Dissertation spreadsheet

Using a dissertation progress tracking spreadsheet

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In my last post, in which I talked about the different methods I am using to keep myself accountable in my dissertation writing, I briefly touched on the progress tracking spreadsheet that Ashley and I are collectively using.

What it is

Our tracking spreadsheet is a Google Docs spreadsheet that we created to share our progress and to help keep each other on track. Each of us has our own sheet to keep track of our individual efforts toward our dissertations. My spreadsheet is divided up into weeks and days. The rows represent all of the weeks between January 1 and August 31, and the first seven columns are one for each day of the week (Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc.). At the end of each day, in the cell that corresponds with that day, I input the number of words I wrote toward my dissertation. I count only words that make it into the dissertation document and no brainstorming, outlining, or references. While these items all count toward dissertation progress — and indeed are important steps toward completing! — I want to keep honest track of much writing toward the final product I am doing. I can read, browse, and crunch data all week, but when it comes down to it, I also need to be putting words on paper (well, on the screen) if I am going to finish in a year. In the columns after the days of the week, I total the number of words I have written for that week in one column and have another that has the total number of words I set for my goal to write that week.

Dissertation spreadsheet
The first portion of my dissertation spreadsheet with rows for each week and columns for each day of the week. See the “Chapter 2 done” date? I’ve actually beat that deadline!

Thoughts so far

Overall: I love the spreadsheet. People who know me know that I am by nature highly-organized and goal-oriented. This spreadsheet allows me to be both in dissertation writing: it forces a daily attention to the spreadsheet, constant tracking of my progress, and allows me to celebrate little victories when I meet the weekly goal that I set. I am eternally grateful to my colleague Ashley for introducing this to me and for coming up with the idea for us to use this to track our progress and keep each other motivated.

I realize this might not be a good idea for everyone. This spreadsheet works particularly well for me and my working personality: I look forward to the end of the day (or my writing session) when I can eagerly input my total word count for the day and watch the numbers add up for the week. It’s like a little shot of confidence that I can do this big, HUGE project because I’m doing so one small chunk at a time.

Trouble spots: The spreadsheet has highlighted for me the days and/or times that I struggle to write. You’ll notice that I have a big fat “0” for three of the four Thursdays in January. Well, that’s because those days I teach and have meetings about the conference that are hosting this spring. These two things end up taking up most of my day, and by the end, I don’t have the brain energy to tackle my dissertation in any meaningful way. I’ve identified that. But I have an entire semester’s worth of Thursdays, and I can’t afford to not write at all on those days if I’m going to finish this year. So I have decided now to make Thursday my “clean up” days: Any new references that I need to put into my bibliography, I note them all week, and on Thursdays, I format them properly into that document. Bam – I can APA format articles in my sleep, so that’s perfect for Thursday. Most importantly, I’m not losing an entire day: I’m making it work for my schedule.

I also made an effort to insert comments into the spreadsheet when I had particular thoughts about the day that I wanted to remember, such as a day with a low total word count in my document but during which I had completed the entire IRB application for my dissertation — a big, important step. Perhaps by the end of the diss I’ll have enough data to write an article on dissertation writing, or to give a workshop to other grad students at this stage of their degree … who knows!

Timeline: After using this spreadsheet for the first month of the year, I have done a little thinking about the timeline that I am on for writing and how well I’ve been able to meet my daily and weekly writing goals. It has even given me the confidence to up my daily writing goal by 82 words, taking my weekly word count goal from 1946 to 2450. This will result in an entirely complete first draft of my dissertation by August and will give me the entire fall semester for revisions, which I think is a reasonable and achievable goal. I’ll write another update post (maybe end of next month?) to report back on how my new elevated word count goal is going.

Do other folks use a system for keeping track of progress on big projects, like a dissertation? If so, what do you use? How does that work for you?

Dissertation writing: Holding a writing group for accountability

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January 1, 2013 marked the first day of my dissertation writing. New year, new project, and new work habits to help me accomplish the final and largest hurdle for my doctorate. I am currently starting the 6th semester of my 8 semesters of funding (middle of my third of four years), so I have approximately one year and a couple of months to write, revise, and defend my dissertation. Challenge accepted.

