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Evernote: A Guide for Academics

30 Sep

Whenever I rave about Evernote (which is quite often) I get a lot of questions about how I use it. A lot of people don’t know where to begin or aren’t sure how to get the most out of the application. Maybe an Evernote Guide specifically tailored to how an academic might use Evernote might help demystify this great appl.

I’ve been using Evernote since 2008– early enough in Evernote’s life that I actually have only my first name as my login. I’m not sure why I was such an early adopter. I probably read about it on Lifehacker, and was probably at the stage in my dissertation that having a place to organize digital material seemed useful. And as part of the Great Dissertation Avoidance Plan (doesn’t everyone have one of those?), having a place to save cooking recipes and knitting patterns was also welcome.

So, what is this Evernote thing, anyway? It’s simply an application (for your computer, phone, ipad) where you can save every bit of text you might ever need again. It’s like a filing cabinet, but because it’s a digital one, you can tag and categorize notes in ways that let’s you cross-reference different ideas. And you can search everything in a second, which you definitely can not do with a filing cabinet.

What I love about Evernote:

  • It’s my brain dump for EVERYTHING I want to remember:
    • Articles (or blog posts) clipped from the web that might use for teaching or research.
    • Lists of documentary/film recommendations, reading lists, classroom activity ideas etc. that come from the collective wisdom of the listservs that I’m on.
    • My tenure notes. I keep a list of what I accomplish (committees, panels, writing etc.) during the year as they happen so that I have it all there when it comes to putting together my retention folder.
    • Meeting notes. Whether I’m at conferences, workshops or committee/department meetings, I take notes in Evernote.
    • Personal stuff: Recipes, gift ideas, knitting patterns, medical info etc.
  • Assigning tags to individual notes means you can sort your data in meaningful ways (and then Bubble Browser which I show below is a fun way to look through it).
  • What I clip is saved forever. Online news sources do not keep articles available forever. Web addresses change. Blogs go down. Posts are deleted. When you need to access something bookmarked again, you’re SOL. Evernote saves the entire article or webpage, so you never have to worry about something (even the included images) disappearing ever again.
  • Searching all content (or a selection of content) is fast. Fast enough for me to find what I want and print it out in minutes before class begins!

What I don’t use Evernote for:

  • PDFs. I still find Evernote clunky with these, even though there is OCR. I save my article PDFs in a folder labelled by the author and year of publication.
  • To do lists: I like the Reminders app on my iphone for a to-do list. I do use Evernote for larger project-related lists, like moving across the country, etc.
  • Pictures: I only use Evernote for pictures when they’re inside an article that I’m clipping. Otherwise, I save images for teaching/research that aren’t part of an article in Pinterest.

Getting Started:

  1. Download the application Evernote. Sign up for an account.
    1. The application is free, but you can pay $45/year for more upload space per month. Honestly, I used the application 4 years, nearly every day, and never ran into their upload limit. I just decided to upgrade to “pro” this year to support the application that I love so much.
  2. Install the webclipper extension. This adds a button to your web browser (Firefox, Chrome or Safari) that gives you a way to clip things from the internet.
  3. Open the application on your computer, and create a couple different notebooks. My notebooks are:
    1. Personal Notebook
    2. Sociology Notebook
    3. Retention & Tenure Notebook
    4. Sociology Department Notebook
    5. General Notes
  4. Start clipping, tagging and organizing!
  5. You might want to start with a binge-clipping of things you’ve been saving in other ways (e.g. links and stuff saved in emails). Clip while you watch TV or something, and you’ll have a little database before you know it!

My Evernote Workflow:

When I see an article or blog post online that I like (usually posted to Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and I think I might want to use it in class, or in my research, I click the Elephant icon on my browser.

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Here’s what your Evernote clipper probably looks like. You’ll notice on the top left that Evernote also installs an icon in your menu bar which you can use to save text and other desktop notes.

When I clip the Evernote Elephant, a window comes up that gives me a chance to select how the note will be clipped. I have it defaulted to “Simplified Article” which gives you a nice print-friendly version, but you could select “Full Article” for a shot of the entire webpage.

