet it is gets notified (unless they turned this option off, I think) and b) anyone checking out your page will see your favourites, when some things you want to read are not necessarily going to be things you agree with. Evernote is a good substitute for “favouriting” tweets because it lets you privately save tweets in one place, where you can return to them later (preferably on something larger than a smartphone). Evernote has a lot more potential than I use it for as you can save other types of notes in it too.
An alternative I recently discovered via here is a lot better for simply saving things you see online for later. It’s as easy to use as Evernote, with the added advantage of being able to access what you save offline (if say, you are indoors with no wifi and a poor internet connection on your mobile phone).
Very handy little service which sends you regular updates, as often as you choose, of new research articles available on PubMed featuring your favourite authors and/or keywords.
This is the easiest to use search engine for finding research articles. It’s also easy to import the full reference into your bibliography program (e.g. Endnote) with a single click, with another single click check out who cited the article and easily search through this list. It also has very good and simple to use advanced search functions to look at specific year ranges, keywords etc.
Do you keep emailing yourself files? Have you got 3 memory sticks? Do you sometimes get a bit confused as to which version of a file is the one you actually want and which computer you’ve put it on? Dropbox is a folder that exists in more than one place. Anything you put in your dropbox folder (on your desktop or on the web-based version from a shared computer) is available to you everywhere else. It’s also great for file-sharing and collaborating. (Ok so it’s not strictly for hunting down research, but an incredibly useful tool nonetheless.)
I’m sure there are other good tools and services out on the internet that could easily go on my list but I probably haven’t come across them yet.
As it is, I honestly cannot fathom how researchers not so long ago coped without the internet…