I’ve asked a lot of others about their strategies for writing, researching, and overall finishing their dissertation and am using several of these strategies with my own writing. Here’s what I’m trying my hand at:

Daily writing goal 

One of the greatest challenges to writing a dissertation in 12 (14?) months is the sheer volume of writing and research that has to be produced to even generate a full first draft, not to mention a final version that the school’s ETD system will actually accept. So, my New Year’s resolution was that every day — every day — I would do something toward my dissertation, specifically enough work that would generate one page’s worth of words for my first drafts of my chapters. So, my daily goal is to write 278 words toward my dissertation (the approximate number of words I chose to represent one page’s worth of writing, since I don’t always just write one page straight through, but jump around between sections). So far, of the 12 days of January, I have missed my goal one day, so the system isn’t perfect. (Would anyone be surprised that the day I didn’t meet that goal, I was teaching and had meetings to plan a conference we’re hosting?) But otherwise, I’ve been steadily writing my chapter, and in a week and a half, I’ve made a lot of progress. So far, this is working really well for me, but obviously, as the semester progresses, this may change.


Along with my daily word count goal, I have a layer of accountability. It’s no secret that Ashley and I work together on a lot of projects, and in the dissertation writing stage, we are trying to support each other’s writing experiences so that we can successfully finish. We hold each other accountable to our daily writing goals through a shared spreadsheet that is set up as a spring semester calendar with daily and weekly writing tallies. Each day after I’ve completed my daily writing, I put into my sheet in that day’s cell the number of words I wrote (today, 484). Ashley has her own sheet, also as a calendar set up with a cell for each day, that she also puts her daily writing totals into. Having a shared document with our own writing tally sheets means that we can see what each other has done — and in many cases, seeing Ashley’s daily word totals has motivated me to write for another 30 minutes to get just a little bit more done. Later into the process, it might help us identify when the other is struggling, which will also be helpful for us to be there for one another.

Writing group

Finally, we have a small writing group of peers who are also working on their dissertation. We meet weekly to discuss our progress and to do peer review of each other’s work. Three or four days we meet, we exchange drafts electronically, and then the day that we meet, we discuss what we thought about each other’s work, suggestions, etc. We review a range of each other’s work, too — whether it be chunks of a dissertation chapter, grant applications, journal article manuscripts we plan to submit, proposals for new courses in the department, etc. The feedback from writing group participants has been so helpful, and I’ve learned a lot not just from what they’ve said about my work, but also from me reading theirs. I have some very, very smart colleagues. Not to mention that having a group of people who expect something from me every week is pretty good motivation for having substantial enough material for them to review.

What else?

Obviously, there are just three strategies that I’m attempting, and this is only the very beginning of my dissertation writing process. I’d love to know what other strategies folks have used to help them power through this and finish — please share!

Introducing Genre Across Borders (GXB)

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Two weeks ago at the Genre 2012 Conference at Carleton University, our research team officially launched a website that has been under development for over two years: Genre Across Borders [link opens in a new tab]. The goal of our site is to help the wide range of scholars whose work falls under the umbrella of “genre studies” to have an ongoing conversation about work in genre, to maintain connections across disciplinary and international borders. Genre studies does not have an official conference, nor a journal venue, so work tends to be scattered across disciplines and presented at various conferences, but we don’t often get a chance to talk to other genre scholars about our work. Thus, Genre Across Borders (also known as GXB) was born.

The site features a variety of research resources, including overviews of research on genre in variety of disciplines, a bibliography, and a glossary. We’re also collecting web resources on genre and developing a pedagogical section that folks can come to for teaching materials related to genre. The site is open to any and all genre scholars across the world. All content is Creative Commons licensed.

Do you do work in genre studies? Sign up now! 
If you’d like to be a part of the GXB community, it’s pretty easy. Head over to our website, create a user account, and start using the site!  While the development team has initially populated the site with content, and continues to be responsible for handling technical issues, the growth of the website and community moving forward will be user-based. We think the content should be driven by what the user base is looking for, rather than what our development team thinks up.

What can you do on the site?
There are a few parts of the site that you can begin to contribute to immediately.  Check out our Bibliography, with over 450 current items, and add citations that we don’t currently have. If you’re a published author, and we already have your work listed there, you can make our database even better by linking to a pre-print version (if your text is copyrighted, you might host a pre-print version on your own site) or a link to the published version (if it’s open access, perhaps to the journal’s website) for users to go to if they’d like to be able to read your work immediately.