The sidebar also gives you a place to decide what notebook this article should be clipped to, and allows you to assign tags to the article. What I love about Evernote is that the more you use it to save and tag articles, it starts to predict what tags and notebooks are the most appropriate. It knows to put recipes in the “Personal Notebook” and it determines pretty accurately what articles are related to race, gender, education etc.

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This is a must-read article, by the way.

Once you’ve set everything, just click “save.”

What Evernote does next is save the article or webpage to your account. You can access it from your installed Evernote application, from Evernote.com, and from an Evernote app on your phone or ipad.

I rely on the Evernote application for finding and retrieving things I’ve clipped. Here’s what mine looks like.

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On the left are shortcuts to my notebooks, recent notes, and then the contents of the selected “Sociology” notebook. As you select a note, it shows up in the window on the right, complete with tags, and a link to the original online.

You can also just open up the Evernote application and use it as a word processor, typing your notes right into it while at a meeting or workshop (I do this a lot on my ipad). Or, you can cut/paste information into it from email or someplace else.

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Here’s an example of writing a note directly into Evernote. Notice that Evernote starts to relate notes to one another by suggesting similar notes.

Like I said, the more you use Evernote, the better it knows your information. Not only does it suggest notebooks and tags, it suggests related notes. This is very useful if you’re prepping for a specific class, or working through research information.

There are other applications now that interact with Evernote. Bubble Browser is especially fun, and I would love to see it developed further to show the connections between notes in more of a mind map format. Here’s a snapshot of the tags in my Sociology Notebook. You can click on each bubble to drill down to related tags, and then browse to the specific article.

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So, that’s pretty much how I use Evernote. My file cabinet is mostly empty and my Evernote is full of useful stuff I can find instantly.

I would love (I’d actually physically jump up and down) to see Evernote include within-note tagging. It seems like Evernote, with it’s amazing tagging prediction and relation tools, is just one step away from allowing users to highlight chunks of different text within a single note and tag it separately. Like NVivo. But so much better, because it’s not clunky like NVivo. With this functionality, Evernote could be an invaluable research tool for qualitative sociologists. Sociologists who study the internet would have an easy way to save entire webpages for analysis, a process that right now for me is a patchwork of tasks that includes downloading multi levels of html files, converting them to pdf or txt and then uploading to NVivo. Imagine if we could skip all that and just clip! Add in the photographic and note-taking capabilities of the ipad and iphone Evernote apps, and you’d have some very happy ethnographers!

Anyway, that’s how I use Evernote. Hopefully this will help  make it an app that’s useful for you!

A List of Summer Goals That Does Not Include Packing, Moving, or Applying for Jobs

10 Jun

I might have bit off more than I can chew this summer in terms of work load. But, hey, it’s my first tenure track summer! I’m not moving! I’m not applying for jobs! Thanks to my retention package, I have a research plan laid out. And I got summer funding to conduct research! So all systems are GO for a productive summer!

Here’s what’s on my plate:

  • Teaching 2 1 online classes. This one isn’t hard, and since we don’t get paid over the summer, it’s a necessity. But I always forget how much time the grading takes. But, the classes are prepped and I can teach it in my PJs. 1 down, 1 more to go!
  • Finishing Article 1 and sending it out. Thanks to my writing group, I got great feedback on this piece and I’ve been giving it a theory-overall. I’ve been reading tons of new lit for it, and I’m very excited. I think it just needs a solid day or two of work and then I can send it for some feedback before getting it out the door.
  • Human Subjects Application for summer research. Done!
  • Conducting interviews. I got some summer grant money to conduct more interviews! This is very exciting as my dissertation hasn’t really had *new* data since, well, ok, a really long time. These interviews will give a chance to write another article delving into a new area of my research, and will give me a well-rounded set of data for the book proposal I’m going to work on in the fall.
  • Introduction syllabus. I’m redoing my Intro syllabus in a sort of experimental sans-textbook way. I’m excited to teach two sections of Intro in the Fall– one entirely to first years!
  • Civic engagement course proposal. I am working on the university application to revamp a course I’ve taught before into a class that meets the civic engagement requirement. It’s for a course I’m going to teach pretty regularly in years to come, so it’s exciting to think about how to get the students out in the community in a way that satisfies all the learning outcomes.
  • Leading an independent study for a student that corresponds with my own research (so helps me out).
  • National conferences: In August we have national conferences and I have all sorts of commitments for those. I’m helping to organize a few activities, going to lots of meetings, and serving as a discussant on a panel.
  • Move into my new office! With a window! So I can cross one of my first TT goals off the list!

