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The paperless PhD…

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I have just started on the long process of adding a title of “Dr.” to my name and one of the first things that struck my environmentally conscious brain is the amount of paper every PhD student/supervisor generates. There are loads of research papers, results sheets, graphs and God-knows-what that gets printed on “single” sheet paper, which after 15 minutes of usage, gets chucked straight in the bin. It makes me think that graduate students around the world are probably responsible for a major chunk of the deforestation we hear so much about.

“How can I do a (nearly) paperless PhD?” was the first question that came to mind and I decided to pursue it right at the start when the actual project work is light and I have some time to spend on the extra curricular stuff. The oft-quoted reason for the reckless paper use is “so that I can highlight the important bits and make my own notes, which I cannot do on a pdf”. Come on people, in this day and age, surely you need a better reason. A google search that took me something like 20 minutes told me about this piece of software called “PDF-XChange Viewer” which allows the user to view, highligh, add comments, draw figures and a million other things to pdf files. If you thought that was the best part, wait till you hear that its FREE!!! Those interested can check it out at PDF X-Change Viewer.

Once most of my colleagues have printed out the paper and scribbled all over it, they are then caught in the death trap of “having” to store that paper, because it not only contains published information, but also their own personal thoughts. Considering that a PhD student may spend around 3-4 years reading quite a lot of articles, I shudder to think about the state of one’s desk if one tries to keep a hard copy of each and every paper they ever printed and scribbled on. So then students start using files, with coloured stickers on them to categorise information etc etc and finally landing up being “cutting edge technology researchers” who use 19th century methods for information handling.A much more elegant solution is in combining PDF-Xchange viewer with another bit of software called JabRef (again freely available at JabRef). Once a paper has been read and scribbled over with PDF-XChange Viewer, it can be saved as a softcopy and loaded into a JabRef database. Jabref has cool features that allow classification of papers into groups (such as “Must Read”, “Can ignore”, “Maybe in future”) so that searching for an article becomes something like

1. Find the proper group

2. Leftclick on the mouse.

3. rapidly read through the list till you find the titles/author/journal you are looking for. (It is also possible to sort on the basis of all these fields to help the search.)

as compared to…

1. Scan whole folders to try and remember which one can contain the paper.

2. Lift the folder and lay it on the table, while trying to avoid getting a hernia in the process.

3. Open the folder.

4. Spend 5 minutes sneezing from all the dust.

5. painstakingly turn page after page till you find the paper you were looking for. By the time you find it, its probably time to go home.

I don’t think I need to enumerate the advantages of the XChange viewer + JabRef combination, they ought to be pretty obvious. So if there are any PhD students reading this, why not give it a spin? You will be making it easier for yourselves and doing the environment a favour 🙂

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Written by clueso

January 31, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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3 Responses

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  1. Hey dude,
    Back to England? PhD in what? great going maan.
    I am considering a post grad in economics. And say if I want to do it with a scholarship from a school in UK. Any ideas on that?
    I know bythe time you read this and respond, it will be pretty late in my life. But at least my kids can use it that time. so go ahead and reply.

    Laukik

    February 1, 2008 at 4:15 am

  2. hey cool stuff! i too am guilty of contributing to the mounting pile of paper in the place where i work. just after 3 months of working here i have the better part of my drawer flooded with paper 😦 but unfortunately i dont see an easy solution out of it. for every meeting away from your desk in a meeting room with no computer/projectors etc, it most often is necessary for each and everyone who is attending the meeting to have a copy of the document being discussed. if its not coordinated well each person ends up with 2 copies of the same document (one printed by yourself and another printed by the chair of the meeting). it really is a pity! only way i see out of this is every person should carry a laptop or some mobile device which they can refer to at the time of meeting. but that seems rather far fetched…any other more feasible suggestion?

    Arthi

    February 6, 2008 at 7:35 pm

  3. Arthi:
    your problem is gonna be a real tough nut to crack 🙂 I dont think you can ever go completely paper free without any kind of digital equipment. But probably some more coordination(the person calling for the meeting sends an email saying “I have copies for everyone”) or printing on both sides could reduce the paper production 🙂

    clueso

    February 10, 2008 at 1:19 pm


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