We’re also developing a glossary of genre-related terms, but we need your help to make it a more robust glossary. Don’t see a term there that you think belongs there? Add it! To create a new glossary term, just click on “Add Term” (you must be registered and sign in to do so), and then include the definition, a citation for that definition, and an example of the term’s use. That’s it! And be sure to give yourself credit for doing so in the “Contributed by” field. You can also edit a current term, for example, if you know the original use of a term that’s already been defined.

You can also use the forums to network with other users on the site. Hosting an upcoming conference that genre folks should know about? Post the CFP! Have a general question for any and all genre scholars? Post it!

Our newest feature is site-wide tagging! These will be completely crowdsourced, so as you’re using the site, be sure to tag entries that you’re familiar with to help us develop a base and to help others as they come to the site better use the resources that we’ve got there. You could start by tagging your own publications, or perhaps works you’ve read for your comprehensive exams, or the glossary term that you’ve added.

Forthcoming features
GXB is so much more than these few features here, and we’re working on getting everything going for users. We’re currently testing a submission system that will allow users to upload sample teaching materials and browse through what other users have uploaded — just in time for class prep for the fall semester! Watch our twitter feed (@gxbproject) for announcements about when features go live and other general news about the site.

Get the word out! 
We are excited about the possibilities that GXB has for the genre research community. Please feel free to share the site with others doing work in genre, encourage them to sign up, and feel free to provide the development team feedback on the site so that we can better serve our research community.  To keep the conversation going on Twitter, follow us (@gxbproject) and use the hashtagh #gxb for any and all genre-related discussions (not just about the website). We look forward to connecting with you!

Open access journals for rhetoric and composition scholars

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If you’ve been reading blog for a while, you know that I am proponent of the open access movement for scholarship. I’ve been keeping an eye out for online, open access journals in fields related to the work that I do — rhetoric and composition, and scholarship of teaching and learning, and digital humanities — and thought the most useful way to organize my bookmarks would be to write a blog post that would be useful for others like me who have texts appropriate for such venues and/or would like to publish in open access venues. If I’ve missed some good ones, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

Open Access Journals in Rhetoric & Composition/ Scholarship of Teaching & Learning/Digital Humanities [all links open in new tab]

Critical Literacy: Theory and Practice: An international journal with peer-reviewed articles along with internally reviewed “Practitioner Insights” and “Position Papers.”

Currents in Teaching and Learning: scholarship of teaching and learning, published out of Worchester State University.

Enculturation: A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, & Culture. (I’m guest editing a special issue coming out of the Computers & Writing conference that we hosted here in Raleigh last month.)

Environmental Humanities: A brand new journal (first issue launching November 2012) focusing on interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues.

First Monday: A journal focusing specifically on the internet, first published back in 1996!

Harlot: An interactive digital magazine that looks at the rhetoric of everyday life.

Hybrid Pedagogy: A Digital Journal of Teaching & Technology: Publishes critical articles on digital pedagogy. (I’m especially excited about this one; they engage folks in discussion forums on their site, on Twitter & Facebook, and generally approach the concept of journal publishing in ways that better embrace the affordances of their medium.)

JAC Online: A Journal of Rhetoric, Culture, & Politics: The online companion to print JAC, a theory-focused journal.

Journal of Digital Humanities: Publishes traditional articles along with “conversations” about digital humanities; supported by George Mason University.

Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication: Another brand-new launch; it focuses specifically on online publication and scholarly publication. Their introductory issue focuses on open access in scholarship and includes a debate on the best type of CC license and tenure issues for faculty.

Journal of Writing Assessment: Focuses on writing assessment at all levels of education.

Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy: one of the most highly-regarded journals in rhet/comp (OA or not).

K.B. Journal: The recently re-launched journal of the Kenneth Burke Society.

Present Tense: This open access, peer reviewed journal focuses on contemporary social, cultural, economic, and political issues through a rhetorical lens.

Syllabus: A journal focusing solely on teaching materials, saying, “A good syllabus is a piece of original scholarship.” It publishes a wide range of materials, including assignments, assessment tools, and some articles on teaching.

