Why I use Notion to organize my PhD research


Maya Gosztyla at her desk on a computer and using the Notion app.

Maya Gosztyla utilizes Notion to assist to arrange her work as a PhD trainee in biomedical sciences at the University of California, San Diego. Credit: Nicholas Behnke

We scientists handle a great deal of info: continuous experiments, long-lasting tasks, grant and mentor due dates and more. It can be a genuine difficulty to keep things from slipping through the fractures.

Multiple complimentary and commerical tools are offered to keep us on track, and I’ve attempted a number of throughout my PhD. Some, such as Evernote and OneNote, look like digital note pads, which can be arranged with embedded folders. Stroll utilizes a fascinating bidirectional information design, however was excessively costly for my trainee spending plan. I’ve had the very best outcomes with tools developed on relational databases, which keep info in interconnected tables and make it simple to see how various concepts connect to each other.

Since 2021, I’ve been utilizing a database tool called Notion, and it’s made a huge distinction in my work and home life. It serves as a ‘2nd brain’ that assists me to monitor vital info without jumbling my working memory. Idea (the standard variation which is complimentary, with more functions for individuals with with a.edu email address) can be utilized for applications such as job tracking, note taking, job management and info storage. The tool can be utilized for journalling, routine tracking and occasion preparation. Users can input and engage with their information in a range of formats, consisting of tables, lists, paragraphs, Kanban boards and Gantt charts. Being open-ended, it can feel frustrating for newbies, and it has rather a high knowing curve. I would argue that it’s well worth taking the time to find out.

To be clear, I am neither associated with nor paid by Notion, I’m simply a fan of the software application. All the techniques listed below might be used to other organizational tools in addition to to Notion. Here is how I utilize it.

Organizing my notes

Between workshops, lab documents, conferences and conferences, I take a great deal of notes. I utilized to keep these in Google Docs submits that I arranged in folders. Whenever I desired to go back and examine my notes, it was challenging to track down the best files or to rapidly skim their contents.

Now, I take and arrange my notes utilizing Notion. Each entry is tagged with pertinent info such as workshop date, subject location and a one-sentence summary. Seeing the database as a table permits me to see a summary of all my notes and filter by particular subjects. I can open a page to see my in-depth notes, images and links when I desire to focus on a single entry. I can likewise connect to other notes, making it simpler for me to link the dots in between associated concepts. After typing up my notes, I constantly take a minute to sum up any pertinent action products; when I’ve finished those, I tag the note so that I can inform right away whether follow-up is required.

Asecond database keeps track of all the papers I read I utilize a plug-in called Notero to keep my Notion database in sync with Zotero (a complimentary and open-source reference manager); whenever I include a paper to Zotero, it instantly looks like an entry in my database, in addition to metadata such as the journal name and publication date. From there, I can include screenshots and notes to catch my ideas on the paper. I can filter entries by job, keywords and so on, making it simple to discover what I’m searching for when I’m composing a paper or grant.

Planning and handling tasks

One of the most difficult elements of graduate school for me has actually been having total control over my own time– if I’m not cautious, it’s simple to squander days on unfocused or unimportant work. I’ve found out how to envision my long-lasting objectives and work in reverse to exercise how I need to invest my time this scholastic term, which in turn notifies how I plan my week.

I keep my long-lasting strategy as a Gantt chart that sits front and centre on my Notion control panel. It reveals my development on all tasks at a glimpse, making sure that I never ever forget the huge photo. In it, I’ve embedded a database in which I develop an entry at the start of each scholastic term that summarizes my concerns and strategies. Each of those entries, in turn, includes its own embedded database for weekly preparation.

This ‘Russian doll’ method fits completely in Notion’s relational-database structure, and the ‘customized views’ function improves its energy. If I wish to see all my strategies at the same time, I’ll see the database as a table; if I wish to see where my strategies fall in an offered timescale, I can see it as a timeline; and if I wish to reorganize my strategies, I’ll select a Kanban board, which lets me drag and drop entries in between classifications.

Collaborating with coworkers

Notion databases can be shared, making the tool effective for partnership. My laboratory utilizes Notion as a shared understanding repository; whenever somebody finds out a helpful suggestion or technique, we record it in Notion so that future laboratory members can gain from the info. The entries are arranged utilizing tags for their subject location, contact individual and other essential metadata.

Shared databases enable partners to quickly upgrade each other and to record development without unpleasant e-mail chains. When it is time to compose a paper or grant application together, all the pertinent info– from the most current variation of each figure to the list of pertinent documents to point out– is kept in one location.

Researchers might likewise utilize Notion to arrange supply orders, preserve alumni and workers lists and monitor crucial resources such as cell lines and client samples. Laboratory heads might develop a shared database of all the continuous tasks, permitting others to frequently upgrade their development. You can even utilize the software application to develop a site for your laboratory.

Bonus: arranging my individual life

I likewise utilize Notion outside the laboratory. The software application assists me to track my workout schedule, arrange my financial resources and even prepare my meals. I can filter my dish database by foods that I’m in the state of mind for, active ingredients I require to consume or meals that I have not made in a while, all utilizing Notion’s premade design templates.

Notion’s strength is its versatility: power users can use sophisticated tools such as relational solutions, widgets and even generative expert system, however for the majority of applications, an hour or 2 invested in tutorials and using design templates is ample to begin. I’ve discovered Notion to be a fantastic alternative if you’re in requirement of a 2nd brain.


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