BrainWaves: The Neuroscience Graduate Program Newsletter

Using Technology to Simplify the Graduate Student Experience

AUTHOR:Adile Nexha

As graduate students, we all have at least one commonality: independent exploration of our individual fields. As we progress, we come across many readily available resources, and learn what works for us and what doesn’t. Here, I introduce you to some of the tools that have made my graduate career easier so far. I hope you take the opportunity to test them out and see if they fit you too!


Cost: FREE!

During graduate school (and beyond), it is important to stay up-to-date on the work being published in our field. This can be easily achieved using Pubmed and/or Google Scholar (or any other source of your choosing) and their automatic email updates using terms that are relevant to your research. For scholarly articles, Pubmed and Google Scholar are both great sources. While Google Scholar is easily accessible (since many of you already have a Google account), I have found that the effort of creating a PubMed account truly pays off as it offers more customizable features. Pubmed also allows you to choose the number of emails you receive, their frequency (daily, weekly, monthly), and the format (title only or title and abstract). On the other hand, Google Alerts is a great source for non-scholarly articles related to your field. These pieces are often published in lifestyle magazines or local newspapers, which provides the opportunity to view your field from the perspective of the general public. 

2. ReadCube Papers

Cost: 30-day trial – Then $3/month or $36/year (USD) after providing proof of McMaster student status

Many tools exist for article organization and reference management. Some are used more commonly than ReadCube Papers, such as Mendeley, Zotero, and EndNote; however, I have found ReadCube Papers to be extremely helpful. One of the defining features of ReadCube Papers is that it connects to McMaster’s proxy server to give you immediate access to an article. You are able to search for an article in the application itself or use the Google Chrome extension to import articles directly to your library from any website you visit. This eliminates the step of downloading an article onto your hard drive, and then uploading it to the reference manager.

For each article saved to your library, ReadCube Papers includes full citations in multiple formats (e.g., APA, MLA, etc.), supplemental files, and direct links to the references used in the article. You have the option to colour-code your articles, as well as categorize them into folders and subfolders, providing a cleaner and more efficient article library. You can also access your library on other devices, such as your phone or tablet, if you download the application.

3. KanbanFlow 

Cost: FREE!

Kanban planning is notorious for being one of the best free organizational tools for large teams and projects. Consequently, I never thought to adopt this type of platform for personal use. With a bit of orientation, you will find that KanbanFlow is one of the best organizational tools to keep track of all of the different projects that you are currently involved in.  Essentially, KanbanFlow functions as an online planner. You are able to divide your projects into categories that fit your needs. Its default categories include: To-do, Do today, In-progress, and Done. You are also able to colour-code different projects, add due dates to your tasks, and create subtasks with their own due dates. Though there is no application you can download on your other devices, KanbanFlow has the feature of a mobile web login that functions in a similar manner. One of the best features of this tool is the timer. Whether you prefer using the Pomodoro technique or working freely, you can record the amount of time spent on a certain task and track your work behaviour. This feature has proven most necessary during the pandemic, when things feel a little surreal and it is more difficult to understand how much time you put into a task. By letting the timer run while you complete your tasks, you will be able to quantify your working patterns, so you can make necessary adjustments to where you allocate your time.

4. Google Chrome: Session Buddy and Grouping Tabs

Cost: FREE

Have you ever been so deep in a project that you suddenly notice it’s 11 pm and you need to stop working but have 20+ tabs open? Or perhaps you need a break from a project that you plan to work on later but don’t want to lose all those tabs you still need? Session Buddy, a Google Chrome extension, is a tool created for this very reason. It allows you to save all open tabs and return to them later, cleaning up your browser so you can work on something else in the meantime. Along the same lines, Google Chrome has a relatively new feature that allows you to group open tabs. Simply right-click on any open tab, select “Add tab to group”, and customize the name and colour of the group to your preference. 

5. Notion 

Cost: FREE

This tool is perfect for notetaking of any kind. I often find myself writing quick notes on the first available app on my phone, which can get disorganized very quickly. Having a space that is dedicated to all the notes you make, no matter how long or brief, is one step closer to being more organized. Notion is a wonderful resource for different notetaking styles: simple blank pages for writing, daily/weekly/monthly agenda, calendars, tables, to-do lists, and more for you to explore.

Notion also offers hundreds of templates available for you to choose, and they are categorized by utility. Truly, this tool is worth exploring on your own to get a real understanding of just how much you can do with it. A great article outlining all the features of Notion can be found here

We hope that you find one or more of these tools helpful. If you come across any resources that make your academic life easier, let your colleagues in the program know. After all, as they say, we’re all in this together!