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China_Science_and_Technology_MuseumAshley Wiersma is a doctoral candidate in the department of history at Michigan State University. You can follow her on twitter at @throughthe_veil.

So what does that mean? What digital skills, technologies, and tools should we develop while in graduate school? And how do we do that?  I’ve put together a few suggestions and hope readers from a variety of disciplines will offer additional ideas in the comments section below.


Social Media

This is an important one, but before we dive into specifics, first, figure out how you want to “brand yourself” and then decide how to use different media to get your name out there.  For instance, if you sign up for Twitter, are you going to tweet about everyday happenings in your life or do you want to stick to tweets related only to your profession? (For more on Twitter, see below.) We are all aware of Facebook, and many of us have seen how it can be used for professional purposes through groups and pages for organizations, events, etc. I would also suggest setting up a LinkedIn and/or account. By doing so, your name and identity will quickly rise to the top of a Google search. This is a social networking site where scholars can showcase their best work and network with others who share their research interests. Here, you can share your CV, presentations, book reviews*, and articles*.

*For the last two, read the copyright policies of the journals in which you're published carefully before posting it.

If you post your work on the site, it will also appear in Google searches, where you can direct people to your webpage, Twitter handle, and anywhere else you might have a web presence. Another neat feature of the site is that you can track your analytics – how many people have accessed your work or searched for you – to determine your impact. And, let’s be honest, who among us doesn’t feel encouraged by an email notification that someone just searched for our work or us?

Twitter: This one has been covered well in many other articles, so I’ll just stick to a brief argument for its usefulness to academics.

  • Accessibility: Anyone and everyone can sign up for an account and can access it from computers, tablets, and phones.
  • Networking: This is a great way to become aware of and interact with scholars who share your interests. Within Twitter, communities develop, and provide you with the opportunity to contribute to ongoing discussions and debates in your field as they’re happening.  Connections through Twitter can turn into face-to-face interactions if you organize a “Tweet-Up” or a conference panel with your “tweeps”.
  • Promotion: It can be used as a platform to advertise your work, be it presentations, articles, or blog posts.
  • Mass Collaboration: Through Twitter, it’s easy to crowd source questions and participate in large collaborative efforts.
  • Searchability: Topics of interest are easy to find with hashtags (keywords that begin with #).
  • Teaching with Twitter: With low barriers to entry, Twitter provides a way tap into a technology that your students are already familiar with to facilitate discussion and keep them engaged in the subject after the class period ends.

Bibliographic File Management System: Pick one and use it consistently. This is something I wish I had started my first year and maintained throughout grad school instead of storing notes in a variety of places and then frantically searching for them during comps.  If you start now, it will make your life much simpler when preparing for qualifying exams, writing your dissertation prospectus, or prepping a new course you’re teaching. If you haven’t chosen one yet, consider:

EndNote or EndNote Web
Bookends (for Macs)

Explore Digital Research Skills and Digital Workflows: Figure out what works best for you in your discipline, and evaluate its usefulness. If it doesn't make something more efficient in the long run, change tools, or consider going back to analogue. Tools exist to work for you; if they don't, find ones that do.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Digital Research Tools: (DiRT)
Digital Workflow with off-the-shelf tools
Managing digital files for research and more
Georgia Tech's Guide to Productivity Tools for Graduate Students

Learn a programming language: It doesn’t matter which one. I would suggest html/css because it’s the language of the web that allows you understand how it works and how to “break” software to get it to do what you want for your project.  By learning to code, you can conceive of possibilities that you would not be able to envision without knowing how the underlying infrastructure works. To get started, see Andrea’s excellent post, “Learning to Code” for a comparison of different online tutorials, tips, and advice.


DIY: I know this sounds simplistic and probably feels overwhelming, but the great thing about it is that you can learn and use these technologies as it fits into your schedule from the comfort of your own home (or office, library, cafe, lab… you get the idea). But please know that you’re not alone; there is a great support network out there waiting to help you.  They’re just a tweet away! If you get stuck, ask a knowledgeable friend, colleague, tech or information specialist, set up a group to learn whatever it is you’re interested in, and attend any workshops offered on these tools. For those in the humanities, attend the DH Summer or Winter Institute and/or a THAT Camp.

Further Resources:

Introduction to Twitter with links to Twitter at Conferences , Twitter vs. Facebook, and
Why Tweet and How to Do It
Organizing a Digital Thought Process

EndNote vs. Zotero
Mendeley vs. Bookends: No Contest

**What tools, skills, and technology have you found helpful, even essential, in graduate school? How did you learn to use it?

[Image from and used under the Creative Commons License]

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