In terms of getting stuff done, I seem to be doing really well at home. My partner is also busy with her own writing projects, so we’re working a lot together. At the dining room table, in the living room, or sometimes on the porch. Once I move into my new space (with light!) at school, I’ll work there 1-2 days a week. A couple gadgets have been helping me productivity-wise:

  1. My Little Pomodoro (not available anymore, for some strange reason. You could try another free one in the App Store like Timey). I’ve always been a timer fan. I finished my dissertation in literally 15 minute chunks with a physical kitchen timer. I even like the timer ticking to remind me to stay on task.
  2. Focusbar. I just found this nice little app, and I’m a fan. Basically, if you’re working (in Word), and you move to another window (browser, email etc.), a window pops up and reminds you of what you should be working on.
  3. Any.Do. This is maybe the 427th “to do” app I’ve tried out, and I think we have a winner. More on this in another post.

I’m always fighting that computer-based internet-related OMG-I-have-to-read-all-the-blogs-and-news attention deficit disorder. Some people have success with more drastic apps that actually lock them out of certain websites and specific times, but these two seem to be enough right now.

So here’s to a summer of productivity (without the job market and without moving)!

It’s Mid November? Notes from 2+ Months on the Tenure Track

17 Nov

Suddenly it’s mid-November? I don’t know what happened to October. The month was lost in a flurry of emails, teaching, grading, meetings, and trying to get my car to pass emissions inspection. Now it’s nearly Thanksgiving, and I’m starting to reflect on the semester as a whole, while I struggle to get done everything that needs to be done. So many times during the last couple months I’ve thought “oh, I need to blog about this” and then never have the time. The closest I came to “blogging” was a long and overdue “catching up” email to my advisor. Maybe I should just cut/paste that here.

Here’s a smattering of observations and experiences from the last semester:

