digital tools

5 Digital Tools to Increase Your Productivity in Research

Scientific research is a constant battle against time. Whether it is your Masters, PhD or Postdoc, you always feel the pressure to generate data for external validation. For that, you need to spend your time on the bench and not at the desk, but that can be hard. Unfortunately, non-laboratory tasks occupy a large segment of your daily work. But that shouldn’t happen, because an innovation can be an experiment away.

Here we discuss several digital tools that can help you spend less time in front of the computer and more time in the lab, doing what you love.

Unpaywall

How many hours have we spent looking for scientific papers that are behind a paywall from the publisher? Sometimes we are successful in our search but sometimes we are not and end up losing a lot of time.

The team from Impactstory has created a hidden gem called Unpaywall to solve this time-consuming quest. Unpaywall is a Chrome extension that you install for free in your Chrome browser. It will inform you if the paper you are looking at is available for free somewhere else. Just click on the icon to view the paper’s PDF and also download it to your computer.

And before you ask: yes, Unpaywall is 100% legal because it only retrieves results when the papers have been uploaded by one of the authors.

Fiji

No, not the tropical country (unless you want to dramatically reduce your productivity). Fiji stands for Fiji is just Imagej…and we all know ImageJ!

ImageJ is free and open source tool available from the NIH website and is the go-to app for image editing and analysis. The fact that there are over 300 macros and 500 plugins created by scientists makes it one of the most powerful tools in research. So why use Fiji instead of Image J?

The biggest advantage of Fiji is that the tool already includes several of those previously mentioned macros and plugins. So you do not need to find, download and install each individual add-on.

Like ImageJ, Fiji is free for all users and is compatible with all operating system (Windows, MacOS and Linux).

A Reference Manager

Papers, papers and even more papers. By the time you finish your research you have read hundreds or even thousands of scientific papers. But it’s not just reading them, you need to reference them in your work and although this appears simple, the truth is that every journal wants the reference in a different way, making it impossible to do the task manually.

When looking for a reference manager there is a feature that you need to look for:
cite-as-you-write. Usually in a style of plugin, the “cite-as-you-write” option allows you to integrate the reference manager with word processors (usually Microsoft Word or other free options) and insert the references directly in your text.

There are several reference managers on the market but one of the most successful is Mendeley. It is a browser-based tool with a desktop client that is completely free and includes “cite-as-you-write”.

Task Manager

In the same day you are probably starting several new experiments, continuing previous ones and analyzing data from a third set. Keeping track of everything you have to do is perhaps one of the trickiest things during your lab work.

Implementing a task manager in your research can be difference between success and failure, so you need to pick one that meets your needs.

From the several tools available, wunderlist stands out from the crowd. Available for all platforms including mobile devices, wunderlist is an extremely easy to use and intuitive app to keep track of everything you need to know. Thanks to reminders and notifications you will never forget that western blot shaking or splitting your cells.

Electronic Lab Notebook

It’s ironic that one of the few tools in the lab that is universal to all fields has been forgotten in the digital evolution. The majority of your data is either produced or stored digitally. This makes sense because you need to have your results on the computer to prepare a presentation for your lab meeting, a poster for your next conference or for the paper that you are currently writing.

Implementing a digital lab notebook can speed up your data recording while maintaining good laboratory practices. More than making it faster, it is also better for data reproducibility because it becomes independent of bad calligraphy.

Since you are going digital you should also demand additional options that the current paper solution does not offer. Tools, like the electronic lab notebook from labfolder, allow you to easily retrieve your data thanks to tags and filters (no more post-its and flipping pages in hidden shame) but also collaborate in real-time with your team members and external collaborators.

Conclusion

Like all other aspects of our life, digitization is taking over the laboratory environment. These 5 free digital tools will boost your productivity in different areas of your out-of-bench research. By doing so, you can spend more time running experiments and get the results you need for your next publication.

Image credit: Adrián Pérez

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