Software Toolkit for Graduate Students

As Naeem Khawaja nears the end of his doctoral studies – he defends his dissertation in a few weeks – he wanted to share his experiences with research and writing software that he used during his doctoral journey.  Naeem used Mindnode to create a visual tree of categories of software to help understand the bewildering array of choices facing graduate students. (Click on diagram below for large image)


He began by advocating students to stay current by creating Google Scholar alerts on the topic of interest.  For even more current activities in a topic area find and follow the appropriate hashtag on Twitter. LinkedIn can also be used.


To find quick answers to questions about population, literacy rates, girls’ education and other numerical data Naeem demonstrated the use of WolframAlpha – a data aggregating site that draws data from multiple sources to answer questions (this is the data base behind Siri as well). When asked about citations, Naeem showed that WolframAlpha provides list of sources of the data which the researcher can then explore.  The app is a very fast and efficient way to check various kinds of descriptive data often used when describing one’s research context.


Moving on to the task of writing, Naeem started with Flowstate – a kind of speed writing app that helps with writer’s block. He then proceed to illustrate Scrivener – a very flexible writing interface – and Scapple, software that lets you lay out pages on a screen as if they were on a table in front of you.  He return to MindNode to show how a schematic flow diagram could be converted to a text outline.

He discussed R as a substitute for SPSS (particularly because of its high cost) and how it could best be used. Finally, there was a discussion of NVivo to help organize and categorize qualitative data, with the caveat the NVivo does not do analysis – a common error made by students.


The astonishing power and diversity of the available software left students (and faculty!) amazed by what was possible while also feeling the need for some help in deciding which applications they should invest their time in learning and how they could best apply them to their graduate studies.