  • Being tenure track is awesome. It’s just as awesome as I always thought it would be. I feel welcomed at my new school. I feel like I have dozens of new mentors. It’s really fantastic. Actually, yesterday, I felt so much warmth toward my new school, that I almost went into the bookstore and bought a school sweatshirt. I’ve never owned a college sweatshirt (I only own a t-shirt from where I went to grad school) so this seems strangely significant to me.
  • Another part of my new school that’s fantastic is the diversity of the campus. I really, really, appreciate that students, staff and faculty come from so many different backgrounds and experiences. The diversity in my classroom contributes to what we’re able to discuss and learn together.
  • Teaching has been an adjustment, but not a terribly difficult one. Thank goodness that the workshops I attended before classes began helped me get ready for the classroom. I’ve had to rework what I do during class time. I almost spend less time prepping outside of class, and more time listening to my students and thinking in the classroom. My classes are much more interactive, and I’m always thinking on my feet about what I can do differently or use as an example to make a concept clearer. Yes, there are new struggles in terms of getting students to do reading, and make it to class (busy work schedules and long commutes) but they are realistic problems and I’m figuring out how not to let that distract from what we can learn in the classroom.
  • We’ve had some obstacles this semester. The most obvious has been a lost week+ of class time due to Hurricane Sandy. I’ve had to be even more flexible with my syllabus, with deadlines, and have had to make some painful cuts to readings. But, we’ve also been able to have some great discussions about the unequal impact of the hurricane on different areas and segments of the population.
  • After the hurricane we lost power for a week. Thank goodness we live in an apartment with a gas stove and gas hot water heater, so we didn’t suffer too much, although being without internet was difficult to say the least. I couldn’t get to all of my academic books on campus, so instead I read the pile of academic advice books I had here at home (it was either that or get hopelessly lost in a bunch of mysteries). By the light of my headlamp, I ended up reading:
    • Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John Bean. I got this one at the writing workshop this summer, but hadn’t had a chance to read it yet. It’s definitely going to be the only teaching book sitting on my desk for a while. Engaging Ideas is chock full of practical, writing-focused teaching ideas. Using it, I drafted some grading rubrics, and constructed a peer evaluation worksheet that we used in class last week.
    • Preparing for Promotion, Tenure, and Annual Review: A Faculty Guide by Robert Diamond. This one was included in the tenure materials given to my by my new school, so it seemed to be an important read. It’s actually quite useful, and I made a ton of notes on what I can include in my retention packet, and prepare for my future tenure dossier.
    • The Teaching Portfolio: A Practical Guide to Improved Performance and Promotion/Tenure Decisions by Seldin, Miller, and Seldin. Another one that my school gave me when I started. This book has lots of concrete examples and will be very helpful when putting together my teaching materials. I also appreciated the focus on being up to date on pedagogy for your discipline– definitely something that I enjoy, and that matters to the school.
    • Finally, I got around to reading Professors as Writers: A Self-Help Guide to Productive Writing by Robert Boice. Boice is the author of Advice for New Faculty, a book which was so revolutionary for me when I read it in grad school that I still keep it by the side of my bed (not kidding). I consider to be sort of a bible for my academic career. Professors as Writers is less philosophical than Advice for New Faculty and very action-oriented. I’m now toying with the idea of waking up a little earlier to do some writing first thing every morning instead of trying to fit it in during the day. While I am not, and will never be, a morning runner (that’s for the evening), I could write for a while with coffee in my PJs. Maybe even before checking my email or Facebook. More on this in another post!
  • It’s a good thing I read all that stuff on retention and promotion during The Great Blackout of 2012, because it turns out I have my first retention packet due in early January! It’s been described to me as “another job application” in terms of professional content (but not in the sense that they don’t keep us– they very much want to work to keep each of us). Thankfully, colleagues have already offered to read drafts of personal statements, and to loan me their retention packets to look at. Here’s what I’m working on for the three areas (weighed equally at my school):
      1. Scholarship: Since we just started, they don’t expect a lot here. I have an article I am planning to send out before the end of the semester. I’m also working on a book review, and a submission for a national conference. Additionally, the contributions I make to a well-known blog count as scholarship. And my participation in the interdisciplinary faculty writing group counts as ongoing commitment to scholarship.
      2. Service: First year faculty are technically exempt from serving on committees, but I was asked to serve on the GLBT Advisory Board and happily accepted. I’m serving as a mentor to an at-risk student on campus. I am also the social media guru for a national organization, which counts as service to a wider community.
      3. Teaching: In our first semester they definitely want to make sure we’re doing well in the classroom and adjusting to new teaching challenges. In this section I expect to talk a lot about the adjustments I’ve already made and what I plan to change in the future. Mid-semester evaluations show that my students are happy with my classes, and the fact they’re asking me what I am teaching next semester leads me to believe I’m doing well. We also do regular peer teaching evaluations. I completed one for an adjunct, and I’ve had 3 colleagues observe my courses. The feedback has been incredibly positive and helpful. I love the fact that the goal is really for all of us to help each other succeed as teachers, and as scholars.

All in all, it’s been a great semester so far. Provided I can make it through all the grading ahead, prep a new syllabus for a spring class, and put together a good retention packet, I should be just fine. I appreciate that a mid-year retention packet helps me think through where I’m at, and goals for the upcoming months.

Really, though, my big goal right now is just to land an office with a window!

