A reader recently sent in the following question:
Hi Ladies —
I’ve been reading your blog for most of my graduate career, and am currently beginning my first post-doc position. I’ve got a question for your readers, and I’m dying to know if anyone’s really come up with a good solution for it. How can you become a (nearly) paper free academic (with the exception of lab notebooks)?
I ask this because after moving from my rather large (by grad school standards) office to a rather restricted lab space, I’ve been forced to realize that I can no longer keep all my printed and scribbled on pdfs. I’m a bit old-fashioned and like to take notes on the print-out as I read- I’ll just completely lose the notes if they’re on another piece of paper without the pdf. Surely I’m not the only one that finds myself in this predicament. Do I breakdown and buy an ipod touch (are they any good at highlighting and notetaking)? Or is there a better, more clever, and cheaper solution to this predicament?
What say you, dear readers?
Read my Mac-biased response is below the fold…
What with my commuting lifestyle for the time I was in gradschool and then my first year of this job, I’ve tried to reduce the amount of paper I truck around with me everywhere. I have some tools I find indispensible that I would be happy to share.
- A Fujitsu Scansnap scanner (this one, not this one). When I have documents I need to be able to save (IRB consent forms, offer letters, letters to save for tenure etc.) I pop them through this little scanner and save them as pdfs onto my computer. I also use it when people send me papers to read through – I print them out, mark them up, then scan the marked up version to pdf to email back. When I bought it, this scanner was $250ish – not cheap but SO WORTH IT.
- Evernote. I’m a recent convert (and am still using the free version) but so far I love it. If I don’t want to hold on to the bit of paper (ads for resources available to instructors at the university, business cards from visitors, books from the library I want to buy) I snap a photo of it using my camera, iSight webcam (yes I am a Mac geek) or phone, and save it to Evernote. Evernote can also hold on to your scanned pdfs, and even can do word recognition of handwriting.
- Papers (for Mac). Honestly, I don’t know how I managed without it. It is $42, and the app for iPhone/iPod Touch is another $10, but again I find it to be worth it. You can import pdfs from the major databases like PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, Project Muse or JSTOR. You can open pdfs within Papers (that you downloaded from somewhere else). You can store pdfs and include reference information. You can read pdfs in a full screen format. You can take notes in a “Notes” field. If they were smart, they would start working on a “highlighting” function. I haven’t been able to sync with Endnote yet but I have been able to import my Endnote library into Papers (but Papers doesn’t seem to do the in-text citations Endnote can). You can read your pdfs and take notes on them FROM YOUR IPHONE/IPOD TOUCH. For realz. I loves me some Papers.
- OmniFocus. This application is a little less about going paperless and more about trying to stay organized without paper. My friend Alex pointed me to this about a year ago, and it is indeed very useful. OmniFocus on your desktop/laptop allows you to organize your to-do lists by projects and contexts (OmniFocus language for “where you have to get something done” – like the grocery store, office, or your mac while online) and also has an iPhone/iPod Touch app so you can sync with your list and get your things down away from your office. You can arrange for to-dos to repeat, or be organized as needing to be done in parallel or in series with other items, or embed the document you need to work on right into the program. I’m still learning all these ins-and-outs, but the screencast tutorials are very helpful. I’m sure the price has gone up since I bought it – it’s now listed at $80 🙁
I know my suggestions are very mac-focused. Anyone out there have any suggestions for windows-based machines?