Dr. Mike Irene reviews 5 tools you need on your PhD that would greatly improve your experience on the journey.


I have colleagues starting their PhD programs soon, and they’ve asked me what tools can make the journey smooth.

I often tell them that this journey isn’t smooth, but achievable; and it requires hard work, patience and stamina.


You may also like to read: what I wish I knew before the PhD


There are digital tools that may support you on your PhD journey, and while this is not an exhaustive list, here are 5 tools that were of tremendous help to me on my PhD.

#1 Refworks

This is one of the most useful tools.

Refworks helps organise your bibliography and references in the style you require (Harvard Reference, APA, etc). It ensures you use the appropriate conventions – punctuation marks, name abbreviations and more.

In addition to this, it helps you arrange the your references in chronological order.

As you will be doing  a lot of reading throughout the program, it is essential to keep a detailed account of what you’ve read.

#2 Notebook

I used this web app to summarize books, record titles of books and journals for further reading and document important points.

I didn’t pay attention to this in my first year and I paid dearly for it.


You may also like to read: Oh boy, this PhD is not easy


There were times I needed specific information, so I had to read the whole book/journal again. What a waste of time.

Always take notes; this saves you a lot of stress, and Notebook is perfect for that.

You can get Notebook for Android or Apple. Similar apps are Evernote and OneNote.

#3 Epigieum

This tool teaches you a lot about the PhD process: ethics and methodology, how to present literature review, presentation of arguments and lots more.

Epigieum hosts professionals in different fields sharing practical knowledge on the PhD process, and at the end of each lesson, you will be expected to take a test and be issued with a certificate of completion.

#4 Pomodoro

Sometimes we get caught up in the reading and researching to the point we ignore writing. As a PhD candidate, I’d suggest you write daily (or at least try).


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In my experience, I read from Monday to Friday and wrote on Saturday and Sunday.

First of all, I was always mentally and physically drained after writing five thousand words over the weekend.

By switching to the Pomodoro technique, I was able to write at least 50 mins daily: 25 minutes each in the morning and evening, without putting a strain on my well being.

The PhD thesis is often between 80,000 words and 100,000 words. You don’t want to leave this to inspiration or waiting for the gods of writing muse to pay you a visit.

Inspiration only comes to those who are disciplined enough to write daily.

#5 Turnitin

Although you need to sign in through your school to access this software, I can’t overemphasize the need for TurnItIn.

It is the backbone of everything.

TurnItIn tells you how much similarity there is between your work and the original work you may be pulling ideas from.

Without this software, I wouldn’t have been able to tell how much similarity was in my critical work. I was able to do this with
TurnItIn.

It also shares details as to where your work was derived from.

Most universities in the UK use this software to curb plagiarism and determine the extent to which a written piece of work is original.

There are other forums on Twitter worth mentioning: #phdforum, #phdchat and #phdcomics. By following or joining these groups you can always find a couple of people to talk to who may be willing to share their experiences with you.

The PhD is usually a lonely journey and it’s sometimes better to have a group of like-minded people that you can always turn to for advice. 

It’s always a good idea to reach out to your supervisors and tell them how your progress is going.

Don’t wait too long if you don’t feel that you are doing the right thing.

Sometimes, waiting too long for things to happen might have you towing the wrong path.

What tools did you use on your PhD journey?

Please leave a comment below.

Twitter: @moshoke


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