Collected Advice & A Plug for Evernote

15 Aug

For the last few years I’ve used the fantastic memory app Evernote for saving useful information (and recipes, so many recipes). Every time I get a useful bunch of info in an email– lists of documentaries, classroom activity ideas, book publishing advice, writing tips, course readings etc.– it goes into Evernote. Whenever I find an interesting blog post or newspaper article related to research, surviving academia, or teaching, I clip it to Evernote. Even if the original link to the article or post goes down, I have the text and images saved. If I need an article for classroom activity, I can quickly search Evernote for something useful, print it out, and head to class. I was using an app on my ipad for saving meeting and conference notes, but now I am transferring those over to Evernote as well. In short, Evernote is my brain. I’ve built up 900+ notes over 3 years (ok, some of those are recipes), and haven’t hit the limit of the free version yet. It’s an app I’d gladly pay monthly for, though, and that’s not something I typically do, so that’s saying a lot.

I’ve collected a bunch of tenure track advice over the years, and tonight I’m rereading and organizing what I have. Here are some highlights:

Advice for New Assistant Professors by Older Woman, Scatterplot

I particularly like tips #2 and #5. I want to make sure I integrate myself with the faculty and administration (and this is a much larger school than my last one), while also staying open and accessible to students. I have two workshops in the next couple weeks (one on writing and one on diversity in the classroom) that will help with the former. And making scheduled writing and research time is a priority, while I work on finding out more about the preferred balance of teaching/research/service is at the school.

I’m not sure about #8. I’ve never hated a job, and can’t imagine hating this one. Yes, it is good (as I learned during my visiting position) to keep myself mobile and not too attached to the institution if I want to go someplace else. But, I’m the sort the sort that stubbornly makes the best of everything. And I’m truly excited for this job.

Five Steps to Creating a Five-Year Plan to Achieve Tenure by Tanya Golash-Boza, Get a Life, PhD

I’ll need to adapt this for four years, but overall the advice is excellent, even if the goals seem rather large and daunting at the moment. I like the semester version of Tanya’s goal setting, as well, and plan to do that this semester as it worked well for me last last year.

How to Figure Out the Publication Expectations for Tenure by Tanya Golash-Boza, Get a Life, PhD.

Another fantastic post from Tanya. I especially the idea of checking out the CVs of those recently promoted at my institution, and making sure to share research and publishing plans with senior colleagues and mentors.

First Tips for Faculty by Mary McKinney, Successful Academic

This is a great collection of tips, even if it is slightly geared to those freshly out of grad school. I’m already more than familiar with the feeling of juggling waaaay too many balls in the air. Actually, I’m looking forward to that this semester (I’m crazy, right?). The tips that stand out here are: to find a support system (and hopefully writing group) of other junior faculty on campus (and at nearby institutions), finding mentors on campus, and avoiding potentially controversial committees and committees that meet frequently (no matter how interesting they sound). Also, this sounds all too familiar:

For many academics I’ve worked with, it is easier to get caught up in smaller projects with firm external deadlines – such as sending off abstracts for conference deadlines – than it is to work on papers that you wish to send to prestigious journals. Beware of getting wrapped up in projects that are relatively unimportant. Don’t be seduced by short-term commitments that are less anxiety provoking than your biggest chores.

Starting a Tenure Box by Anastasia Salter, ProfHacker

Perfect, practical advice! I’ll start a tenure Evernote file and secure folder in Dropbox (and I’ll back it up on an external HD because I’m nuts like that). I don’t need a document scanner, because I have my iPhone and JotNot Pro for that.

The Sunday Meeting by Kerry Ann Rockquemore, Inside Higher Ed

I really like the idea of sitting down weekly to plan the week out and write out goals. Whenever I do this, my week goes much better, and doing it regularly would be fantastic!

Collegiality: The Tenure Track’s Pandora’s Box by Mary McKinney, Successful Academic via Tomorrow’s Professor

There’s some really good advice here like “The rules of collegiality are similar to the rules of dating. A conversation has gone well when the other person has done most of the talking,” and “Find a likeable side of everyone,” and of course, “Don’t get angry, get tenure.”

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All that advice just makes me more excited for the year to begin! If you have any sage advice of your own (or a link to something else), please feel free to share it in the comments!

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