Technoculture: An Online Journal of Technology in Society: Creative and critical works in technology studies.

Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse and Writing: Published by the Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing.

And of course, I would be remiss if I did not also include a link to the Directory of Open Access Journals, where you can go to find many, many more open access journals than what I’ve listed here.

What open access journals have you published in? Am I missing a really critical one?

A day in the life, summer edition

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Now that the semester is over, all of my friends and family outside of academia say to me, “Wow, you must be so glad the semester is over, now you get vacation again until August!” (Or some other refrain along those lines.) And again I am reminded of how fundamentally misunderstood my job as an academic, and everyone else’s job who is an academic, is. People think that as a PhD student, I take a few classes, maybe teach one if I’m lucky – and that’s it. We need to do a better job of telling people all that our jobs entail! A lot of folks participated in the #DayofHigherEd last month (and I did too, writing a blog post for it). Hence this second version: “A day in the life – summer edition.”

Here’s what I did yesterday, Tuesday, May 15:

7:30am: Up, coffee, checking emails – nearly all work related. One related to my HOA board that I serve as secretary for that needed to be addressed ASAP.

8:00am: Read How we became posthuman by Katherine Hayles, a book on my digital media theory reading list.

10:00am: Break from reading to look at web project I’m working on with others and presenting at the upcoming Genre 2012 conference. I work on a collaborative project management doc and sending necessary emails and files to various members.

11:00am: Back to reading How we became posthuman.

12:00pm: Lunch, put in a load of laundry, feed the dog, and do the dishes.

1:00pm: Review plan for workshop presentation that I’m giving for the Computers and Writing conference this Thursday. Put finishing touches on our Prezi and make sure that I have all of my parts in order.

2:00pm: Take notes on book I read this weekend for my reading list, Where wizards stay up late: The origins of the internet.

3:00pm: Put together list of goals for the summertime and sketch out approximate deadlines for each item. Things on my list include:

  • Follow strict reading schedule to finish all exam reading by Sept. 1. (This is my number 1 priority.)
  • Give workshop at Computers and Writing on Thursday afternoon. 
  • Finish joint manuscript currently working on by June 8. Need to prep for writing meeting we have this Friday. 
  • Prep questions for Summer I class that I’ll be studying with partner in scholarly crime.
  • Finish hybrid composition course technology study – get all data in one place and backed up; set writing schedule with collaborator; identify target journal for manuscript. 
  • Continue to work on web project that our research team is presenting at Genre 2012 at the end of June. I’ve been assigned the role of task management along with my research duties for the site. 
  • Continue to think about dissertation prospectus and chip away at taking notes for that while I read and formulate a more thorough research description. 
  • Work as RA for Campus Writing and Speaking Program research project throughout summer. Major task at the moment is data analysis from the courses we studied this spring, along with a grant report. Also have to prepare for two other conferences after Computers and Writing and then, hopefully, get a manuscript written. 
  • Compile Enculturation special issue from Computers and Writing conference. This will be an ongoing project with Enculturation editors and reviewers until the issue is published in October.
  • Prep for a new class that I’ll be teaching next year.
    (As you can see, this is a huge list of ongoing projects. To complicate matters, every single joint project is undertaken with a different set of collaborators – that’s a lot of people to keep up with and coordinate schedules with.)

4:00pm: Get ready to leave for meeting at with Computers and Writing workshop team.

4:30-5:30pm: Happy hour meeting with C&W workshop team. Final discussion of plans for Thursday and a bit of fun chat, too.

5:30pm: Leave for tennis lessons across the other side of the city.

6:00pm: Tennis lesson.

7:00pm: Pick up sushi for dinner on my way home. No time for food prep tonight. Walk the dog before eating.

8:30pm: Respond to emails for a variety of things – workshop on Thursday, HOA, research grant, Computers and Writing conference, etc.

9:00pm: Unwind with husband (finally!).

10:30pm: Squeeze in a bit more reading of How we became posthuman. I find this book quite dense, and it’s taking me a while to get through it.

11:00pm: Bed. Coach Sunday kicked my butt at tennis tonight, and I have a full day planned for tomorrow!

