3 Mandatory Tools For Digital Scientists

How the heck have I been doing science without these tools?

We have all looked at our iPhone, Kindle or Moleskine and said “how have I been living without you all this time?”. You know, that feeling of money well spent on a product.

It makes you feel like a savvy buyer. But buying these products also allows you to do things that you could not do before, or in a more pleasant way, or more efficiently, or all together.

The same happens with apps and software tools for our daily chores. Chores like managing projects, sorting information and sharing documents. We all have to do these things, even scientists.

For such tasks, some tools are changing the way people work around the globe. Some are general tools, others are specific for scientists.

What they do have in common is that once you start using them, you won’t go back to your old methods. Once you start using them you go paperless, you become a bit more of a digital scientist.

Please, give a warm round of applause to the 3 tools for digital scientists that make science a bit easier.

Tools For Digital Scientists: Evernote

Evernote is a second brain for digital scientists. It  captures, manages and finds all your digital information. Not only this, it syncs everything across your devices.

Evernote organizes everything in notes, which are grouped in notebooks. You could see a notebook as a project or a topic and a note as a piece if information.

Notes can be anything from pieces of websites that you clipped, photos you took with your phone, an audio memo you recorded, written notes or a scanned document. Evernote swallows and digests almost anything.

Where Evernote excels is in retrieving this amount of data. It searches in all the contents of your notes, even in the images. By this I mean that if your photo contains some text, Evernote recognizes it as text and makes it searchable. Can you see the possibilities this gives you?

Check this post to know how you can use Evernote for science.

I recommend to have a read at the best book on Evernote ever written, Evernote Essentials.

How can you use Evernote in science?

Have you ever wanted to have a repository of the lab journals of your students?

Students come and go, and so do their experiments. Knowing why, when and how they did something is a hard task. This is why many keep a lab journal (yes in paper, still, nowadays).

Wouldn’t it be better to have a synced digital version of this lab journal to avoid a disaster in case the journal is lost ? Wouldn’t it be better to have access any time to somebody’s lab journal while it is being created or years after the person is gone?

With Evernote your students can document their progress and share it with you. The can have a note per experiment, containing setup, results and images. And you can see them ordered chronologically.

An alternative to Evernote for students reporting to their supervisors could be writing a science blog.

Have you ever wanted to organize snippets of information you find online?

You are preparing an presentation and want to cite some articles you found in Scientific American and Wired. But you cannot google them because you forgot their tittles. Or you once saw a funny picture that could now be used in your slides but forgot to save it.

Evernote allows you to clip from your browser those websites or contents that you might end up using one day, either for fun or in serious publications.

You can download Evernote here.

Going the extra mile with Evernote for scientists

Evernote is easy to use and rather intuitive. If you also consider the many different features it has, it is no surprise that people find the most surprising ways to use Evernote.

If you want to squeeze all the juice out of Evernote I recommend Evernote Essentials. It helps you to get started with Evernote and use it like a sir. It even gives you ideas on how to use it if you are a blogger, a programmer, a foodie, or whatever you are.

You can buy Evernote Essentials here.

Tools For Digital Scientists: Dropbox

Dropbox allows you to share files between computers and gadgets and have an online backup. You just need to install Dropbox in you computer, phone or tablet, and it will create a “Dropbox folder”. Whatever file you store in this folder will automatically be pushed to your other devices.

Dropbox does one thing, sharing files between devices, and it does it very well. It is dead simple to use. Give it a try and forget to attach large files to your emails.

How can you use Dropbox in science?

Have you ever wanted to work at home on that next manuscript, but realized that some files were only in your desktop at the university?

Dropbox keeps the files in your work desktop synced with your laptop, for those evenings when you have to work at home. No more copying files back and forth at the end of your working day, with Dropbox they are automagically in your laptop.

Have you tried to email files to your collaborators and hit the maximum file size of Gmail?

You can create a subfolder and share it with colleagues. Anybody can add and delete files in this folder, and the changes are replicated in everybody’s computers.

At work we don’t use pendrives anymore to transfer files between colleagues. Even those sitting in the same room, place a file in the Dropbox folder and keep working on their own things while the file is sent to the other computers.

You can download Dropbox here.

Tools For Digital Scientists: Mendeley

Mendeley is a reference manager and probably the best known of these tools for digital scientists. It keeps all you documents tidy and ready to insert as citations in your manuscripts.

As you might have guessed, it keeps your documents synced between devices. Yes, it also syncs your documents to your iPad so you can read your own publications in the toilet.

Another great feature of Mendeley is that it can process the pdf of a paper and automatically find all the authors, title, journal name, and create a citation ready to be exported.

How can you use Mendeley in science?

Have you ever wanted to have access to the papers a student collected in a literature review?

With Mendeley you can share with other users collections of documents.

Your student can group all the cited documents in the collection “Literature review” and share it with you, and voila, you have access to all those pdfs. No need to spend 2 hours searching and downloading them.

Have you ever started in a group and wished they had a recommended reading list prepared?

With Mendeley you can create a private or public group and add publications to it. Any new comer to your group should read them in order to dig into your latest research.

Or you could do like Hirschey Lab and propose a list of papers every scientists should read or advice for a young scientist.

You can download Mendeley here.

Your feedback on tools for digital scientists

  • How do you use Evernote, Dropbox and Mendeley as a scientist?
  • Do you use other tools for digital scientists?


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About Julio Peironcely

Julio Peironcely, PhD is the founder of Next Scientist and a PhD by Leiden University. He helps PhD students to stay motivated, be more productive and finish their PhDs. Follow him on Twitter (@peyron) or read more from him on JulioPeironcely.com.


  1. Sandrine says:

    Hi Julio!

    Thank you very much for the tips! I had never understood how Endnote could be so bad and so expensive. I am very happy to read that there exists a free solution and will try Mendeley asap.


  2. Very good tips.BTW, if you are already using Dropbox and Evernote you might want to check out http://cloudHQ.net/evernote
    cloudHQ will sync your data (files, photos, notes, voice recordings, etc.) between Dropbox and Evernote.
    So, for example, you can backup your Evernote to Dropbox. Or you can just use Dropbox folder as a ‘drop box’ to upload documents to Evernote. Or you can share Evernote notes via Dropbox.



  3. I use Mendeley, but OneNote instead of Evernote and Skydrive instead of Dropbox. It’s the same thing but perfectly integrates with my Windows PC, Windows Phone and Surface. Moreover, the tools are also available on/for the Macs at the university.

  4. PaperShip says:

    If you love Mendeley (and Zotero in a few days), give a try to PaperShip ( appstore.com/papership ). Probably the most easy to use reference manager on the iPad/iPhone!


  1. […] love my Moleskine, it’s great for writing down my ideas. Evernote, Dropbox, Wunderlist and Mendeley are my most used software tools. They are great and they sync across devices over the Internet. […]