So, friends and family, there you have it – sure it’s “summer” (aka. I’m not taking classes), but every day, I have a full plate of reading for exams, conducting research, writing manuscripts, and dealing with other tasks related to my job – conferences, workshops, etc. etc.

What does your summer schedule look like? Share it! I think it’s really important to make our work more visible so that people better understand the work that academics do – we might be fighting for our jobs, our funding, etc. in the future if we aren’t better prepared to talk about the value that our work brings.

Giving a talk at Progress Energy

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Today my colleague Ashley R. Kelly and I were invited to Progress Energy headquarters in downtown Raleigh to talk with their corporate communication employees about our ongoing research into their merger with Duke Energy. We’ve been studying this merger ever since they announced it last January, and thus far have published a conference proceedings paper and a forthcoming journal article, with another one in the works. We’ve also presented various aspects of the project – the merger’s connection to the nuclear disaster in Japan, the public hearings, Twitter data and online newspaper reporting – in several academic venues, but this is our first foray into bringing our research to a group within the public sphere. It shows that our work – as with the work that many other academics do – has real world implications that are important and should be heard beyond the walls (or paywalls) of academic venues.

We had a great time today talking with the communication folks at Progress Energy. We spoke with employees in Raleigh (in person) but also had employees from their Florida locations calling in to LiveMeeting to hear us and see our presentation. We really enjoyed having a large chunk of time to talk about our work – no 12-15 minute conference limitations there! – and easily filled the time with our talk and their questions. They were an engaged and inquisitive group; they do their own research and had some of their own hypotheses about their social media use and public conceptions about the merger, but they learned a few things from our research and gained an alternate perspective hearing about public discourse from a pair of objective academic researchers. Their merger with Duke Energy is a messy, complicated, and enormous undertaking – and our research reflects that and speaks to the range of issues that the public is concerned with and the ways in which they have brought their ideas and concerns to the table (or have attempted to).

As a young academic, I feel the need to see the connection that my work has to the world around me and to find ways that I can better connect with the groups that we have worked so hard to study over the last year and a half with respect to this merger. Today we gave a group of people a glimpse into the work that academic researchers do, which I think is important to do such that more people might better understand what we do (and not make wild claims about only working 9 hours a week, like this crazy guy did).

Today was a great way to connect the work that we do to the broader community in which we live and to see the value of our work for others. I look forward to having more opportunities like this in the future. Our invitation today also shows that a little self-promotion (such as tweeting about events we are at or what we are studying) can help us to make important connections to the community. We were invited based on tweeting about our work for the better part of a year and the head of communications one day replying to a tweet to say, “Would you come and talk to us?” So we also very encouraged about reaching out to broader communities through social media. Overall, it was a great day!

How an academic can have an epic summer

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Summer is winding down (not scientifically, but according to the university calendar, which at NCSU begins tomorrow!). This brings a combination of dread and groans from scholars who again feel they didn’t accomplish as much as they wanted to. I’d like to think of myself as a positive person (even though my last post used the word frustration no less than four times), so I’m going to buck this trend and explain why I had an epic summer, because remember all that was great about it will surely keep me in a cheerful mood past Labor Day.

How to have an epic summer

Do some work – but prioritize: Your list of things to accomplish that are academic-related might include 10 different things. Be realistic. It’s the summer; that will never get totally completed. Pick the three most important things and focus, focus, focus. When you’ve accomplished them, you’ll feel great. I narrowed my priorities to the most important professional development for a PhD student: getting published. I’m happy to say that an article I’ve written with Ashley R. Kelly will be published in the SIGDOC Proceedings from this year’s conference, and I should be able to discuss another publication soon, too. Achieving those two things made my summer feel enormously productive and successful. I also completed a research assistantship with Carolyn R. Miller, which expanded my knowledge of genre theory and gave me a well-rounded list of things to do.

Go away. As in, take a vacation that is truly a vacation, in which you “unplug” and don’t read anything remotely academic or try to keep up with Twitter. I was lucky enough to get to do this several times this summer, including trips to Canada and Aspen, and multiple long weekends at the beach. The trick is to have done some of my first point – productive, prioritized work – and then you can really enjoy getting away. I used to feel guilty about taking a day or an afternoon off, but realized that was not a healthy or good way to think about a much-needed break. Focusing and working diligently to achieve my main goals allowed me to soak up the time off, enjoy the Rocky Mountains for the first time, and come back re-energized and ready to tackle a new project/school year.

Hiking to American Lake in White River National Forest, Aspen, Colorado with my dear friend Julia

Read for fun. Yes, being an academic requires a lot of reading, so you wouldn’t think that reading when you’re not working would necessarily be a first choice, but I find it’s important to keep using your “reading muscles” outside of the school year. I say “reading muscle” after a discussion with a faculty member who suggested that, particularly for doctoral exams, that you need to train your “reading muscles” by starting out with small reading goals, and gradually building up to being able to read greater amounts of text each day/week. And if you stop using your reading muscles, they atrophy. Thus, reading during the summer is important, so that you do not start off the semester with a weak reading muscle. I find I was able to keep up by reading books that are unrelated to my research but are important topics for other parts of my life: healthy lifestyle, vegetarianism, and local food movements. Some of the books I read: Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran Foer; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, and Peas and Thank You by Sarah Matheny.

Nothing I’ve said here is necessarily ground-breaking or novel, but it’s so easy to be so wrapped up in our work that we don’t enjoy the summer as much as we could. It’s the best season of the year, after all, and while it still requires work – which many non-academics don’t understand – the potential for flexibility in our schedule is there, and we shouldn’t forget to use that. Enjoy life!!

Collaborative writing with Google docs

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In my last post, I discussed the benefits of doing collaborative research in grad school. With the brilliance that is Google docs, team writing is a smoother process than ever. I know that some have been using Google docs for years, for both collaborative writing and their own personal work, whereas there are many who have yet to try out the feature. (If you fit in the former category, some of what I’ll review here is pretty basic, but I encourage you to read through and comment to add any functions or perks that I’ve missed here.)

How I use Google docs & my favorite features:

  1. Writing text: Obviously, a main function of Google docs is that you can write within a window just the same way you could within a word processor. You can change the text style, size, color, and more similarly to a word processor. It has less features – fewer font options and no text boxes, for example – but offers many of the basic functions you need. I use the word count tool a lot! 
  2. Exporting: When you need to finish something off in Word (or put it in a .doc format to send off somewhere) you can easily export the document as a Word file, or even a PDF or RTF file. 
  3. Collaborative writing: The main advantage Google docs has over a word processor is the facilitation of collaborative writing. As you type, others who are viewing the document (or “in the document) can see what you are writing in real time, and vice versa. I can immediately edit a word someone else has written, we can cut and paste each other’s writing – it’s all real time. Which is connected to the awesome feature for group projects of – 
  4. Everyone is immediately updated: When you open the document, everyone who has permissions to it all have the same, most up-to-date version. No more sending around docs and keeping track by having “GrantAppVersion02Edit34.” Work on it in Google docs until everyone is done and then download it in whichever file format you need. 
  5. Chat function: Within the document, if another writer is also viewing at the same time, you can chat with your collaborator about the project (or anything else, for that matter). It’s helpful for discussing the plan of attack, setting a schedule, etc. all while you are working on it. It also helps save valuable in-person meeting time. (Edited to add this item post-publication – I forgot in my haste to get this posted!)
  6. Flexibility: With a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations, you can create a doc for pretty much anything you need. I’ve got docs for essays, group projects, as well as lecture notes, reading exam lists, and Christmas present budget for last year. 

Clearly, I’m enamored by Google docs, but I don’t think it’s perfect. I find the “filing” system a bit clunky – like Gmail, you can tag things, but creation and maintenance of the folders is not so easy. The apps for your smart phone aren’t perfect and make it difficult to edit a doc on the go (if you think that’s what you will mainly use it for. That’s not a primary need of mine, so this isn’t a big problem for me, but others tend to prefer something like the Evernote app over the Google doc app). Finally, when you download a doc as a Word file, the formatting does not export as cleanly as I’d like – I tend to spend 15 minutes tidying up the spacing, adjusting the rules, and formatting the font to make it the professional document I need it to be.

    Regardless, Google docs is still a great new(ish) tool for PhD students. How do you use Google docs? Any cool ways to use them that I haven’t mentioned, or additional concerns I haven’t thought of?